The Electrical Worker online
August 2019

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
Kirk Groenendaal

For a brief moment in time, Kirk Groenendaal wasn't an IBEW electrician. His junior year of high school, he lied about his age and was hired as a union welder on the second shift at the GE plant outside of Erie, Pa.

In his second year, he was welding together the cabs and structural frames of trains.

It set a pattern in his career: competence in his craft matched with an impatience to get going.

Groenendaal said he was never going to stay a welder. He was forced to wait because there was no apprenticeship class after his senior year at Erie Local 56. His grandfather, Ed Sinnott, joined the local in the '30s and had been business manager in the '60s. Groenendaal's cousins and uncles made up "half the damn local," he said.

Now, after 44 years, he is about to not be an IBEW electrician again. After a career hustling for the brotherhood, on Sept. 1, Groenendaal will relax.

When Groenendaal signed on in 1976 as a probationary apprentice, it was, he said, "the end of the peak;" that period in the IBEW's history where too many people thought the work, in his words, "couldn't be done without us."

"Then the market grew; we didn't. It led to our reckoning," he said.

The truth was, the attitude was widespread. But the '80s arrived and changed things. Like many of his generation, he topped out, got laid off and hit the road. But he always knew he wanted to follow his grandfather and do more than pay his dues. When a seat came open on the executive board in 1983, he volunteered, and his offer was accepted.

But, Groenendaal said, while he was always ready to serve, he was never one to wait around. When that same business manager decided Groenendaal would run for the board again in 1987 — without asking him — Groenendaal told him he preferred to run for vice president.

He ran anyway and won.

"I was never noncontroversial," he said.

In 1988, Groenendaal became president, and when the order came from the International Office that every local needed a full-time organizer, Groenendaal volunteered to be the first in the local's history.

In 1992, frustrated with the pace of change, Groenendaal ran for business manager. This time he lost, so he went back to work. He was the first person in his local to ever be called off the books by name to be a foreman.

Five years later, he ran for business manager again and won. And then he won again. And again. And again.

Groenendaal immediately changed the organizing process. He made joining the union an efficient, year-round process and made it easy for contractors to come in, and — if they didn't come in — made it difficult to win work or hold workers.

To the people who complained about all the new faces not being "real" IBEW, he had a simple message.

"No one in here has a longer pedigree than I do, and I wasn't born with an IBEW bug tattooed on my butt cheeks," he said. "Every one of us chose the IBEW at some point."

In 2004, after a year serving as one of the lead negotiators for the Council on Industrial Relations while still leading Local 56, then-International President Edwin D. Hill asked Groenendaal to come on staff as in international representative in the CIR/Bylaws Department.

In 2009, Hill promoted him to director of construction organizing and, half a year later, to special assistant to the president for membership development, the longest title and one of the most important jobs in the IBEW.

Hill had made it a priority of his presidency to end the reckoning and return the IBEW to an organizing union. His assignment to Groenendaal was to take charge and carve it into stone.

"When me, Scott [Hudson, then-director of construction organizing] and Gina [Cooper, then-director of professional and industrial organizing] came in, we had to take the organizing system that was and create the one we have today," he said. "We went from a half-dozen people in the field to 90 and created the system to manage them while we were growing."

With the foundation for the new organizing system in place, in 2014 Groenendaal went to the job he said he loved most, being an international representative in the Construction and Maintenance Department.

"There are 775,000 members, only 350 construction business managers, and only a handful of international representatives," he said. "I have always thought it is a hell of an honor to sit in this chair."

Groenendaal said what he has enjoyed most hasn't changed since that first run for vice president.

"My favorite part is getting people jobs, getting them raises and bringing in the new contractors," he said.

And the family tradition continues. The fourth generation of his family — his son, Dan — is a journeyman substation electrician in Phoenix Local 266 and a "good chunk" of Local 56 is still family, though more nephews now than uncles.

In retirement, Groenendaal plans to hunt, work outdoors and fully explore the United States from the cockpit of the two-seater Vans RV 8 airplane he built himself.

Please join the officers and staff in wishing Brother Groenendaal a long, healthy and airborne retirement.


Kirk Groenendaal

Robert B. Wood

Retired Research and Education Department Director Robert Wood died in May at age 85.

Brother Wood was born and raised in New Orleans and joined his hometown's Local 130 when he was 19. He quickly gained a reputation for his craftsmanship and knowledge.

"He was extremely bright, extremely competent and extremely dedicated," said Dale Dunlop, former executive assistant to International Secretary Jack Moore.

Wood joined the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve in 1952, topped out in 1957, made foreman within four years and began teaching the next generation of apprentices before his 30th birthday.

Then, Wood applied for the IBEW scholarship supporting members seeking degrees in electrical engineering, then run by the Research and Education Department.

"He hadn't heard back," Dunlop said. "His business manager was coming to D.C., and he promised Bob he'd look into it."

When the business manager asked what was up, Dunlop said, he was told then-Director Thomas Hannigan had something else in mind.

