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January 2016

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Montana Local Ratifies First Contract after Two-Year Fight

In March of 2013 maintenance employees at REC Silicon voted for better working conditions and respect on the job. In September 2015, they finally got it.

After two years of bargaining, Helena, Mont., Local 233 ratified its first contract with the Butte-based REC Silicon. The company, which produces silane gas and polysilicon that is used to make computer chips, is also the largest manufacturer of the material in the world.

"It was an uphill battle," said Local 233 Business Manager Keith Allen. "But with the strength of our supporters we were able to keep fighting to get our employees on an equal footing with management."

Local 233 dealt with numerous obstacles, including charges of unfair labor practices by the company and an unsuccessful decertification attempt. A volunteer organizing committee member was even fired a week before Christmas. But in the end, 48 new members got a contract, and one with a union security clause. And the fired employee, who is a U.S. military veteran, got his job back — with back pay.

"It was a total team effort," said Dave Thomas, state organizing coordinator. "We had a strong volunteer organizing committee and everyone worked hard to make this happen."

The maintenance staff are comprised of electricians, welders, mechanics, painters, insulators and other craft trades people with specializations, all jobs that require high levels of competency. Previous attempts by other unions had been made to organize these working women and men, but only two ever got to a vote. This time around, the IBEW organizing team hit the ground hard.

When organizers at Local 233 heard that REC Silicon was flying in a union-busting lawyer from Ohio, they made sure to let everyone know. From then on, the labor-friendly town of Butte got regular reminders in the daily and weekly newspapers, as well as broadcast coverage, of the out-of-towner with a history of dismantling companies and shipping jobs overseas.

"His credibility was gone before he even started," said Regional Organizing Coordinator Bob Brock. "We were really proactive with the press and got them on board early on. Then we just kept pounding away."

Brock said they also circulated letters of encouragement throughout the Butte labor community — Butte is an old union mining town with deep labor roots — and delivered them to the employees before the vote. The letters came from fellow union members — firefighters, teachers and machinists — and other locals in support of a vote for the union.

"With Butte being a tight-knit town, everyone who read the list saw a name of someone they knew encouraging them," Brock said.

With that vote and the successful negotiation, the days of constantly changing rules and management playing favorites are over. And with their contract, the new members of Local 233 now have the fairness and security they deserve.

"Employees should have management promises in writing," Allen said. "Now we have that. Now we have a voice that management will listen to."


After two years, Helena, Mont., Local 233 ratified its first contract with REC Silicon, a major employer in the central Montana area.

REC Silicon plant photo credit: Flickr user Scott Butner

New Attitude Sparks Big Growth in Vermont Local

Jeffrey Wimette admits many members of Montpelier, Vt., Local 300 didn't greet the IBEW's embrace of alternate job classifications with much enthusiasm at first.

"Initially, it was a battle," said Wimette, the local's business manager. "Some people were writing e-mails saying that they are going to take away from our work. Contractors are not going to hire our [journeyman wiremen] because it cost too much."

That didn't turn out to be the case, he said.

Local 300's membership has increased 30 percent during the last two years, using a program that's designed to lower costs, allow IBEW signatory contractors to bid successfully on more projects and introduce more men and women to the benefits of a union job. Many participants in the alternate job classification program have worked lower-skilled electrical jobs on nonunion sites with little or no formal training.

Wimette said he understands the reluctance to change, but it is now as much of a necessity for the IBEW as for private industry.

"I didn't have a cell phone 40 years ago," he said. "I didn't have my life in my hands or my back pocket. I kind of crack up when I hear utility managers say they've be doing things the same way for 30 years."

Times change.

"It's been a no-brainer for the most part," Wimette added. "Even if we have apprentices that don't pan out, we have a place to put them in our system."

Membership Development Director Tim LaBombard said 90 percent of Local 300's first- and second-year apprentices originally were construction wiremen or construction electricians, designations that allow less-experienced workers to join the IBEW and be paid at a lower rate than a journeyman wireman.

"It gave me an opportunity to get a handle on what the career was all about and whether it was something I could really sink my teeth into," said Micah Williams, a former construction wireman who is now a second-year apprentice.

