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April 2016

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IBEW Joins Siemens Dialogue, Looks to Neutrality

When unions and management work together to level the playing field in today's global market, workers win.

That was the message IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson took to a groundbreaking labor meeting held in early February in Florida, which aimed to increase communications between global manufacturing giant Siemens and its labor stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic.

The meeting brought Siemens executives together with representatives from all six North American unions with members employed by the company, as well as leaders from the German union IG Metall. It represented an important step in a process that could result in the company adopting neutrality toward organizing in its nearly 150 nonunion plants across the U.S. and Canada.

"We really appreciate IG Metall and the Siemens Works Council's involvement in this and their encouragement for the company to come together to talk with us about the future of Siemens' North American manufacturing," said IBEW Manufacturing Department Director Randy Middleton, who hopes the meeting will lead to increased cooperation between labor and management. "Reps from all the unions really came together, and we're hopeful this leads to serious organizing at Siemens facilities all over the U.S. and Canada."

The IBEW represents about 1,400 Siemens workers at 12 plants across the U.S. and Canada, but the company has another 40,000 employees at 149 North American plants that are still nonunion. The German engineering conglomerate employs about 350,000 people worldwide and makes everything from circuit breakers to medical equipment and subway trains.

In Germany, Siemens and IG Metall have long enjoyed a productive relationship, in part because nearly all of the company's 100,000 workers, including engineers and managers, belong to unions. German law also requires works councils, independent boards comprised of labor and management representatives that must sign off on major decisions like layoffs and work distribution.

In the U.S., the story is more complicated. Because unions here aren't always on the same page, Siemens has traditionally resisted organizing within its U.S. facilities.

"That's really what these meetings are all about," Middleton said. "Showing Siemens that we can all work together and get along will go a long way to addressing some of their concerns here in North America."

That's not to say, however, that Siemens hasn't had good experiences with its union shops on this side of the Atlantic, especially in IBEW facilities. In Grand Prairie, Texas, the company recently invested over $5 million into the low and medium voltage switchgear plant there, adding more than 70 employees from nonunion shops.

"Siemens understands that with the IBEW, they're getting the best-trained, hardest-working men and women out there," Middleton said. "Our people live and work by the Code of Excellence, and I know they appreciate that as an employer."

With momentum building toward Siemens' annual worldwide meeting in June in Washington, D.C., union leaders in the U.S. and Canada are hopeful that the $100 billion company will vote to adopt neutrality for organizing at its remaining North American plants.

Siemens executives are planning to visit IBEW headquarters during the lead-up to the June 16 vote.

"We're confident that the leaders at Siemens value quality and hard work the same way we do here at the IBEW, and we look forward to hosting them in June," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "Its people are any company's most valuable asset, and we hope to have the opportunity to be a voice for even more of them at Siemens in the future."


Siemens workers at a plant in Ohio and 149 other North American facilities could soon benefit from a neutrality agreement with the IBEW and other unions if talks continue smoothly.

Ohio Local Funds Legacy of Education

The IBEW and its training partners have developed some of the most highly regarded apprenticeship programs in the building trades throughout the years. Leaders at Youngstown, Ohio, Local 64 are hoping for similar success as they invest in higher education.

Local 64 and the Mahoning Valley chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association have endowed a scholarship at Youngstown State University that will assist a member or signatory contractor employee working toward a degree in a discipline that benefits the electrical industry.

The $1,000 scholarship will be given on an annual basis beginning in September. The winner must enroll or be enrolled in Youngstown State's College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Electrical engineering, civil and construction engineering technology and business management are some of the areas in which students can pursue degrees. Deadline to apply is May 1.

"We provide the apprenticeship program that we think is a great opportunity for young people," said Local 64 Business Manager James Burgham, who also is a member of the International Executive Council. "You get an education, career and no financial debt in getting it. Why not continue that and give our membership a chance to go back to school and enhance their careers?"

"We think it really fits along the line of labor-management relationships," Burgham added.

Applicants who have shown a longtime commitment to working in the electrical industry will be given priority by the selection committee, Burgham said.