"He told the business manager that, instead of giving him the scholarship, they wanted to interview him for an open international representative position at the International Office," Dunlop said. "Bob just impressed you."

Wood was offered the job and moved his family to Washington in 1968. Two years later, he was promoted to assistant director and, two years after that, he replaced Hannigan as director.

He held the position from 1972 until retirement in 1994.

Wood did get the electrical engineering associate degree from Delgado Trade and Technical Institute, as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial education from Northwestern State College.

When Dunlop came to D.C. in 1970, he and Wood shared an office.

"He was the brightest person in that building," Dunlop said.

The Research and Education Department, in those days, was like the central nervous system of the IBEW. It handled all the agreement research and comparative wage studies, supplied locals with data heading into negotiations and also prepared testimony before Congress, especially about illegal foreign trade practices.

Wood's reputation spread, and he was appointed to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Advisory Committee and the Labot Department's Trade Steering and Labor Sector Advisory Committees. He was also responsible for running the scholarship program that had inadvertently brought him to D.C.

"He could have done any other job in that building, but the leadership always wanted him there. It was a very important part of the operation, and they knew that Bob would always tell them the truth," Dunlop said.

But the true measure of the man, Dunlop said, was not the high opinion of the people he reported to, but the respect and love he inspired in the people who worked for him.

"You look who got promoted in that building — directors and up — and so many came from his department. He never looked for praise for himself, but he was extremely good at getting attention, advancement and raises for his people," Dunlop said. "He took care of his people. Those people in his department would do anything for him, and he would do anything for them."

Brother Wood is survived by Joyce, his wife of 63 years, and sons Bob Jr., Mark and Jeffrey. Bob Jr. and Mark were both members of Washington, D.C., Local 26 where they both were general foremen on some of the local's largest projects. Bob Jr. is now retired.

On behalf of the IBEW's members and staff, the officers offer our deepest sympathies to Brother Wood's family.


Robert B. Wood

Herman Ray Hill

Retired Seventh District International Representative Herman Ray Hill, a respected figure in Texas labor circles during 60 years of IBEW membership, died June 7 after becoming ill while attending the district's Progress Meeting in San Antonio. He was 80.

"Somebody made the comment he was where he wanted to be," said Seventh District International Representative Gary Buresh, who worked with Hill on the district staff and considered him a mentor. "He was with friends. I don't think Ray ever missed a progress meeting unless he was sick, and he attended all the conventions."

Born in Clarendon, Texas, Brother Hill moved with his family to Amarillo, Texas, in 1953 and lived there the rest of his life. He worked in a grocery store and as a cotton picker and truck driver before entering the apprenticeship program at Amarillo Local 602 in 1957, eventually topping out as a journeyman inside wireman.

It wasn't long before he became a leader in his local union. Hill earned a seat on the examining and executive boards in 1967, became president in 1968 and was elected business manager in 1969.

Although he came up through the construction ranks, Hill quickly became familiar with all branches of the IBEW. Retired Seventh District Vice President Orville Tate noted that Local 602 had members working in inside and outside construction, manufacturing, utilities and telecommunications when Hill served as business manager. He was in charge of 31 bargaining units spread out across several hundred miles in west Texas.

"He serviced all that almost by himself," Tate said. "He had just one assistant. He was very well-rounded. That's why I hired him."

That was in 1981, when Hill joined the Seventh District staff as an international representative and serviced locals throughout west Texas. Later in his career, he was in charge of training new stewards and business managers in the district and served as Tate's executive assistant.

"Ray was one of those people who took the time out and answered whatever questions you had," Buresh said. "He made sure you understood why [the IBEW] did what it did and what it took to be successful."

Hill also made a mark on labor and the construction industry outside of the IBEW. He was active in the Texas State Association of Electrical Workers and served as its president from 1971-75. He was vice president of the Texas AFL-CIO from 1979-81 and vice president of the Texas Building Trades Council from 1972-81.

Tate said that allowed Hill to build relationships with contractors and other business groups, which helped avoid potential conflicts with management and IBEW partners.

"He was really popular around the state because of what he did with the electrical workers," Tate said. "He just knew everyone. And when you know someone personally, you have a better chance to settle disputes before they get out of hand."

Following retirement in 2002, Hill remained close to the Seventh District staff. Buresh said he been undergoing radiation therapy during a cancer battle for the last few years, but had been in good spirits recently, including when he showed up for the progress meeting.

But he fell ill at the meeting, Buresh said, and was taken to a local hospital, where he died a few days later.

Hill is survived by two sons, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Pat, and his brother, Jim, who also was a Local 602 member.

In addition to his work for the IBEW, Hill served in the Texas Air National Guard from 1956-62, as a Democratic precinct committee chairman in Amarillo and was involved in several charities during his career.

"He had a very good disposition," said Tate, who spent time with him the night before he was taken to the hospital. "He did not fly off the handle easily and get mad. But he could get stern and be a little hard-headed, and that's a good thing at times."

The officers and staff extend their deepest condolences to Brother Hill's family during this difficult time.


Herman Ray Hill