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June 2017

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Dennis Phelps

After nearly 50 years with the IBEW, Government Employees Department Director Dennis Phelps retired May 1.

Brother Phelps was initiated into Washington, D.C., Local 26 as a residential apprentice in 1970. By 1978 he was working in the public sector, where he would spend the rest of his career. The inside wireman worked at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, then moved to the Government Printing Office, where he joined Washington, D.C., Local 121.

It only took about six months at the printing office before Phelps became chief shop steward, following in his family's labor activist footsteps. A great uncle organized alongside John L. Lewis, the famed labor leader and former president of the United Mine Workers of America.

"It kind of came down to me from there," he said. "I've been helping members ever since."

In 1990, he was elected president and business manager of Local 121, which represents members at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing as well as the printing office. The bureau is one of a handful of government employers that allow employees to bargain for wages, a status he had to constantly fight to retain, he said.

"If we couldn't negotiate, we would've been paid a lot less," Phelps said. "When I was there, we kept wages within $1 of Local 26 rates, and with benefits. And back then, they were good benefits to have."

Brother Phelps was part of a 15-year battle over the right of bureau members to maintain that bargaining status. After 12 years in the courts and two years of negotiations, they got their first wage agreement in 1998.

Phelps stayed at the bureau until he was appointed international representative assigned to the Government Employees Department in 2007. In 2014, he was appointed director.

"I thought I could use my expertise with government laws to support more members than just those at my local," he said. "It's been very rewarding."

More than 70,000 IBEW members in the U.S. and Canada are government employees, working for federal agencies including the departments of Energy and Interior and on shipyards, navigational locks and dams and power generating plants.

Phelps says he'll miss the people he's worked with and the friends he's made across the country. If he had one wish for IBEW's government employees, he says it would be to remove the increasingly hostile threats they're under from political wrangling.

"I would protect them from politicians who don't see them for what they are," he said. "Devoted civil servants who go in and do their job and don't deserve to be bad-mouthed. Let them be good civil servants and pay them fairly."

In addition to dealing with hiring freezes and government shutdowns, government employees often bear the brunt of political disputes. In January, House Republicans resurrected a rule from the 19th century that would allow Congress to target specific federal workers and programs, opening the gate for indignities like shrinking a person's salary to $1 or eliminating an entire class of workers.

President Trump's budget proposal, if enacted, could cut almost 200,000 federal jobs.

A native of Charles County, Md., Phelps served for eight years on the county's Democratic Central Committee, including two as chair. He also served on the Maryland AFL-CIO executive committee as secretary-treasurer.

He has campaigned for several candidates, including the first congressional race for Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland in 1981. Hoyer is now the second-ranking member of the House Democratic leadership.

Phelps plans to spend more time with his family, including visiting his children and grandchildren who live in Connecticut and Washington. He also wants to work on his golf game, he said, and get out on his boat more.

The IBEW members, staff and international officers thank Brother Phelps for his many years of service and wish him a long and happy retirement.


Dennis Phelps

William J. Pledger

Fifth District International Representative William "Joe" Pledger retired from the IBEW on April 1 after more than 46 years of service to the Brotherhood.

In 1965, the second-generation member of Mobile, Ala., Local 345 followed his father and grandfather, three uncles and a host of other family members into a job at Alabama Power. But Pledger took a leave of absence soon after to pilot Sikorsky CH-3C rescue helicopters for the Air Force in Vietnam.

When he returned in 1970, Brother Pledger spent 15 years working his way up at the utility, starting as a helper, then an assistant plant control operator, and finally as a plant control operator on coal units at the James M. Barry steam plant just north of Mobile.

It was during that time that he first ran for local union office, elected treasurer of Local 345 on his first try in 1973. Three years later, he was appointed chairman of the executive board, and in 1983, Pledger was appointed president of the local. He also served as delegate to, and later chairman of, the U-19 System Council for Alabama Power and as chairman for Utility Coordinating Council 1 at the Southern Company.

In 1987, the International Office came calling, and then-International President J.J. Barry appointed Brother Pledger as an international representative for the Fifth District. In his nearly 30 years on the job, Pledger serviced locals across the district in every classification except construction.

"I loved this job," he said. "I got so much satisfaction out of getting a great agreement that the membership supported, and I worked hard to forge good relationships not just with the locals, but with the companies as well. It was rare that we had to bring in mediators, and I'm proud of that."

In the right-to-work deep South, Pledger says those relationships were especially important. "I spent a lot of time meeting with executives at the companies employing our members, and I know that level of understanding and cooperation led to a lot of good contracts and to better outcomes in the employer-employee relations," he said. He cites union membership still in the high 90 percent range at Alabama Power as evidence that the membership understood the benefits that came with belonging to the IBEW.

But the job wasn't without its challenges. "When J.J. Barry hired me, he took me aside and said 'This is a seven day a week job, 24 hours a day,' and he wasn't kidding. So many times, we'd have a wobble at midnight on one thing or another, but even with that, it's really been fun. I've met a lot of great people and I'm taking so many friendships with me into retirement," Pledger said.

For a career in service to the labor movement, Pledger was awarded Alabama's Labor Person of the Year in 2013 and inducted into his home state's organized labor hall of fame.

