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June 2020

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Curtis E. Henke

After nearly 40 years of faithful service to the IBEW, Eleventh District Vice President Curtis E. Henke retired May 1.

Brother Henke was born in Bismarck, N.D., and raised in a farming community in the central part of the state. After graduating from Center High School in 1974, he attended the University of North Dakota, Williston — now known as Williston State University — and graduated in 1977 with a degree in building construction.

Henke started his career in 1980 as a utilityman at a Basin Electric Power Cooperative. He was initiated into Hazen, N.D., Local 1593 the following year when he started an apprenticeship to be a mechanic/welder.

"I never thought much of going any further in my career as a mechanic/welder," he said. "However, I always attended union meetings and was always encouraged to be active and run for positions within the local."

Henke became active with his local union, beginning with acceptance of an appointment as a steward in 1986 and then shifting into service as a unit vice president. In 1989, he was elected Local 1593 president; two years later, he was appointed business manager.

During his tenure in that role, Henke helped negotiate 17 separate contracts for utility workers and was active when it came to safety issues, serving on the apprenticeship safety and training committee of the North Dakota Rural Electric Association. He was also involved with the state's labor movement, serving in executive roles with the North Dakota AFL-CIO and as chair of the state's Labor Education Council.

In 2002, then-International President Edwin D. Hill appointed Henke as an international representative for the Eleventh District. There, he worked closely with then-Vice President William Eads to service locals throughout North Dakota and part of South Dakota, assisting members from nearly every branch of the brotherhood.

In 2008, Hill appointed Henke to be the Eleventh District's vice president after his predecessor, Lindell K. Lee, was appointed International Secretary-Treasurer. Henke was unanimously reelected by at the IBEW's international conventions in 2011 and 2016.

"I am always thankful for previous leaders such as Bill, Lindell and Ed for having the confidence to promote me into positions of leadership in the IBEW," Henke said. "Without their foresight, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Nor have his own contributions as a vice president been unrecognized. "Curt's always reaching out to people," said Tenth District Vice President Brent Hall, who has served as a vice president alongside Henke since his own appointment in 2015. "He's one of the most positive people I've ever been around. I've never seen a frown on his face."

Hall said Henke has been a good friend whose calming influence among the union's executive leadership will be missed. "When Curt would make a point in one of our meetings, there would be a lot of wisdom there," Hall said. "He thinks things through."

During his time at the district office in Kansas City, Mo., Henke served as an executive board member of the Missouri AFL-CIO and on the boards of the National Utility Industry Training Fund and the Henry Miller Historical Society.

He's also a fast typist, Hall said, noting one of the vice president's more underrated on-the-job skills. "At the officers' meetings, he would take really good notes, and within a week he would email them out to everyone so they could compare."

In retirement, Henke plans to catch up on some of the things he feels were neglected through his life and career, including spending more time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Charlene — affectionately known as Char. "I couldn't have done any of this without her support," he said. "So, now we can hopefully make up for lost time." His son, Landon, is a member of St. Joseph, Mo., Local 545, while his son-in-law, Dustin, is a member of Henke's own Local 1593.

As he retires, Henke is confident that the outlook for the electrical industry, and the luxury the industry provides, remains bright and promising." But, as we look to new and innovative ways to generate electricity and clean energy, I still maintain we cannot forget where we came from and the value of baseload generation," he said. "I believe there can be a reasonable mix of these things in our future."

He also made sure to thank his brothers and sisters of the IBEW who supported him over his many years in the brotherhood. The officers, staff and membership, in turn, wish to thank Brother Henke for his service and wish him nothing but the best in retirement.


Curtis E. Henke

Mark Hager

Eleventh District International Representative Mark Hager, a former business manager of Minot, N.D., Local 714, has been appointed the district's vice president, effective May 1.

Hager replaces Curtis E. Henke, a fellow North Dakotan who retired after 12 years in the position. The Eleventh District includes North and South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.

"Curt has been a great guy to work for and an unbelievable mentor," said Hager, who thanked International President Lonnie R. Stephenson for his confidence in appointing him to this new role. "Organizing has been a priority for him, and it will continue to be a priority for me. We have a great staff to work with here and a great group of business managers."

Henke said that Hager will be a "great vice president for the Eleventh District and the entire IBEW.

"He has never shied away from an assignment and was always ready to take on a new challenge," Henke added. "I have all the confidence in the world our members will benefit from Mark serving as an officer in our brotherhood."

