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January 2016

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In Peoria, A Life's Work Remembered

A section of Spalding Avenue that runs just past the Peoria, Ill., Labor Temple now bears the name of one of the city's most prominent union leaders.

Honorary Mark H. Ayers Way was dedicated on Oct. 9 in a ceremony that also renamed the labor temple's meeting room in his honor.

Brother Ayers, a 38-year member of the IBEW who rose through the ranks to ultimately serve as president of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, died suddenly in April 2012 at the age of 63.

"Mark's death was a huge loss for all of us in the labor movement, and for our union in particular," IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "As an Illinois native myself, it makes me proud to see the City of Peoria and the local labor community step up and honor him this way."

Peoria Local 34 Business Manager Paul Flynn presided over the ceremony, which drew labor officials, elected leaders, friends, family and colleagues.

Ayers, a Vietnam veteran, joined Local 34 in 1973, serving as treasurer and business representative before spending nine years as business manager. In that job, he co-founded the Central Illinois chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association-Local 34 Quality Connection and served as a trustee and chairman of the NECA-IBEW Welfare and Pension Trust Funds.

Mike Everett, now retired, who succeeded Ayers as business manager at Local 34, described his friend as "the most intense, meticulous and hard-working human being I have ever met. His dedication to the union movement was beyond question, and so was his integrity."

In 1998, Brother Ayers left Peoria for Washington, D.C., appointed by then-International President Edwin D. Hill as director of the IBEW's Construction and Maintenance Department. He served nine years in that job, most notably promoting the Code of Excellence program that has since been adopted by nearly all of the other building trades unions.

In 2007, Ayers was elected president of the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, where he led more than 2 million tradesmen and women until his 2012 death.

At the time, then-Labor Secretary Hilda Solis inducted Brother Ayers into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Honor, saying, "We shared the same values. Whether it was fighting for investments in infrastructure and good construction jobs, securing decent wages and safe workplaces, or protecting health benefits and pension plans, Mark stood proudly on the side of working people. … The American trade movement lost a great leader."

On the occasion of his most recent honor in his native Illinois, Local 34 press secretary Marc Burnap summed up the sentiments of the countless working men and women who will drive down Mark H. Ayers Way or gather in the Mark H. Ayers Unity Hall. "Many of us never had the pleasure of meeting Brother Ayers," he wrote, "but we reap the rewards of his distinguished career and his lifetime of service, and can only hope to live up to the example he set."


Local 34 Business Manager Paul Flynn presents the sign that will memorialize Mark Ayers for years to come.

Renovated Classic Truck Finds Home with Florida Retiree

Baltimore Local 24 member Larry Tiller searched for months for a truck suitable for himself and a new service dog. He found it while leafing through the November 2015 edition of The Electrical Worker.

"When I saw that orange pickup, I just kind of said, 'That's for me,'" said Tiller, a retiree who lives in Cape Coral, Florida. "Plus, what a wonderful way to help an IBEW brother. That really struck me."

Tiller purchased the 1952 Chevy 3100 for $20,000 from Merle Munger, a retired member of Portland, Oregon, Local 48. Munger had renovated it and promised to donate sale proceeds to the Local 48 fund that assists members in need. The truck was shipped more than 3,000 miles from the Pacific Northwest to Tiller's home in southwest Florida.

The project took Munger six years and more than $44,000. But he has no complaints.

"It's gratifying to me the way it's turned out," he said.

That's due in part because it helped another IBEW member in need.

Tiller is a Vietnam veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. He is the commander of the Disabled American Veterans chapter in Cape Coral.

He's unable to walk without crutches because of a motorcycle accident nearly 20 years ago that caused nerve damage. He especially has trouble using his right leg, so unlike most people, he has to use his left foot to tap the brakes and push on the accelerator when driving.

The renovated 3100 allows him to do just that, he said. It has an automatic transmission and it doesn't have a console in the middle of the front seat, unlike many modern trucks. That gives him more room to slide over and use his left leg.

