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October 2019

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Pennsylvania's New Juneteenth Holiday
Extra Special to One IBEW Member

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers finally arrived in Galveston, Texas, bearing news that had taken months to wend its way through the South: American slaves were free.

It became a day of celebration known as Juneteenth, now commemorated in 46 states. Pennsylvania is the latest, a legislative victory Carolyn Mills fought for over most of a decade.

The Harrisburg woman didn't live to see her dream realized. But her son, Third District International Representative Larry Mills, was there in her stead this past June 19 as Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill making "Juneteenth National Freedom Day" a state holiday.

"It meant the world to me," said Mills, past business manager of Reading, Pa., Local 777. "I regretted my mother wasn't there to see it, but I know she was there in spirit."

Inspired by her brother's success establishing a Juneteenth holiday in Iowa, Carolyn Mills approached Pennsylvania state Rep. Sue Helm in 2010. As reported by Harrisburg's Patriot News, Helm never forgot her constituent's words, spoken years before the cancer diagnosis that took her life last October.

"Before I die," Mills told Helm, "I want this to be a law."

Over years of legislative starts and stops, Mills' health deteriorated. When she entered hospice care, "She looked at Rep. Helm and said, 'Please don't give up,'" Larry Mills said.

Helm and her allies charged ahead, winning unanimous bipartisan support for the bill in the House and Senate.

The rocky road to victory took eight years longer than the fast lane that opened up for Larry Mills' uncle, Gary Lawson, in Iowa.

Lawson had been coordinating Juneteenth celebrations in Des Moines for a decade when he met with the chairman of the Iowa Senate's state government committee in 2001 about making June 19 an official holiday. With both parties on board, lawmakers put it on the state calendar within a year.

Carolyn Mills couldn't have imagined how much more complicated things would be in Pennsylvania.

She'd come home with a mission after traveling to Iowa with her son for one of Lawson's festivals in the early 2000s. "They came out and observed all the activity and enjoyed it," her brother said. "She was encouraged and inspired to do likewise in Pennsylvania. It was all grassroots at first, knocking on doors."

Soon, Mills had set up a foundation and was building support among community and business leaders. By the time she went to Helm, she'd created a movement. Her work was far from done, but her resolve was never in doubt.

"This is her legacy," Larry Mills said. "Mom was very involved in community service and the church, and more than anything she wanted a special day for African-Americans. She had a dream of making Juneteenth state law and she never gave up."

His uncle noted with pride that "we're the only known siblings who have each worked on this in our individual states. Even though my sister's gone, we'll always have that connection."

They grew up in a big family with a rags-to-riches father who didn't let a second-grade education get in the way of business success. He gave back to his community, and so have his children.

For Carolyn Mills that included many years as an AFSCME steward while working in state government.

"She was always trying to make a better workplace and create opportunities for everyone," Larry Mills said. "That rubbed off on me. I carry those values with me every day."


Third District International Representative Larry Mills (back row, second from left), was among the guests June 19 when Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill making Pennsylvania the 46th state to recognize "Juneteenth," as an official holiday celebrating the end of American slavery. Mills' mother, with the support of state Rep. Sue Helm, bottom left, fought a years-long battle for the bill but didn't live to see it become law.

Patience Pays as New Missouri Members
Finally Get First Contract

Barack Obama was still president when Springfield, Mo., city employees voted in the fall of 2015 to join Springfield Local 753.

This summer, nearly four years later, the bargaining unit approved its first contract with city officials. If that seems like a long time, well, it is, said Local 753 Business Manager Tony Parrish.

"Oh my Lord, it dragged on forever," Parrish said, while acknowledging that initial contract negotiations are sometimes a laborious process.

Thankfully, Parrish and Local 753 members' patience and fortitude paid off in the end.

The three-year deal calls for wage increases that will put the workers more in line with their counterparts in cities of similar size. Springfield, which has a population of about 170,000, is located about 50 miles north of the Arkansas border.

The contract also provides improved benefits to individual groups of workers. For instance, Dustin Garner, an arborist for the city for the last 13 years and now a Local 753 steward, noted that outdoors workers saw large increases in stipends to purchase work clothes.

Garner, who served on the negotiating committee after being a leader in the organizing process, said he wasn't surprised negotiations took as long as they did.

"It takes a while to get something done," he said. "This was all new to us. It wasn't like we had a copy of an old contract and we could use it as a template. We were kind of learning as we went."

Parrish said the city's human resources director retired just as negotiations were set to begin and Springfield officials didn't want to start negotiations until a new one was hired. That pushed formal discussions back to 2017. The city also hired outside counsel for negotiations instead of relying on its own attorneys.

No detail was too small. Parrish said the city even wanted language on how many stewards Local 753 would have in the bargaining unit.