Brother Hager grew up in Minot — a town of 47,000 about a one-hour drive from the Canadian border — and studied electrical technology for two years at the North Dakota State College of Science.

At the time, Hager wasn't quite sure of his career path, he said. But he appreciated the importance of unions. His father worked for the Great Northern Railroad and was a member of the United Transportation Union.

When he was accepted into Local 714's apprenticeship program in 1982, he jumped at it, topping out three years later. But the energy boom was over, ending most of the work on coal-fired plants and oil fields and affecting construction work throughout 714's jurisdiction.

So, Hager packed up his tools and spent the next six years working as a traveler on projects coast to coast.

"It was a good time," he said. "I wasn't married, I didn't have any children, so it was pretty easy for me to do it. We kind of chased overtime all over the country. I would make money when I could and the rest of time, I would go hunting and fishing."

By the early '90s, however, Hager was married and returned to work in his hometown. He regularly attended union meetings, but didn't consider running for office until Local 714 leaders asked him to do so. In 1992, he was nominated to run for president, even though no one told him of their plans beforehand.

He won and served in that position for the next 12 years, during which he had stints as head of Local 714's JATC and political action committees.

"Our local has always put a lot of emphasis on organizing, and when he was elected president, he understood that right away," then-Local 714 Business Manager Richard Bergstad said. "We were also involved in the community and in politics and he recognized these were things we should be doing. He took over groups that were doing that and was a really effective leader."

Hager joined Bergstad's staff as an organizer in 2001. Three years later, Bergstad retired and Hager won the election to succeed him as business manager. He was re-elected in 2007 and left the position to join the district office in 2008. There, Hager serviced locals in North and South Dakota in a variety of classifications, including construction, inside and outside, utility, telecommunications, government, line clearance and tree trimming.

As vice president, Hager plans to continue to emphasize the importance of the IBEW's Code of Excellence — which guarantees the best work in the safest environment — as the best way to continue attracting more employers, business partners and signatory contractors. Organizing nonunion workers and contractors also remains a focus.

"We really have to make sure we're prepared so that once the economy takes back off and construction gets rolling, we're in position to capture that work," he said.

Hager's leadership skills were evident almost from the start, Bergstad said, noting that he ran union meetings as efficiently as any IBEW leader he's seen.

He also suspects Hager's work as a traveler helped him during his career.

"I think for anyone, a little time on the road is good," Bergstad said. "You get a better understanding of the needs of everyone and everything that goes on in the brotherhood."

Hager and his wife Deana have two grown daughters and two grandchildren. In addition to his work with the IBEW, he has served as president of both the North Dakota Electrical Workers Council and the state's Building Trades. He was appointed by two North Dakota governors to serve on the state's Lignite Research Council — on which he still serves — and has been active in Habitat for Humanity.

The officers and staff congratulate Brother Hager on his appointment and wish him the best in his new position.


Mark Hager

Jack McCann

S.R. "Jack" McCann, who spent his career fighting for IBEW members as a business manager and Ninth District international vice president, died March 25 in Walnut Creek, Calif. He was 92.

"For Dad, it was always an honor to be part of the IBEW and to serve as an advocate for all workers," daughter Linda Foley said. "He was a gifted communicator and negotiator who was passionate about improving workers' lives."

McCann was appointed to helm the Ninth District in 1979, then elected to three successive terms until he retired in 1997. He also served on the International Executive Council beginning in 1976.

He grew up in West Plains, Mo., raised by his grandparents and his aunt after losing both his parents by the time he was 3 years old. A standout athlete, he had nearly a dozen college scholarship offers but chose instead to enlist in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.

McCann was still young enough that his aunt had to sign a waiver for him to join, Foley said. Marksmanship skills he'd honed while hunting with his grandfather led him to serve in a gunnery unit in the Pacific theater.

After the war, he returned to Missouri and began raising his family. There, he and young men he'd played basketball with since grade school comprised a champion community team that won every game — until the Harlem Globetrotters came to town to challenge them.

That one loss aside, "My dad was an amazing, wonderful man who accomplished whatever he set out to do," Foley said.

Having shipped in and out of California during the war, McCann decided to move his family west. He enrolled at a community college where one of his instructors turned out to be the business manager of Martinez, Calif., Local 302, who encouraged his math-whiz student to become an apprentice. He was initiated into the local on April 25, 1958, his birthday.

