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November 2019

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Sign Modernization Upgrades Manhattan Commute

It's Monday morning, and you're running late for your early train to the city. You break a sweat sprinting for the platform, but you look up and relax. A large overhead electronic sign tells you you've made it with a few minutes to spare.

For Metro-North commuters, new signage providing critical real-time information is helping to ease the stress of travel, and it's thanks to the hard work of IBEW electricians from New York-area railroad locals.

"The [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] used to have these hard-wired signs that didn't provide a lot of information," said New York Local 859 President and Business Manager John Gallagher. "Oftentimes, it was only the date or that trains were in good service."

Through the first half of 2019, Local 859 members — along with members of New York Local 817 and New Haven, Conn., Local 747 — removed the outdated variable message signs at dozens of stations serving the various Metro-North lines.

The new, modernized signs use bright gold LEDs to display a wealth of useful information, such as the scheduled and actual arrival times of the station's next three trains, plus those trains' destinations and designated arrival track. The signs receive their display data wirelessly, thanks to hardware also expertly installed by IBEW members.

"They might not have a formal Code of Excellence agreement in place, but you can see how the Code's values have an influence on how our members get the job done for the MTA," said Railroad Department Director William Bohné. "Their work is helping tens of thousands of transit riders get into Manhattan safely and efficiently every day of the week."

The upgraded signs provide those commuters with clear access to reliable and often crucial Metro-North train schedule information on rail platforms and in station lobbies, Bohné said.

"This upgrade was long overdue," said Gallagher, noting that it was just one component of the MTA's $56 million "Way Ahead" plan to modernize the Metro-North railroad's facilities as well as its security and customer service systems. Some of Metro-North's tracks and stations can trace their origins back to the late 1800s; in 1983, the MTA created Metro-North out of the former Conrail system.

For residents of some of New York City's far-flung suburbs, access to convenient and reliable rail travel often means the difference between sitting and relaxing on a train trip to Manhattan versus clenching a steering wheel and fighting your way to and through New York City's famous gridlock.

In 2017, Metro-North carried a record 86.5 million customers. Keeping this massive volume of paying customers happy — and loyal — was obviously critical for the MTA, and the agency knew it could count on the IBEW to quickly and efficiently get the 21st century signage installed. The agency turned out to be correct, of course: These union electricians finished the upgrades within six months.

"We were able to fit it in with our other work," said Gallagher, who noted the team maintains station public address systems, too. "We work out of the radio shop, so we work on all of that stuff."

Going forward, IBEW members will continue to maintain the signs, keeping a closer eye on the ones installed outdoors that are vulnerable to damage from vandalism and exposure to the northeastern U.S.'s brutal winters.

So far, rail customers seem pleased with the results of the work, Gallagher said. "They're getting a lot more relevant information than before," he said. "When they're not happy, they're not afraid to say so."


New York Local 859 member Bill McVinua inspects a newly placed overhead message sign at Metro-North's Mamaroneck Station.

Best Doctors Makes Getting a Second Opinion Easy

The wife of an IBEW member scheduled an appointment to have her doctor check out what was causing her searing knee pain. After an examination and an MRI, her doctor diagnosed a torn ligament and prescribed surgery to fix it.

Dreading weeks of painful rehabilitation, the IBEW spouse decided to seek a second opinion. And to get one, all she had to do was make a phone call, because her husband's Family Medical Care Plan benefit through the IBEW provided access to the Best Doctors program.

Via Best Doctors' Expert Medical Opinion service, the woman's case was referred to one of the world's top specialists — in this instance, the head of orthopedics at Boston's Tufts Medical Center. That doctor determined that rather than a tear, the woman's pain was being caused by early onset arthritis, so he prescribed a combination of an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and a weight-loss program instead of surgery.

"When you've got important medical decisions to make, you've got to be completely confident that you're making the right ones," said International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper, whose role includes oversight of the FMCP. "Best Doctors is one of the services we provide that helps deliver that confidence to participating members."

About 180 IBEW local unions, in conjunction with their associated National Electrical Contractors Association chapters or other employers, so far have signed up to take part in the FMCP. Nearly 42,000 IBEW members are covered by the plan — a figure that more than doubles when factoring in members' dependents.

"As more and more locals sign up, the plan gets stronger, and that allows us to reduce costs to continue to add services like Best Doctors," Cooper said. "We're not-for-profit and we don't have the advertising or overhead of traditional insurers, so while overall health care costs in the U.S. have gone up 21% since 2007, FMCP's are up just less than 5%."

Best Doctors is one of the free services available to FMCP's PPO participants. The program connects patients with a network of nearly 50,000 top medical experts representing more than 450 specialties. With the Expert Medical Opinion service, these doctors access the patient's relevant case information and then prepare an easy-to-understand confidential report containing their findings and advice.