In retirement, Pledger plans to travel with his wife, Judy. The two have a trip to Jerusalem planned for December. He's also an avid hunter and bass fisherman, and he's wasted no time getting reacquainted with those hobbies.

"So far, it's great," he said of his first weeks of retirement. "No assignments, no negotiations to show up for. I'm loving it. … My 30 years in this job was one of the great honors of my life, and I'll miss it, the people most of all."

The officers, staff and entire membership of the IBEW wish Brother Pledger a long, healthy and active retirement.


William J. Pledger

Donald W. Vidourek

After 45 years of service to the IBEW, Fourth District International Representative Don Vidourek retired on April 1.

Brother Vidourek got his first taste of the electrical trades in 1969 working as a summer helper for his uncle, a member of Hamilton, Ohio, Local 648. After a short stint working at Southwestern Ohio Steel, Vidourek quit in 1970 when months of hassling his uncle for an application paid off and he was accepted into Local 648's apprenticeship program.

Work was slow at first, but after a month at Armco Steel, he landed a job at Wente Construction, where he worked for the next 13 years.

In 1983, Vidourek was elected to his first union office, Local 648's examining board, where he served for three years before joining the executive board. In March 1988, then-business manager Doug Cloud hired Vidourek as the local's organizer, a job he held for seven months until Cloud, who was leaving to take a job as an international representative, asked him to take over as business manager.

"I never had any inclinations of ever being a business manager, much less an international representative," Vidourek said. "But Doug saw something in me, and he taught me well." Over the course of 14 years in that job, Vidourek said, he could always turn to Cloud for advice. "If I was in a bind, he was always my first call."

Vidourek also managed to find time to be involved with labor organizations both local and statewide during his time as business manager. He served as secretary-treasurer of the Ohio State Conference of Electrical Workers, president of the Butler County and Ohio Building Trades and as a Democratic Party committeeman, among other things.

Running his small local, Vidourek learned that being a business manager is "one of the hardest jobs there is." He described the job, besides the usual referrals, negotiations, etc., as "part marriage counselor, part problem solver." Your goal, he said, "is to work hard to service your members, to make their lives easier, and if you do that, you're doing OK."

So when he got the call in 2002 offering him a job as an international representative, Vidourek said, "I took a similar approach." His work took him all over the state of Ohio and to inside and outside construction locals in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Things were especially hard during the economic downturn that started in 2008 and decimated the construction industry, but Vidourek credits the introduction of alternative classifications for helping the IBEW regain critical market share. "We had quite a few locals who organized a lot during that time, and they gained a lot of ground that's served us well as we've gotten back to a busy market."

In retirement, Vidourek plans to spend time golfing and fishing and spending more time with his wife, Cheryl, and their four grandsons.

"I was fortunate to work for three great bosses in the Fourth District: Paul Witte, Sam Chilia and Kenny Cooper," Vidourek said. "And I'll miss every one of the fantastic people I worked with. But it's nice to get up in the morning and not have places you need to go."

The members, officers and staff of the IBEW wish Brother Vidourek the very best in what we hope will be a long, happy and healthy retirement.


Donald W. Vidourek

R.W. "Red" Purcell

The IBEW is saddened to report that R.W. "Red" Purcell, a retired international representative, died in his hometown of Greenville, Texas, on March 18. He was 99.

Brother Purcell had a long history with labor before joining the International staff in 1966. He was a member of the United Auto Workers, serving as president and financial secretary of a local union. He also worked for the Congress of Industrial Organizations from 1946-53, leaving two years prior to its merger with the American Federation of Labor.

He was working for the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers when he moved to the IBEW. Former Seventh District Vice President Orville Tate Jr. said Purcell was hired because he had a reputation as a strong organizer.

"That guy was one hell of an organizer," said Tate, who worked closely with Purcell. "He was an older, slow-talking country guy who people loved. He was a master at breaking things down to where they were nice and simple and people could relate to it."

Assigned to the Organizing Department in Washington, D.C., two of Purcell's most successful organizing drives came at a GTE Lenkurt plant in Albuquerque, N.M.; and at Pennsylvania Power & Light Co.

Tate also worked on the GTE drive and said it took more than two years and added more than 2,000 members to the IBEW in the early 1970s while also exposing deplorable conditions at the facility for workers, many of whom were Hispanic.

"Once that man got his mind set on something, if he thought it was right, there was no stopping him," said Cynthia Phippins, Purcell's daughter. "He was very stubborn, very quick-witted and very smart. You might as well not argue with him because you weren't going to win."

Her father kept those strong opinions up until his death, she said. Purcell was an outspoken, loyal Democrat and union person in a conservative area of northeast Texas.

"Everybody he met, any working person, he would ask if they had a chance to join a union," Phippins said. "If he heard of anyone not receiving fair treatment at work, his first statement was, 'You should always get together and see what you can do about forming a union.' He believed in that with all his heart."

Purcell retired in 1982 and returned to his native Texas. He and his wife Gladys were married for 50 years until her death in 2015 and his health slowly deteriorated after that, his daughter said. He is survived by three children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was commonly called "Red" because of his red hair and freckles, Tate said.

Phippins said she talked to her father the night before he died and he was in good spirits.

"His mind was clear until the end," she said.

On behalf of the entire IBEW membership and staff, the officers extend our deepest condolences to Brother Purcell's family and friends.


R.W. Red" Purcell