"We wanted to tie it in to the industry and hopefully, give it to someone who can make a substantial contribution to the industry," he said.

Burgham said much of the credit for the scholarship goes to longtime Local 64 member Jim Geller, the owner of Geller Electric, Inc., before he retired in 2008. Geller also is a trustee for the Youngstown State University Foundation, a private, non-profit board and the developmental entity for the university.

"Our goal is to benefit the membership and the employees of the signatory contractors so that they can advance their careers," Geller said. "Our hope is that they stay in the industry and become leaders and look for ways to enhance it."

Brian Nord, a development officer with the foundation who worked closely with NECA and Local 64 to set up the scholarship, said Local 64 has long provided support for the university. The scholarship takes that a step further, he said.

"When a group like Local 64 sets up an endowed scholarship, they're setting something up that will be given in perpetuity and will help the people within their trade forever," Nord said. "It's set up to be given to people year after year after year. That's a powerful thing."

Nord said the scholarship also aids the university overall because it is another step in President Jim Tressel's plan to hold down tuition costs. Tressel, the former football coach at both Youngstown and Ohio State, has been the school's president since 2014.

"Youngtown is a working-class, blue-collar area and always has been," Nord said. "The more endowed scholarships that we can set up, the more it benefits kids from the area and outside the area."

Burgham said the local building trades council in Youngstown has had a similar scholarship program with Youngstown State for several years. Local 64 contributes to the foundation and also advertises at the school's sporting events.

"We've always worked closely with YSU in our area," he said.

It's been a big few months for Local 64. It is now accepting bids for a new apprentice training center that is expected to cost about $1.2 million.

"Work is slow right now, but we need to prepare for the future," Burgham said. "We've come off a good five years. We have to keep our members prepared for the future and apprentices ready for the future."

Third District RENEW Sets Sights on November Elections

Young members in the Third District are gearing up for November's election and managing to inject some friendly rivalry into the process.

The district's RENEW leadership started a voter registration competition in March, pitting local chapters against one another to see who can sign up the most new voters before the Third District progress meeting in May.

"Voting — having a voice in politics — is so important," said Third District Youth Caucus co-chair Chris Erikson Jr., who is spearheading the effort. "This competition is a great way to engage our young members and to spread the word that working people need to be heard at the ballot box."

That's part of the message being taken around the country by international representative and Grassroots Political Coordinator Tarn Goelling, who worked with Erikson and the youth caucus leadership to get the registration idea off the ground. Goelling has spent much of recent months travelling to locals and helping to train and organize political coordinators to prepare for November's elections.

"Our members are under attack in state legislatures all over this country," Goelling said, "and most people aren't paying attention to the damage being done. These lawmakers are going after construction wages, collective bargaining and our local unions' ability to represent our members. They want unions to disappear, plain and simple."

Citing recent right-to-work and prevailing wage attacks in West Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky and Virginia, she added, "If our members don't understand that this is happening right under their feet, they are going to wake up without any representation at all."

Third District Vice President Don Siegel has spent years encouraging young member engagement. "Voting is such a timely issue, and I've always said that if we want active union members, we have to get them active in the community first."

Goelling's goal is for every one of the IBEW's more than 725,000 members to be registered to vote well before November rolls around, and the Third District's young members are hoping to do their part with this competition.

"There are so many important races going on this year, from city councils and state legislatures right up to the White House, and we want our young members to be a part of electing representatives who are going to fight for working people at every level," Erikson said.

"If we don't step up and speak for ourselves in these important races," Goelling said, "you'd better believe somebody else will step in and speak for us, and I doubt we'll like what they have to say. Voting, registering like-minded friends and neighbors, and being engaged in the political process is the best way to make sure the attacks on working people don't go unanswered."


Jack Savage from the Mahoning Valley NECA chapter presents a check to Brian Nord of the Youngstown State University Foundation to signify the beginning of an endowed scholarship at the school funded by Local 64 and NECA. They were joined by Local 64 Business Manager James Burgham and Local 64 President William Booth and NECA's John Rafoth.