Tiller welcomed a new service dog at the end of November, a golden retriever named Sandford. The 3100 should provide plenty of room for his new companion, too. Even better is that it is painted orange, his favorite color. He rides around on a black Harley Davidson trike, often wearing an orange shirt.

"This is for me and my dog," he said of the truck.

Clif Davis, an international representative in business development who is a fellow member of Local 48, has nearly 40 years of experience in selling classic cars and assisted Munger in the selling process.

"For everyone, I think it was a good experience," Davis said. "[Tiller] got a good truck at good value. If anyone lost, it was Merle because of all the time he put into it. But he's such a good guy. He doesn't look at it that way at all."

Indeed, Munger says he's pleased Local 48's fund got such a huge boost. It had never had more than $7,000 in it previously.

"The local has been really good to me over the years," Munger said before listing the truck. "I am more than happy to do it."

Munger also has restored two classic cars for his grandsons, but he has no plans to take on another old vehicle. He plans to devote more time to other hobbies, especially reading.

"Several people came up and made a comment to me about how nice the truck looked and what a nice thing I did," he said. "I really enjoyed that. It worked out pretty well."

Tiller, 70, said he learned about the truck just after the death of his mother on Nov. 5.

"With this truck coming," he said, "it has lifted my spirits tremendously."


The 1952 Chevy 3100 pickup truck that Larry Tiller recently purchased for $20,000 from fellow IBEW retiree Merle Munger. The truck was shipped from Portland, Oregon, to Tiller's home in southwestern Florida.

Diversity, Youth in RENEW Conference

This month's conference marks the third time RENEW will be holding its annual gathering in conjunction with the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, this year in New York.

In addition to the many EWMC panels and roundtables, RENEW (Reach out and Energize Next-Gen Electrical Workers) is planning to run special workshops on communication strategies for reaching young members and on privilege.

The EWMC representative on RENEW's special advisory board is Wendell Yee, a 15-year member of New York Local 3. The other 11 members of the board come from the 11 vice presidential districts.

Yee said the group will also begin to focus on the upcoming convention in St. Louis next fall, and discuss possible resolutions to strengthen the role of young workers in the IBEW.

"RENEW was created at the convention in 2011 and I think we have shown what an asset we are to the brotherhood," Yee said. "Now we want to create more ways to teach younger people how to affect change through group action, and help the older generation understand how to involve the future of the union."

Sisters in Solidarity: The 2016 IBEW Women's Conference

IBEW women members will don name badges and lanyards for a few days next month to attend the eighth IBEW Women's Conference.

"We are very proud of our sisters in the Brotherhood and want to do all we can to support them," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "The benefits and opportunities that come with a union job should be available to everyone, regardless of gender."

The conference will run from Feb. 24-27 in Los Angeles, opening with a pre-conference on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Beginning on Feb. 25, the conference will include plenary sessions, caucuses and workshops covering various topics related to leadership, politics, the labor movement and specific issues women face in the workplace.

"We've got a full agenda and are looking forward to moving the ball forward for women in 2016," said Carolyn J. Williams, director of civic and community engagement.

All locals from across the United States and Canada are encouraged to participate. For questions or additional information, contact the Civic and Community Engagement Department at Local unions can also get information and register members by visiting the Local Connections section of

Proposed Clean Lines Project Clears Hurdle

A $2.2 billion high voltage transmission line that would bring wind power from Kansas to Illinois and Indiana took an important step forward when it was approved Nov. 12 by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Illinois joins Indiana and Kansas, which have already approved the 750-mile high voltage direct current transmission line. When finished, the line will carry 4,000 megawatts of wind-generated power to major load centers in the Midwest and the East Coast, enough to power 720,000 homes.

Of the states along the route, only Missouri rejected the proposal on 3-2 vote last summer at the state public service commission.

