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September 2020

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Bill Dietz

Bill Dietz, who began his career as a TV broadcast engineer and ended it as an indispensable Fourth District international representative, retired July 1.

Dietz joined the IBEW staff as an international representative in 2007 after 27 years as an engineer and union activist at WKRC-TV 12 in Cincinnati.

He handled tough assignments in industries that were slashing jobs and moving operations to Mexico, changes that spurred turnover in local leadership. New officers became instant fans, praising Dietz's nuts-and-bolts expertise managing a local, unfailing accessibility, and patient and skillful training.

"When our new board took over, we basically had a change of every officer position in our local," said Pam Combs, part-time business manager and president of Oxford, Ohio, Local 2287, representing workers at Schneider Electric.

"Every one of us was as green as dollar bills," Combs said. "Bill took us from the ground up. He's held our hand all the way through. You're not going to find many people as good as Bill. He spoiled us."

Dietz was raised in Middletown, Ohio, where his father was a Steelworker. After high school, he studied electronics for two years at RETS technical college, where he gravitated toward broadcasting. Ultimately, he took three increasingly difficult tests to earn a first-class Radio-Telephone Federal Communications Commission license.

Broadcast electrical engineers were required to have the license in order to "adjust operating parameters and do certain technical readings on the transmitters," Dietz said. "I worked very hard to pass those federal tests."

Within a couple of years of being hired at WKRC in 1979, Dietz became a steward in Cincinnati Local 1224, representing local radio and TV broadcast engineers. He went on to serve 11 years as vice president and seven as president and business manager.

He started his career in broadcasting at the end of the heyday of good, family-wage jobs in the industry. Soon, Reagan-era deregulation began the erosion of FCC ownership rules for TV and radio stations, weakening competition and killing jobs. Dietz saw the damage up close as a handful of corporations gradually took control of the majority of the nation's broadcast media. Today, once-independent stations share news content and employ skeleton crews at lower wages.

"As ownership rules were relaxed through Congress and lobbyists, they all knew exactly what they were doing," Dietz said. "Fewer companies owning more stations so they could make more money off them caused the destruction of a very good industry to work in."

Because WKRC was a flagship station for a previous owner, Dietz said he and his colleagues escaped the worst of the blows. But other Local 1224 stations were hit hard. His battles multiplied when he was assigned to broadcasting locals as a Fourth District representative. Leverage at the bargaining table was scarce.

At the same time, he was put in charge of manufacturing locals as companies were pulling up stakes and moving to Mexico or other low-wage countries.

"It was a domino effect," Dietz said. "We all should have listened when Ross Perot said, 'Don't sign NAFTA.' He warned us it would be like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up jobs."

But even in that climate, the value of a union was clear. At a lighting plant that was shutting down and eliminating both IBEW and nonunion jobs, Dietz recalls how it good it felt to be able to negotiate severance, health care and seniority benefits for his members.

Another highlight, Dietz said, was being part of the IBEW team that helped former Canton, Ohio, Local 1985 turn its union hall into a museum that preserves the legacy of their work at the city's now-defunct Hoover plant.

In 2010, Dietz also was assigned to serve Fourth District railroad locals on constitutional issues, guiding officers through the intricate details of quarterly audits, per capita reports, dues collection, holding elections and countless other duties.

"I would be nothing in this union without him." said Ansylem Bartholomew, who helms Amtrak Local 362 in Washington, D.C. "I have never gotten in a work environment the amount of help I have gotten from Bill Dietz."

In 2018, Bartholomew was only in his second year at Amtrak when he was appointed to step in as the local's financial secretary/treasurer. Less than a year later he also became the pro tem chairman, the railroad equivalent of business manager. "I had everything to learn," he said. "There wasn't a time I couldn't call Bill, not a time that he couldn't help me."

Wishing his mentor well in retirement, Bartholomew proclaimed, "Long live Bill Dietz! There should be a statue of him."

In often tumultuous times, Dietz was buoyed by the spirits and resilience of members like Bartholomew and Combs. "We have so many good people, so many good union brothers and sisters," he said.

Dietz and his wife, Laura, live in the Cincinnati suburb of Union, Ky. Although COVID-19 forced them to cancel a September trip to Hawaii, Dietz said they're looking forward to future travel. Meanwhile, he's enjoying his hobby restoring classic cars, including a 1977 Corvette and a 1966 Chevy c10.