"I would suggest things like, 'Let's meet again next week' and they would say, 'Oh that's too soon, we're not going to be ready, let's do it again four weeks down the road.' So much time was going by, but I can't physically make them meet me. It shouldn't have taken near as long as it did, but it was just a combination of things."

Another thing that Parrish suspects hampered the process: a controversial Missouri law designed to damage public-sector unions.

The state Legislature passed and disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens signed House Bill 1413 in 2017 that says union-covered public employees must opt in for their bargaining agent to be able to withdraw membership fees from their paycheck. Historically, union dues are withdrawn when an employee becomes part of a bargaining unit.

Earlier this year, a Missouri circuit judge ruled the law can't go into effect until the conclusion of a lawsuit filed by a group of public employees challenging it.

The same Legislature, with Greitens' signature, also passed a right-to-work bill, but that was overturned in a statewide referendum in August 2018. Greitens had resigned his position by then after becoming embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal and criminal investigation.

Parrish said the specter of that paycheck law also likely slowed negotiations. Springfield officials felt like they had an advantage at the bargaining table, he said. They refused any attempts for the new unit to be a closed shop.

"In my opinion, that law was worse than right-to-work," Parrish said.

Eleventh District International Representative Darrell McCubbins, who assisted with the negotiations, credited Parrish and his staff for keeping lines of communication open with bargaining unit members during the four-year period. The workers approved the contract by a nearly 2-1 margin and 24 decided to become "A" members.

"It was a good process, but there's still a lot of work to be done to pull them together as a unit," McCubbins said. "People are spread out and working in all different locations. Tony did a very good job of going out and keeping in contact and working with them."

Making sure as many of the new employees join Local 753 as possible is the priority. About 300 employees are covered by the contract.

"We've got some pretty good people here," Garner said. "They've heard from a lot of other people who are trying to politicize unions, and that's a shame. I'm hoping as time goes by, they'll realize it's not about politics. It's about having a voice. It's a benefit, and I hope they will see that."

Road maintenance crews and workers at the parks department and Springfield airport are now represented by Local 753. So are staff from the janitorial, sanitation and public works departments.

Local 753 has long represented Springfield utility workers, who are governed by an appointed board instead of the city council, which oversees most city employees.


Springfield, Mo., Local 753 steward Dustin Garner, third from right, joins with other city employees soon after agreeing to their first contract. The process took nearly four years.

Soaring CEO Pay a Growing Threat to U.S. Economy

CEO compensation has skyrocketed 940% over the past 40 years in the United States, 78 times the rate of growth in workers' pay and benefits, according to one of two new studies that challenge the upbeat conventional wisdom about today's economy.

"Exorbitant CEO pay is a major contributor to rising inequality. This escalation … has fueled the growth of top 1% and top 0.1% incomes, leaving less of the fruits of economic growth for ordinary workers and widening the gap between very high earners and the bottom 90%," the Economic Policy Institute said in its August report.

"The economy would suffer no harm if CEOs were paid less (or taxed more)," it adds.

A report published the same week by the Center for American Progress explores what's missing from economic headlines roaring about booming corporate profits, off-the-charts executive pay and record amounts of stock buybacks.

"Wages and family wealth have barely budged after decades of stagnation," the "Corporate Governance and Workers" report states. "This is a dangerous situation, as the deep imbalances in how the U.S. economy works — and whom it fails to work well for — increasingly expose America to social and political division."

The erosion of workers' bargaining power after decades of political and court attacks on unions is high on CAP's list of reasons for the compounding disparities.

"Unions were, in large measure, the most important check on corporate management" when union density was high in the 1950s and 60s, the report argues.

Companies in that era that refused to pay fair wages or meet unions' other reasonable demands risked costly, disruptive strikes. But as labor's density declined, so did its leverage. Increasingly, corporate boards and executives were less motivated to do right by their workers.

Their strategies today "prioritize Wall Street and corporate executives over the rest of the stakeholders," CAP asserts, a group that includes "the consumers who buy their products and services; workers and suppliers who produce them; investors who provide capital and other know-how; and even communities who provide a clean, safe environment and educated workers."

Strong contracts negotiated by the IBEW and other unions are a buffer against the worst of the struggles facing millions of working families. But International President Lonnie R. Stephenson urges members to consider the big picture.

"The good wages and benefits we bargain for don't isolate us from economic realities," he said. "Doing well individually isn't enough. If the economy doesn't start working for everyone, all of us outside the 1% are going to feel the pain."

Data in both reports illustrate how extreme the income gap has become. One indicator is labor's share of economic output — the percentage of compensation that workers receive relative to the total value of goods and services produced in a given year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a moderate decline from the 1970s to the end of the century, and then a sharp plummet from about 2000 onward.

"Notably, the gap between the 1950s and today may be even starker," the CAP report clarifies, "as these data do not break out higher-income workers whose wages are growing at a faster pace than mid- and low-wage workers."