Williams got a chance to boost his career, but the program has provided benefits throughout the Vermont electrical industry.

Local 300 had about 425 journeyman wireman prior to the 2008 economic collapse. That number had dropped to nearly 200, LaBombard said. The influx of alternative job classification members gave overall membership a 30-percent increase to nearly 1,100 members, he said.

"The construction wiremen program has been a big part of Local 300's financial stability," Wimette said.

It has helped signatory contractors bid on projects they had little chance to land in the past, he said. Salaries for alternate category workers vary because each local negotiates its own pay rates, but they generally make between $10 and $20 less per hour than a journeyman wireman.

"I can tell you we would not be doing these jobs if we did not have the [alternate] classifications to blend into the pay rates against nonunion contractors," LaBombard said.

It has built goodwill with contractors and helps with recruitment, too.

"We hire people that are really looking for a career, not just a job," said Jeff Peck, owner of Peck Electric in Middlebury, Vermont. "The program has been a gateway to introduce us to those people."

"Our desire every day is to be better, more efficient and more productive," Peck added. "The union is focused on that and is continuing to help us find the workers we need."

Wimette says the demand for skilled journeymen electricians remains strong and the alternate classification workers allow those better-trained members to concentrate on higher-level tasks.

"You don't hear it anymore, that we're going to lose our jobs," Wimette said. "It started off as a directive and we turned it into an opportunity."

The IBEW Media Department recently produced a video on Local 300, which can be viewed at:


Local 300 construction wireman Jeff Becher said he hopes to use experience gained in that position to earn a spot in an apprenticeship program.

Hundreds of Missouri Municipal Workers Join IBEW

The IBEW picked up nearly 300 members in Springfield, Mo., when city workers voted 122-8 to certify with Local 753, a major win in the conservative southwest part of the state.

"People are tired of having the thumb put down on them by their employer," lead organizer Phil Meyer said. "They're tired of the way they've been treated. They wanted the IBEW because they know we're one of the strongest unions in the world."

The new bargaining unit will touch nearly all of local government in Springfield, a city of 160,000 near the tourism mecca of Branson. Once an agreement is signed, road maintenance crews and workers at the parks department and the Springfield airport will be represented by Local 753. So will staff from the janitorial, sanitation and public works departments.

A state mandated one-year waiting period following the unit's decertification from another union ended in early 2015. Eleventh District Regional Coordinator Brian Heins said the IBEW was approached by those employees right away.

"We saw people that were committed to becoming IBEW," Heins said. "It's not often we pick up a group of 300 people. To pick one up in southern Missouri is huge."

One of those employees was Randall Stevens, a road construction worker for the city. Stevens said he and others researched several unions, but liked the IBEW because it already had a strong local in the area. For many years, Local 753 has represented Springfield utility workers, who are governed by an appointed commission instead of the city council, which oversees most city employees.

Stevens said those city employees looked at the salary and benefits the utility workers received and wanted the IBEW representing them.

"It made sense," Stevens said. "They already dealt with the city. Might as well fly in and make it one big happy family is the way I figured it."

Meyer said he knew the employees were serious during his first meeting with them, when it had to be moved to a local firefighters' union hall because attendance was larger than expected. That momentum carried over into organizing activities.

"I had a good idea the election was going to be a good day for the IBEW and Local 753," Meyer said. "I didn't think it was going to be this kind of smash."

Local 753 Business Manager Tony Parrish said he and other local officers have had a good working relationship with Springfield city management in recent years. He expects that to continue when contract negotiations begin for the newly-organized employees, probably sometime this year.

"They knew we were able to negotiate good contracts with the city utilities," Parrish said. "It seemed like a natural fit for them to come over and join us. They seem really pumped and excited. I really hope we can do them some good."

It was an extra special moment for Meyer, a retired utility worker in Springfield. He has been a Local 753 member for 32 years and still lives in the city.

"It's great to help people out, especially because I consider these people my neighbors," he said.


Springfield, Mo., city workers gather for their first meeting since voting to allow Local 753 to represent them in contract talks with municipal government.