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July 2019

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Bruce Burton

Pension & Reciprocity Director Bruce Burton, who previously spent 13 years as an international representative in the Political and Legislative Affairs Department, retired effective July 1.

Brother Burton saw the value of IBEW membership early in life. Don Burton, his father, was an electrician and member of the Service Employees International Union in the late 1960s. The elder Burton heard Detroit Local 58 wanted to add members to fill calls on work being done on the city's public schools, so he applied for membership.

His father was accepted, and the family's quality of life immediately improved, Burton said. His parents purchased a home in the upper middle-class suburb of Grosse Pointe Farms thanks to the increase in his father's pay.

"They cut his hours in half and doubled his wages," he said. "All of a sudden, Dad is home at 4 o'clock in the afternoon instead of 5 or 6. That's a big deal when you're a kid."

Burton eventually followed his father into the trades, but first spent time working as a landscaper, then at a ski resort and as a production worker at a Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Mich.

That job lasted 14 months until he was laid off. Burton said he appreciated the opportunity to make good wages while working for Ford, but the monotony of production work was tiring. He wanted to work with his hands while also being able to think and solve problems.

That's when he decided he was ready for a Local 58 apprenticeship. Burton was accepted into the training program and topped out as a journeyman inside wireman in 1985.

"The trade combines skills and smarts with physical work," he said. "When you can combine those things, especially for a young man under 40, you're living the dream."

After nearly a decade of working in the field, Burton started getting involved in another interest: politics. He volunteered on the campaigns of Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. David Bonior, who went on to become House Majority Whip and remains a friend, and for other Detroit-area officials.

"If democracy is going to mean something, people have to get involved and pay attention to what is going on around them," he said. "It's got to be about defending and standing up for things that are good for you and your family."

His work impressed then-Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski, who brought Burton on staff as a business representative. He was elected to two terms as recording secretary and one as vice president before moving to the International Office as an international representative in the Political Department in 2002.

Brian Baker, who joined the Political Department five years later and eventually became its director, said Burton is "as knowledgeable as anyone you'll find when it comes to politics."

"He was the face of the IBEW in Washington with the work that he did," said Baker, who now is the senior executive assistant to the international president. "He got along very well with our adversaries, whether it was a politician or another labor union we didn't see eye-to-eye with. He would always say you could make your point by disagreeing, but not being disagreeable."

In 2015, Burton was named the head of the Pension & Reciprocity Department, which runs the union's Pension Benefit Fund and ensures construction members working outside their home locals maintain their benefits. He held that role until his retirement. He and his wife, Barb, an assistant editor with the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, plan to move back to the Detroit area after Barb retires next summer.

Burton plans to do more motorcycle riding and also likely will volunteer for political candidates and causes. Two brothers also are Local 58 members. Ben Burton recently retired and Beau Burton is an instructor at Local 58's training center.

"What the IBEW means to me is opportunity because of the high wage rates for our construction members," he said. "Many of them are in the upper middle class on the same level as a lawyer or a teacher with a master's degree. This union affords you a career."

He also encourages members to stay involved in the political process.

"People talk about government like it's this abstract thing," he said. "No, we're the government. If you're pointing at the government, you're really pointing in the mirror. Your voice is as deep or as shallow as you want it to be."

The officers and staff thank Brother Burton for his service and wish him a long, happy retirement.


Bruce Burton

Louie Spencer

Louie Spencer has been appointed director of the Per Capita Membership Department by International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, effective June 1. Spencer replaces Brian Threadgold, who is now director of the Pension and Reciprocity Department.

Growing up in Scottsbluff, Neb., Spencer had little early experience with unions, although he knew that some of the members of his extended family had served as union shipyard workers in Maine. He fondly recalled one story that helped to shape his eventual enthusiasm and support for organized labor.

In August of 1997, Spencer was 16 when nearly 185,000 UPS employees represented by the Teamsters went on a 16-day strike for better wages and working conditions. The company was advertising for temporary workers during the ultimately successful strike, and Spencer told his grandmother — "only five feet tall but one of the few people who scared me" — that he was thinking of applying.

"Like hell you are," Spencer recalled her telling him. "You are not crossing a picket line. You will not be a scab."

After high school, Spencer spent four years in the U.S. Army, where he was trained as a paratrooper. In 2002, he returned to Scottsbluff and took a seasonal job as an equipment operator with the nearby city of Gering.

That job turned permanent, and early on in his 11-year career with the city, some of Spencer's co-workers approached him about being a part of a union organizing committee. "They were tired of years of stagnant wages, of having no voice in the workplace," he said.

One of those workers had researched a number of unions before selecting the IBEW. "The IBEW had a strong reputation," Spencer said — although it didn't hurt that the worker was a lineman.

Spencer ended up serving as coordinator of the volunteer organizing committee, and the election to join Grand Island, Neb., Local 1597 went quickly. They had just one "no" vote in a unit of 35 employees, "But it took two and a half years to get our first contract," he said. "We had to go to court twice over the city's failure to negotiate."