EPI's paper suggests the gap may be wider yet, based on changes in stock offerings that comprise the largest share of compensation for CEOs and top executives.

Stock options are being replaced with stock awards that can go up or down, giving CEOs personal incentive to increase share prices. But the long vesting period for stock awards makes their value harder to gauge.

"There is increased likelihood that measures of CEO compensation will not fully capture CEOs' gains going forward," EPI said.

Stephenson said the only way things will begin to change is at the ballot box, by electing lawmakers who will fight for economic justice. "What we do on Election Day next November will determine whether we start to close those pay gaps, or whether they keep getting bigger."


A relatively small wage gap between top earners and the rest of the workforce began to soar in the early 1980s, rising to today's staggering disparity.

Trayer Workers Put 'Rolls-Royce' Switchgear
in Linemen's Hands

Every step of the way at Trayer Switchgear near San Francisco, IBEW members treat the products they make as if their own family will use them.

After all, linemen around the globe who rely on the top-quality parts include the workers' brothers and sisters at Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245.

"Our switchgear goes all over the world, but at the same time it is used by our local linemen and by most of the utilities across the country where IBEW members work," said steward Arnaldo Lizarraga. "We make sure it is safe for them, and for the public."

From assembly to testing, painting and packing the parts for shipping, he said members take pride in producing what he calls "the Rolls-Royce of switches."

"When you open it, it doesn't have to be an eyesore — the way the wires look, the way everything is connected," Lizarraga said. "We want it to look good outside so customers won't have any doubt about the quality inside."

That work ethic and attention to detail is recognized in a strong union contract and growing transparency under new management, said Local 1245 business representative Cruz Serna.

"Out of all my 11 shops, I have a good relationship with everybody, but Trayer has been very open," he said. "I'm able to pick up the phone and call the CEO if there's an issue, and we try to resolve it. I've told him that we're here to help, and that we can offer a lot if they work with us."

A few months ago, Serna suggested to CEO Keith Thorndyke that workers could use more recognition for jobs well done, under pressure and on deadline. "I told him employees are doing a great job. They're working their butts off and work all the overtime that's offered. Once in a while they'd like a high-five."

Thorndyke took it to heart, he said, visiting the assembly line to give workers the credit they deserve.

Long represented by the IBEW, the Trayer workers came into Local 1245 via a merger in 2014.

"This small but mighty workgroup embodies all of the characteristics that the IBEW stands for — commitment to excellence, unwavering dedication, collaboration, and undying brotherhood," Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell said. "We're proud and honored to represent these highly skilled makers of some of the finest switchgear in the entire world."

Serna said Trayer has shown interest in entering into a formal Code of Excellence agreement with the IBEW. He and Lizarraga are signed up for Code of Excellence training in November.

Meanwhile, trust continues to grow. Management has been good about giving the union a heads-up before major decisions, Serna said, and routinely calls on Lizarraga to help convey what's ahead to the nearly 30-member unit.

In June, with the clock ticking on a two-year contract negotiated in 2017, the union agreed to delay bargaining for six months to help Trayer balance the books.

"They were coming up in the red, and we know that a healthy company is better for all of us," Serna said. "We agreed to a contract extension and they agreed to give us an update every month. And they've done that."

Now, back in the black, the company is considering new hires. Serna has been gathering résumés from other IBEW shops and sending them to Thorndyke.

It's one of the ways Trayer benefits from its union's strong contract: superior wages and benefits mean it can attract the best possible job candidates.

"A lot of union-busting companies out there could learn from Trayer's example," said Manufacturing Director Randy Middleton. "The fact is, it doesn't make good business sense to fight your workers every step of the way. Imagine if more employers invested all that wasted money, time and negative energy into their workforce and bottom line."

At Trayer, that investment includes a platinum medical plan covering 100% of medical, vision and dental. "One of the best I've seen," Serna said, adding that workers increasingly have opportunities for overtime, cross-training and promotions.

They're grateful to Trayer and show it with hard work. But they know things wouldn't be the same without the IBEW at the bargaining table and beyond.

"I like having the union here; they really support us," Logan Crump, who works in the final test area, said in a story published on Local 1245's website. "A lot of times when I'm wearing my union sweatshirt out, people will come up to me, shake my hand and say, 'Hey, how ya doin' brother?' With the union, we know that someone's always got our back."

Lizarraga, who has worked at Trayer for eight years and been a steward for six, fosters solidarity by making sure every new worker in his unit learns about the IBEW's history and values.

"I talk about what we stand for," he said. "I tell them what we do here for security and quality and safety, and why we're proud to be IBEW members."


Local 1245 members at Trayer Switchgear near San Francisco produce state-of-the-art components for IBEW linemen and electrical workers throughout the world.

Credit: John Storey/courtesy of Local 1245