Shortly after graduating as a journeyman inside wireman, an economic downturn sent McCann and an apprentice classmate, John Hunter, in search of electrical work at a Cold War missile site in Yuba, Calif.

The men and their families became lifelong friends, with Hunter serving as McCann's assistant at Local 302 and the Ninth District. "Jack was deeply committed to the labor movement, and there was never a kinder or more gentle man," said Hunter's wife, Carol. "He was a true gentleman from the old days."

After returning from Yuba, McCann became assistant business manager for Local 302, ultimately stepping into the shoes of his retiring boss in 1968. In 2000, the local named its office building in his honor.

Throughout his career, McCann was active in numerous labor, training and building trades boards and councils, including serving on the state and national Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees; chairing the California State Association of Electrical Workers; and, by appointment by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, serving on the state's Council of Industrial Relations and later co-chairing it.

Foley said he was an avid outdoorsman who spent many happy years in retirement camping, fishing, boating, waterskiing, horseback riding and more with his children, grandchildren and Jo, his loving wife of 75 years.

In addition to Foley and his wife, McCann is survived by another daughter, two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and, as his obituary put it, "a large extended family at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers."

"He loved people, and people loved him," Foley said. "He was a wonderful role mode who taught us kindness, honesty, integrity, equality for all and encouraged us to think beyond ourselves and truly help others."

On behalf of members, staff and officers, the IBEW sends its condolences to Brother McCann's family, with deep gratitude for the legacy he left through his decades of dedicated service.


Jack McCann

Alphonse Russo Jr.

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson has appointed Alphonse Russo Jr. to be director of the Railroad Department, effective May 1.

Brother Russo, who goes by "Al," began his railroad career in 1981 in his hometown of New Haven, Conn., helping to maintain and inspect the rolling stock of passenger cars and locomotives for Amtrak. In 1999, he moved over to work with the Metro-North Commuter Railroad.

"Railroad workers keep people and freight moving all over North America," said Russo, a member of New Haven Local 747. "It's our job to make our employers see that it's in their best interest to protect their workers."

A motivated union activist, Russo served as chairman of Local 747's executive board before becoming the local's president in 1998, and throughout his tenure there, he consistently advocated on behalf of his fellow members to ensure their safety on the job.

As Local 747's president and local chairman, Russo was recognized by Metro North's commuter railroad managers as a tough but fair negotiator when dealing with work rule disputes, grievances, investigations, trials and other collective-bargaining concerns.

Russo even briefly dabbled in politics, raising several progressive issues in his 1998 union-endorsed campaign against a popular incumbent to represent Connecticut's 116th District in the state's House of Representatives. His loss in that race did nothing to dull his interest in politics.

"It's very important that members remember to vote for candidates who support us," he said, no matter what party those candidates belong to. "Imagine how much progress we could make with elected officials who are fully on the side of labor."

In 2013, Russo was appointed by then-International President Edwin Hill to serve as a Railroad Department international representative in Washington, and ever since then he has continued to fight on behalf of the union's railroad workers.

"Our industry faces numerous challenges," he said. Layoffs have been affecting hundreds of IBEW members in recent years, for example, due to several North American railroads' embrace of an efficiency scheme called "precision scheduled railroading."

That's just one of the many issues Russo and his department will face when negotiations toward a new national agreement continue. The most recent pact expired on Dec. 31, but it remains in effect as talks toward a new contract are at a virtual standstill because of COVID-19.

When full national negotiation discussions resume, Russo said he is looking forward to working closely with the coordinated bargaining coalition's joint rail chiefs and the IBEW's system councils whose members are covered by the agreement.

"One of the biggest issues going forward will be freight-side sick time," Russo said. "COVID-19 has demonstrated how much workers need it. But we're all on the same page. I have a good feeling about this coalition.

Russo acknowledges that his appointment comes as the world deals with a historic pandemic. "Railroad workers know that they're essential employees from the moment they're hired," he said. "They might not have signed up to risk their lives day in and day out on the job, but they're doing it anyway because they know how important our jobs are."

Russo has an interesting perspective on the role of the international union's Railroad Department. "At our base, we're a customer service center and the members are our customers," he said. "We try to resolve issues and handle complaints."

He is looking forward to continuing that work. "When our members or our local leaders have a problem, I'm always a phone call away," he said.

Russo earned an associate degree in business management in 2004 from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven. He and his wife, Anna, live in Washington and are the proud parents of two daughters.


Alphonse Russo Jr.