This came as little surprise, Spencer said. "Unions are practically unheard of in western Nebraska," he said. "We were kind of pioneers."

Eventually, the group negotiated a substantial hourly raise and additional benefits, and Spencer noted with some pride that the unit — for which he eventually served as chairman and chief steward — maintained around a 95% membership rate.

"That organizing drive was my first practical introduction to what a union was," said Spencer, who was officially initiated into the IBEW and Local 1597 in 2006.

While working full-time, Spencer took night and weekend classes at Western Nebraska Community College and Chadron State College. While his degrees from both institutions are in business administration, he spent a lot of time studying secondary and middle school education as well.

When Spencer indicated to Local 1597's leaders that he wanted to continue to serve the union in a way that put his interests to use, they assigned him to attend district progress meetings and training sessions. In 2010, leaders sent him to the AFL-CIO's first "Next Up" summit in Washington, D.C., for young union members.

"Being around those other activists really sparked my union passion," he said.

Eleventh District International Representative Rich Michel, the service representative for Local 1597, encouraged Spencer in 2013 to apply to become a lead organizer for western Nebraska and the Dakotas. That August, Spencer was appointed as a lead organizer by then-International President Edwin D. Hill.

"Louie is an absolute gem," Michel said. "I couldn't be prouder." The two of them developed a close friendship working together on several organizing campaigns.

"Organizing is a rough gig, but he hung right in there and kept plugging along," said Michel. "His whole heart is in the IBEW."

Vouching for Spencer also came easy to Eleventh District Regional Organizing Coordinator Brian Heins. "I figured out early on that he was a leader," Heins said. "I'm not sure if it was his military experience or if he was born with it, but you pick up pretty quickly that he's a good communicator."

In August 2017, Spencer was assigned by Stephenson to serve as an international representative in the Membership Development Department in Washington, D.C. Spencer has worked with the department on organizing campaigns for workers at DirecTV, Electrolux, Baltimore Gas and Electric and Atlanta Gas Light, among others.

Spencer was reassigned a year later to serve in the Per Capita Membership Department, responsible for tracking the records of the 775,000 active and retired IBEW members in nearly 900 locals throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In his new role as director of that department, Spencer hopes to continue his predecessors' push to embrace technological solutions to help streamline the department's processes.

"I want to keep the lines of communication open between the department, the locals and the members," he said. "We can always look for ways to improve how we can help locals take care of any per capita issues, and to streamline reporting."

Spencer is a member of the Union Sportsmen's Alliance and enjoys fishing and boating in particular. He is also a fan of the Chicago Cubs and he calls himself a "diehard" fan of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. Spencer and his wife, Jonna, have two children, Kaeden and Macy.

Please join the officers and staff in wishing Brother Spencer the best of luck in his new role.


Louie Spencer

Brian Threadgold

With a second promotion in less than two years at the International Office, Kansas native Brian Threadgold took the helm of the Pension & Reciprocity Department on June 1, replacing newly retired four-year Director Bruce Burton.

Threadgold was appointed director of the Per Capita Department last summer, seven months after moving to Washington, D.C., to serve as an international representative in the Council on Industrial Relations/Bylaws and Appeals Department.

His leadership skills helped him rise to business manager of Topeka, Kan., Local 226 in 2010, just 12 years after he began his apprenticeship to become a journeyman inside wireman. Before he could be re-elected to a third term heading his local, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson asked him to join the team at headquarters.

"Brother Threadgold has proven how valuable he is every step of the way in his IBEW journey the past 20 years," Stephenson said. "He is a natural leader who is widely respected for his work ethic, integrity and attention to detail, which are essential qualities for managing the critical responsibilities of the pension department."

The 14-member Pension & Reciprocity Department runs the IBEW's Pension Benefit Fund, responsible for payments to more than 112,000 beneficiaries currently. Staff researches eligibility, maintains records and assists members navigating the benefit process.

"Members who pay into the PBF expect a benefit at the end of their working career that will provide for a comfortable retirement," Threadgold said. "They deserve everything they've earned, and I want to be a judicious and good steward of their money."

Taking on the duties in Per Capita a year ago, Threadgold said he focused on "working efficiently and effectively" by moving toward electronic record-keeping. His partner in the effort, International Representative Louie Spencer, has been appointed the department's new director.

"By and large, the majority of the per capita reports from locals are received electronically, but what was happening is that those electronic reports were then being printed out in paper format for the auditor," Threadgold said. "Our thinking was that not only does it eliminate the cost of paper, it eliminates a step in the process and builds efficiency over time."

While both his old and new positions involve data collection and recordkeeping, Threadgold stresses that those "relatively dry" tasks are more than offset by good working relationships.

"The reality is that 80% of the work we do is personality-driven," he said. "My experience in Per Capita has been great. All the people received us well, treated us with respect, and that's all I could ask for."

His message to his staff then and now is, "Live by the Golden Rule, treat others as you want to be treated, and try to work together as a family, as a unit, and build people up, not tear people down."

