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February 2016

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IBEW Women Join CLUW to Tackle the War on Women

They didn't come to swap recipes when they first convened in 1974 and they didn't do it this time either. Unless it was a recipe to stop the war on women.

Approximately 500 delegates and observers came together for the Coalition of Labor Union Women's 18th biennial convention, held in Sacramento, Calif., Nov. 19-21.

"We are here to get prepared for the duties and work that needs to be done. … We must be armed and equipped for the battles that lie ahead," said CLUW National President Connie Leak as she kicked off the opening session wearing camouflage.

The IBEW delegation included about 25 attendees, among them AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who delivered the keynote address.

"Will we take another step toward full equality? Or will we see a continuation of the war on women? Will we write the economic and societal rules? Or will we fall victim to those who want to silence our voice and deny us our rights?" said Shuler, who is a member of Portland, Ore., Local 125.

IBEW members took time to discuss issues including recruiting and retaining more women members.

As CLUW detailed on its website, delegates debated and adopted resolutions on the Black Lives Matter movement, preventing gun violence, restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, which protects individuals' finances from risky banking practices, and women's impact on the 2016 elections.

"It was very informative and energetic," said Detroit Local 58 member Grace Trudell, who attended for the first time.

IBEW members attended sessions on parliamentary procedure, engaging membership, retirement, sexual harassment and gender equality, to name a few.

The convention also focused on health with a plenary on heart disease, mental health and the results of a survey from CLUW. Based on those results, CLUW will begin offering health-related resources on its website from partner organization HealthyWomen.

"CLUW's primary focus is on empowering women at work and in their unions," Leak said. "In recent years our leadership has broadened that commitment to include the health of union women, as we know that when women have access to quality, easy-to-understand and up-to-date health information, they live longer, are more productive and have better quality lives."

Attendees also discussed workplace safety. Greater New Jersey CLUW Chapter President Cecelia Gilligan Leto stressed the importance of women being educated on the federal and state laws that govern safety in the workplace.

"Women who are single parents, struggling to provide basic needs for themselves and their children, can be one workplace injury away from poverty," Leto said.

Trudell noted the additional burden facing many single union women when they are out of work, particularly construction members who cannot afford to wait for another job. This issue of retention is something she plans to address with the CLUW chapter she is starting with the Huron Valley Central Labor Council.

"When it gets tough and there is no work, they might go back to school or look for other work to make ends meet," Trudell said.

Trudell also plans to start a women's committee at her local. This and the CLUW chapter were both inspired by the convention. She says right now there isn't anything like them for women in her area, which spans southeast Michigan between Detroit and Lansing, an area known for high union density.

"I'm looking forward to getting started," Trudell said. "I want to have something for women to go to, where there is a sense of belonging and of being able to get things done."

Trudell says some fellow attendees are already on board and that others have expressed interest as well.

"Everybody's ready to go," she said.

Additionally, League of Women Voters Senior Director Jessica Seneca spoke to attendees about the upcoming elections and the importance of union women exercising their hard-fought constitutional right to vote. CLUW partnered with the League in 2014 and plans to do so again this cycle.

Among the convention takeaways was the need to continue working for equality, said IBEW Director of Civic and Community Engagement Carolyn J. Williams.

"CLUW has played and will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that the issues of women are given visibility within and outside the labor movement," Williams said.


IBEW women were in full force for the CLUW convention.

Devastating Northwest Storm Highlights
IBEW Linemen's Skill, Professionalism

On Nov. 17, a powerful windstorm ripped through the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies and the northern High Plains, leaving a wake of destruction, misery and bitter cold.

At the peak of the storm, record-setting wind gusts in parts of central and eastern Washington reached 119 mph, toppling trees, flipping semitrailers and ripping the roofs off of homes.

When the skies calmed, more than a million people were left without power, including Spokane, Wash., resident Erv Schleufer.

Overnight, a 100-foot ponderosa pine snapped in his neighbor's yard, taking Schleufer's electrical service line with it and ripping the meter off the side of his house. Left to work out how to reconnect his home to the grid, the retired UA and Steelworkers member knew one thing for certain: he was going to use union labor.

His call to Spokane's Electric Smith, a signatory contractor, led Las Vegas Local 357 wireman Brian Bendele to his door, and the two struck up a quick friendship while getting Schleufer's house reconnected.

But it would be eight more long, cold days before the line crews working in the area would be able to restore power to his hard-hit northwest Spokane neighborhood, and in the meantime, Bendele generously offered to loan his brand new gasoline-powered generator to this stranger-turned-friend.

"Our power came back on, and people in a community have to look after one another when times are tough," Bendele said. "His trees had taken out the high lines to the whole neighborhood, so I knew it was going to be a while before they got their power back."

"It's that kind of thing that really restores your faith in humanity," Schleufer said of Bendele's generosity. "He had no reason to do something so kind for us, but he did, and it made a world of difference during that week. We had a place to charge our phones and we could run the heaters at night to keep the pipes from freezing."