"This is an important accomplishment and I believe it puts the project in a strong position to appeal the Missouri vote," said Springfield, Ill., Local 51 Business Manager James Bates.

Grain Belt Express is one of five projects in development by Clean Lines, a private, Texas-based company. Like the Grain Belt Express, Western Spirit, Rock Island, Centennial West and Plains & Eastern projects are transmission lines that will carry energy produced in America's windiest states — Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa — to major load centers on the coasts.

Rank-and-file, local leadership and international representatives were all active participants throughout the five-year, multistate review process. In the weeks before the vote, the IBEW ran an ad produced by the Media Department in Missouri and Illinois that made the case for approval.

"The IBEW is looking forward to working with the contractors that the company will hire to build the Clean Lines projects when they are finally approved," said Business Development International Representative John Bourne.

The next step for the project is unclear. The Missouri Public Service Commission rejected a request for a rehearing a month after the July no vote on the permit. Public pressure on the Missouri commission has also been building inside Missouri since the Illinois vote. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an editorial urging approval.

"In the short term, it's easy to understand why farmers may not want wind turbines whipping up the air over their land and changing life as they know it," the editors wrote. "But if rural landowners in Missouri don't give a little and embrace ways to save the Earth from global warming, more than farming as they know it could be at stake."

Even if the Missouri commission reversed its vote tomorrow, Bourne acknowledged that it will be some time before IBEW members are cashing paychecks from Clean Lines.

"This job is important to our members not just for the transmission lines, but for all the wind turbines, substations and the DC-to-AC converters that will feed the lines," Bourne said. "It may take a while, but when we finally start putting poles in the ground, it will have been worth the work."


When complete, the modest footprint of the Grain Belt Express will carry enough clean power to run 700,000 homes.

In Detroit's Renaissance, Opportunity for the IBEW

Detroit has been through tough times, but Local 58 Business Manager Michael Richard thinks the comeback has started. The challenge is for the IBEW and other building trades to take advantage of it.

An estimated $5 billion is expected to be spent on new construction projects in southeastern Michigan during the next three years, the most notable a $627 million arena that will house the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.

At least 51 percent of the workforce on any project within the city limits that accepts public funds or tax credits must be Detroit residents, so trade unions are intensifying their recruitment effort within the city.

"This city is having a revitalization," Richard said. "It's important for us that the kids that live in this city have a chance to learn a trade and take part in it."

Richard is one of the leaders of MUST — Management and Unions Serving Together — and it includes the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and its contractors. It began a campaign in September to add 1,100 apprenticeships in Detroit's building trades during the following 12 months. Potential applicants can consult one site (, which provides information about apprenticeships in each of the building trades and connects them directly to training centers.

All this is coming at a time when an aging workforce is eyeing life after work. Nearly 40 percent of Local 58's members will be eligible for retirement during the next two to five years, Richard said. It has added about 150 members in 2015 and is looking to double that in 2016, Local 58 Development Director Jennifer Mefford said.

The $250,000 initial campaign started on Labor Day weekend and includes radio and television ads, billboards and bus wraps. The MUST campaign built upon the successful marketing of Local 58 and its Labor Management Cooperation Committee.

"We're looking at a big hole to fill and this is just a portion of it," Richard said. "For us, it's just worked out great. Not just in feeding our apprentice program, but it's also huge for my organizers out there in the field doing the work."

Videos prepared for the Internet and television feature apprentices from various trades who grew up in Detroit explaining how an apprenticeship helped change their lives.

Mefford said Local 58 is a leader in the MUST campaign because it has had a strong recruitment and apprenticeship program for years. But combining with other Detroit-area building trades allows it to better get the word out, especially in a time when so many new apprentices are needed.

"It's all about telling our stories with a stronger, collective voice," Mefford said. "It's exciting to me to see all our trades and associations starting to become much more active in telling their stories and getting them out there like Local 58."


Voncaiara Williams, a first-year apprentice for Local 58, says the experience has changed her life.