Since relocating to the Washington area, Threadgold, his wife, Lori, and their three daughters, ages 9, 7, 3, have been soaking up all that the region has to offer. The Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum and the monuments on the National Mall are special favorites, sites they visited multiple times while entertaining visitors from Kansas nearly every weekend last summer.

It's a different pace from his Kansas home, where he grew up playing baseball, hunting and fishing, but he said he and his family have gotten the knack of it. "We're really enjoying it," he said. "And we've become pretty good at being tour guides."

Threadgold gained an early appreciation for unions from Kansas relatives in the painting and carpentry trades. He was attending Emporia State University with the goal of being an elementary school teacher when he learned about the IBEW from a cousin who was a third-generation member.

"I was wrestling with being a broke student or working for a living," he said. "I chose to be an electrical apprentice."

And he's never looked back. "The IBEW has presented me and thousands like me a great career with access to the middle class and opportunities to grow. Brotherhood is what you make of it, and if you decide to embrace the fundamentals of it, then the sky's the limit. In Brotherhood it will always be about 'we' not 'me.'"

With appreciation for all his efforts on behalf of members locally and internationally, the IBEW welcomes Brother Threadgold to his new position.


Brian Threadgold

Bill Neiles

Bill Neiles, an international representative in the Utility Department and executive director of the National Utility Industry Training Fund, retired June 1, wrap up a on a 41-year career that began in rural South Dakota.

Brother Neiles grew up in Centerville, a farming community in the southeastern part of the state. The Neiles family raised cattle on its small farm. His mother worked as a public school teacher and his father was a mail carrier and a member of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, serving as state president and a delegate to its national convention.

The younger Neiles attended college for two years but didn't enjoy it, so he told his father he planned to drop out and become an electrician.

The elder Neiles wasn't particularly pleased, but offered some valuable advice.

"He told me that if I wanted to do that, I should go to school to be an electrician and get a real apprenticeship," Neiles said. "We had a good man who lived up the street and fixed power outlets and things like that for everyone in our community. I could go work for him, but my dad told me he was not going to be able to teach me anything more than what he already knew."

So, Neiles applied to the local technical college, but he was put on a waiting list. That wasn't acceptable to someone looking to work right way, so a college representative told him about its power line construction and maintenance program. There were openings there and he asked if Neiles was interested.

The answer was yes, and Neiles soon found himself working for Black Hills Power & Light [now Black Hills Energy], which earned him membership in Rapid City, S.D., Local 1250 in April 1978.

"That 20-minute conversation started my career," he said.

Neiles worked in his native state for about a decade, but wanting to see more of the country — he called it a "severe case of wanderlust" — he began working as a traveler, which he did until accepting a job with Nevada Power Company, now NV Energy, in 1993 and transferring his membership to Las Vegas Local 396.

His career soon took a surprising turn. His supervisor asked him if he would help teach Nevada Power's apprentices. Neiles had never considered teaching, but agreed to do it for one year, thinking he would return to working on a line crew.

Instead, he ended up teaching for 9½ years.

"I fell into that job and thoroughly enjoyed it the whole time," he said. "I really enjoyed working with young people."

During that period, Neiles earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix and a master's in educational leadership from UNLV. He served as Local 396's president from 2000 to 2002.

All that experience helped him earn a position in Nevada Power's human resources department in 2005, where he stayed until he interviewed in 2008 to be a lineman international representative in the Construction Department.

"President [Edwin D.] Hill looked at my resume, looked at me and said, 'I've determined that you are overqualified for this job'," Neiles said. "'But I've got something else in mind for you.'"

That something was serving as executive director of the training fund, a partnership between the IBEW and four utility companies to strengthen education programs and recruit more line workers. He continued to work out of Las Vegas until moving to the International Office in 2017, where he also worked as an international representative, and kept both positions until his retirement.

"His work ensured that our linemen had the best apprenticeship training along with a safe workplace," said Utility Director Donnie Colston, also a lineman. "Safety was very important to Bill. The IBEW has the best training for linemen in the world and Bill's work allowed us to sell that to the utilities."

Colston said even companies that weren't part of the alliance would see Neiles' recommendations and training procedures and insert them into their programs.

"They realized they needed to raise their game to keep up," Colston said.

Neiles said he will miss the relationships he formed with IBEW officers, business managers and members across the United States and Canada.

"Everyone has challenges unique to their geographic area, but everyone steps up when needed, and I've never known anyone that didn't have the long-term best interests of the members in mind," he said. "Just really, really good people. I'll also miss the international staff and everyone who helped me along the way."

Neiles' wife, Diana, died in 2006 after a battle with cancer. He plans to continue living in Las Vegas and pursue his lifelong passion of traveling. He also will foster dogs for a local rescue organization — although Neiles admits he often gets so close to the pets, he keeps them for himself instead of handing them off to a new family, which is jokingly referred to as a "foster fail."

The officers and staff thank Brother Neiles for his service and wish him a happy retirement.


Bill Neiles