Heroes in the Aftermath

Days later, when the lights finally did come back on, Schleufer noticed a ground line arcing in his back yard. "I ran down the street to where there was a line crew working and they came right away," he said. While one of the linemen was up the pole fixing the problem, Schleufer grabbed his camera.

The result was a hauntingly beautiful silhouette captured in black and white using a special infrared technology Schleufer has been using for the last couple of years.

"I just thought that picture showed these linemen the way they ought to be portrayed," he said, "as heroes."

And for the 180,000 Spokane families without power enduring the freezing temperatures that accompanied the storm's aftermath, the characterization was not uncommon.

"We sometimes forget that these devastating storms can happen anywhere, and I am proud of our represented linemen and crafts people who will leave their families in the dark to restore power," said Seattle Local 77 Business Manager Louis Walter, whose local represents the nearly 200 IBEW linemen working for Spokane's Avista Utilities.

The Spokane area typically has about 15 local line crews, but after the storm, the number swelled to nearly 160, including another 500 IBEW linemen from contractors or other utilities who assisted in the cleanup operation.

For almost all of the affected customers, the lights were back on by Thanksgiving, a remarkably quick recovery for a storm Avista described as its "largest crisis in 126 years." In the Spokane area alone, 42 major transmission lines and 23 substations were out of commission.

"The Northwest storm recovery is just another example of the outstanding service IBEW linemen put in all over the country, day in and day out," said IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter.

"We've got a Code of Excellence, and we're committed to being the best and to doing our work safely and efficiently. That's especially important during times of crisis," he said. "People notice that we're there helping them clean up and get their power back on, and they really appreciate our commitment to our jobs and to our communities."

For Schleufer, his photo of an IBEW lineman, whose name he wasn't able to catch, was emblematic of the region-wide effort. "He's up there all in the dark just helping people get their lights on," he said.

"It's no different than the firefighters who battled the forest fires we had here over the summer," he said. "When the community needs them, these hard-working union men and women come to the rescue. We owe them a lot of gratitude."


Erv Schleufer's stunning photo captured an IBEW lineman working under a full moon after the November storm in Spokane, Wash.

Photo courtesy Spokane resident Erv Schleufer

Ore. Governor Appoints Portland Business Manager to Port Commission

The Port of Portland brings in over $260 million a year and employs close to 750 people, one-third of them union members. And Portland, Ore., Local 48 Business Manager Gary Young has been tapped to serve on its commission.

"Having Brother Young serve in such an influential post is a big win for the working families of Oregon and for the broader labor movement," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

Young began his four-year term in October, filling a spot formerly held by International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 8 President Bruce Holte, said the Northwest Labor Press. The commission oversees the port area which includes the Portland International Airport, marine terminals and industrial parks.

In his new position, Young will focus on the terminals, overseeing what gets shipped out and looking for opportunities to bring in new business. The port serves Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

"There are a lot of decisions that need to be made," Young said. "We make sure the port is able to take care of its customers. Most importantly, we see that it remains profitable."

The commission includes eight seats, most of which are held by members of the business community. In addition to Young, labor has one more representative, Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain. The Port works with 11 different unions and employs close to 300 union members during its peak season.

The agenda for 2016 will include getting former shipping business back, said the Northwest Labor Press. A recent labor dispute with the longshoremen resulted in a work slowdown that contributed to shipping companies Hanjin and Hapag-Lloyd pulling out of the terminal and taking nearly all of the container shipping business with them.

Strengthening Labor's Impact

While the port has been the site of labor disputes in the past, Young says Local 48 and most of the other locals have a good relationship with management.

"The port is very labor-friendly," Young said. "Our construction contractors are awarded bids more often than not."

Local 48 previously worked on the rebuilding of the port's headquarters and recently began construction on an expansion to the north-side concourse at the Portland airport. The project is expected to take about two to three years and employ up to 120 Local 48 members. Currently, about 60 members do maintenance for the Port, Young said.

An inside wireman by trade, Young has been Local 48's business manager for nearly three years, previously serving as vice president and on the executive board. He says his members are mostly supportive of the appointment.

"It gives us more political horsepower," Young said.

In addition to policy-setting and decision-making, the commission can also serve as an arbitrator for labor disputes and advise employers on issues like ensuring a minimum wage for airport employees.

Though Young has only been on the commission for a few months, he says he is already impressed with his fellow commissioners.

"I am working with great people," Young said. "Not only are they experts in everything from foreign affairs to trade to the law, they are considerate."

Prior to his appointment, Young worked with the port on a program to give apprentices an easier pathway to a port job by giving them on-site work experience.

"It's a beneficial program. It builds up a pool of people who understand the needs of the port," Young said.

Additionally, the Port is tasked with keeping the channel clear for navigation, a unique responsibility. The Port of Portland is the only place in nation where the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't dredge and clear the port itself. Instead, it contracts to the port — which means jobs in the Pacific Northwest.


Young will focus on bringing in business to terminals that serve the Pacific Northwest.


In addition to keeping the port profitable, the commission serves as an arbitrator for labor disputes with the 11 unions working at the port.

Photo credit: Pam Thompson