The Electrical Worker online
September 2017

An Organizing Drive That's a Perfect Fit
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Organizing campaigns can be long and combative and leave scars on all sides.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Cincinnati Local 1347 Business Manager Andrew Kirk wanted some union-made T-shirts, walked into a shirt printer's store in a local mall and, nine months later, had 14 new members with 30 more on the horizon, a happy owner and a signed first contract.

"They signed the contract and the next week they had a booth at the progress meeting. I just wish all companies were like them," Kirk said.

Kirk needed T-shirts to give away at monthly meetings, an incentive for the local's 900 members to show up. But everything he found online was made overseas. That didn't sit right.

"We want that union bug, but we need made in America," Kirk said. "We have a lot of older members and retirees in our local and they don't mess around about that."

He was walking around Eastgate Mall, and happened to see a store called Blackout Tees that had their own print shop.

They weren't union, but they were local, and Kirk explained what he wanted. And while he was there, he asked the employee if he'd ever thought about joining a union. The worker called the company's owner, Jamie Madden, to the front.

Kirk talked to Madden. And then, unexpectedly, Madden got excited about the idea of an organized workforce.

Kirk talked to the workers. They got excited.

Madden, a former member of the National Nurses Union, threw his support behind the organizing drive and next thing Kirk knew, Madden volunteered to join. A vote was held and passed June 21 and by the first of July, the new members ratified a first contract.

"Jamie wants to grow and he saw the structure that our contract provides — the grievance procedure, classifications, shifts and overtime — and he liked it," Kirk said. "It just went smooth after that."

Kirk even said that the negotiations were an opportunity to share the union's expertise on best practices in labor management with an eager, but new, entrepreneur.

"Scaling up is difficult, and we can help. We did help," Kirk said. "We can establish shifts and classifications that can clear up how they can best organize themselves. Workers and production is something we understand and we are happy to share what we've learned so our employers succeed."

Blackout tees is now waiting for its official union bug. It has a page of officially licensed IBEW themed T-shirts, available at

And, most importantly, it has a new 20,000-square-foot warehouse and production space to expand into and plans to go from one shift to three, nearly tripling the workforce.

"He is making a big investment, and he knows the expectations we have for our workers," Kirk said. "There is a night and day between union and nonunion quality. We bring a certain class to the field."

Kirk has been through many organizing campaigns. But none like this.

"It was just one of those things," Kirk said. "It's like a fairy tale almost."


Jamie Madden, the owner of newly organized Blackout Tees, shaking hands with Cincinnati Local 1347 Business Manager Andrew Kirk.