The IBEW is grateful for Brother Dietz's many contributions to our union. On behalf of members, staff and officers, we wish him a long, healthy and happy retirement.


Bill Dietz

Troy Johnson

International Representative Troy Johnson, a key figure in the organization of Baltimore Gas and Electric and other successful organizing drives, retired April 1 after a 38-year career in the brotherhood.

A native of Chickasha, Okla., Brother Johnson attended vocational technical college after high school and was interested in becoming a welder. He was married with a young child, and his mother-in-law — who worked for Western Electric — encouraged him to apply for a job at its facility in Oklahoma City.

He got the position and was hired as a machine electrician in 1983, manufacturing parts for landline phones. That earned him membership in Oklahoma City Local 2021, which represented workers at the plant.

"At 19 years old, I knew nothing about the IBEW," Johnson said. "At that time, Oklahoma was not a right-to-work state. When you hired in, you became a member of the local."

He went through a four-year apprenticeship conducted by the company and Local 2021 before serving on a variety of local committees and as president from the late 1980s through the 1990s. In 1996, retiring business manager Jim Walls encouraged Johnson to run as his successor.

Johnson said he was hesitant. Western Electric offered a full retirement package after 30 years of service, meaning he could retire at 49. Plus, Local 2021 was a massive manufacturing local, with nearly 3,100 members. It had nearly 10,000 members at its peak in the 1970s.

Yet, he enjoyed his previous service with the local, so he announced his candidacy, introducing himself at all hours to members who worked in three shifts at the plant. He won the election and was re-elected three years later.

"I loved it," he said. "I loved helping the members. Next to my 18 years as an international representative, working to better the lives of Local 2021 members as business manager and president were the best jobs I've ever had."

In 2002, then-International President Edwin D. Hill, acting on a recommendation from Seventh District Vice President Orville Tate, asked Johnson to move to Washington and join the Manufacturing Department. He stayed there for four years before moving to Special Projects, now the Membership Development Department.

He assisted the Eleventh District on an organizing campaign at Millbank Manufacturing Company in Concordia, Mo., which added about 170 members when it was finalized in 2007. He also represented the IBEW before the U.S. International Trade Commission in the infamous television dumping case.

The IBEW joined with IUE-CWA and a domestic television maker to challenge China's "dumping" of new plasma television sets below the cost of production into the U.S. market. The dumping had the support of large anti-union retailers, including Walmart and Best Buy, and it contributed to the shutdown of Thomson tube-making and glass plants the IBEW represented in Ohio and Indiana.

But after the commission's 2004 ruling in the Unions' favor, plasma televisions entering the U.S. from China were hit with a 23% commission, stemming the tide of manufacturing job losses.

"That one makes me feel kind of proud," said Johnson, who testified before the commission and the Commerce Department. "Rarely did you see labor win a fair trade fight like that."

An even bigger win was on the horizon. Not long before his retirement in 2015, Hill asked Johnson to start another organizing campaign at BGE, where the IBEW had fallen short in four previous attempts.

This time, BGE employees voted in January 2017 for IBEW representation, leading to the formation of Baltimore Local 410. About 1,400 of those employees officially became members when a first contract was ratified in 2019.

"I couldn't meet with everyone all the time, so I started building relationships with people at each one of [BGE's] service centers," Johnson said. "That's what it was like for the first six or eight months.

"Everyone heard the exact same message from the exact same person, which helped avoid a lot of confusion in messaging. It was just a matter of getting to know everyone and gaining their trust. Then, it just happened."

Personnel Director Mike Knox was an organizer in the Membership Development Department during that campaign and has been a close friend ever since.

"Man, what a big win," Knox said. "Troy and his team developed an organizing plan throughout that campaign that was spot on. From all the meetings we had, to the hand billing and door knocking, it was well planned out.

"Troy was always kind enough to introduce me to people within the IBEW. Several are close friends to this day. I owe a lot to his leadership."

In retirement, Johnson plans to attend Oklahoma University football games and watch Washington Nationals baseball. He had Nationals season tickets while working at the International Office. He also plans to spend more time on golf, woodworking and restoring classic sports cars.

Johnson and wife Retta now live in Blanchard, Okla. They have two children and five grandchildren. Western Electric closed its Oklahoma City plant in 2003 and Local 2021 eventually amalgamated with Oklahoma City Local 1141, where he remains a member.

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


Troy Johnson