"Statistically, about a third of recommended surgeries end up not being necessary," said FMCP Executive Director Lawrence Bradley. "So, it can be prudent to consult another doctor and get a second opinion if you feel you could use one."

A Best Doctors specialist could end up supporting the original conclusions of the patient's physician or offering alternatives. Either way, the final decision about the next course of action is always left to the patient.

Best Doctors has been an FMCP benefit since the IBEW launched the health care plan in 2006, Bradley said. Since then, dozens of members and their families have taken advantage of the Expert Medical Opinion service with diagnoses changing for about 80% and treatment changing for 89%.

"Most family practice doctors spend the bulk of their days seeing patients," Bradley said. "That's not to knock their training or experience, but the specialists working with Best Doctors have the luxury of time to stay on top of the latest research and treatments." These specialists can't put themselves on the list, he noted; they have to be nominated by their peers.

The Best Doctors benefit also includes:

  • Critical Care Support, where patients get a specialist's quick guidance on serious situations or illnesses — even from the emergency room, if necessary.
  • Ask the Expert helps answer patients' questions about a diagnosis or treatment.
  • Find a Best Doctor searches nearby and available in-network doctors and selects someone who can best meet a patient's needs.
  • Treatment Decision Support provides patients with access to resources that help explain their conditions and treatments.
  • Behavioral Health Navigator is a relatively new program similar to Expert Medical Opinion that can review cases dealing with mental health concerns.

Contact with Best Doctors services is handled confidentially over the phone or via the internet, Bradley said. "You can get access to their advice without having to travel anywhere."

"The FMCP is an attractive health insurance option for companies and signatory contractors looking to offer IBEW members and their families high-quality coverage at affordable prices," Cooper said. The plan usually matches — and often surpasses — comparable coverage available from employer-provided insurance plans, he said. "Both sides can come away from the bargaining table happy."

Local unions and employers interested in getting a quote for FMCP coverage can visit or contact the plan at (301) 556-4300. Plan participants can stay informed on the latest FMCP news by subscribing to the plan's newsletter via


The FMCP's Best Doctors program offers free services conveniently available via the web or over the phone.

Local 351's Cosner Receives
Prestigious New Jersey Labor Award

Dan Cosner grew up in an IBEW home and followed his father into the trades. He decided early in his career a leadership position would be the right fit for him.

At one of his first meetings after becoming a member of Camden, N.J., Local 439, Cosner was struck by how an executive board member settled the crowd down and brought an animated discussion about a contentious issue under control.

"When that guy stood up, he kind of quelled the whole room," he said. "I thought wow, I wanted to be that guy. I thought it was pretty cool."

Local 439 was amalgamated into Folsom, N.J., Local 351 in 1994 and Cosner ran for a spot on the executive board soon afterwards — and lost.

It was to be the last election he'd lose. He was hired as a business agent in 2001 and recently began his second term as Local 351's business manager. He received another honor earlier this year, when labor leaders across southern New Jersey named him the recipient of the George E. Norcross, Jr. Humanitarian Award.

The award, named after the legendary labor and community leader in the Garden State, is awarded by the Southern New Jersey Central Labor Council as part of its Peter J. McGuire Labor Day celebration. Norcross Jr., who died in 1998, is the father of U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a former Local 351 business agent and the only IBEW member in Congress. The younger Norcross received the award in 2013.

McGuire founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and lived in Camden for much of his adult life. He was co-founder of the American Federation of Labor with Samuel Gompers and is credited by many labor historians for coming up with the idea for Labor Day. President Grover Cleveland signed legislation to make Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894.

Cosner has been president of the Southern New Jersey Building Trades Council since 2013. Council members, along with other labor leaders, have chosen the award's annual recipient since 1996.

"My heart is with the IBEW but the building trades are part of my family, too," Cosner said. "That's what made it so important to me. The people I work with to make this a better place selected me for this award."

Third District International Vice President Mike Welsh said Cosner is deserving, noting that he's "so respected in the communities down there and has been for a long time."

"Dan is so full of energy," Welsh said. "He's willing to try new and innovative things. He's always there to help when you call on him."

Cosner, 51, has had numerous leadership roles in his local union and in the community and Welsh said he's built connections that have proven helpful to his members and the rest of the IBEW.

"He's very politically active," Welsh said. "It's truly in his blood. Dan always has a smile on his face and says things are great, even when you know he might be worn down a little bit."

Cosner's father, Ray, retired at 55 because of his IBEW pension and savings. He and his wife, Ruth, celebrated with their son when he received the honor. So did Dan's wife, Denise, who is a journeyman wireman and a Local 351 member, along with the couple's two children.

"My dad was able to provide for us and my mom was able to stay home with me," he said. "That's why I went into this. I saw the upbringing I had was great. That was because my dad's wages and benefits were great."


Dan Cosner