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December 2020

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Upstate NY Program Provides a Career in the
Trades to Underserved Communities of Color

There's a lot of talk about helping those who are less fortunate break the cycle of poverty, but the Rochester Multi-Craft Apprenticeship Preparation Program is actually getting it done.

"M.A.P.P. is the beginning of generational wealth," said Executive Director Kereem Berry, who's also a member of Rochester, N.Y., Local 86. "It's the only organization I know of in this area that's offering a true career at the end."

M.A.P.P. works with the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Labor Council to provide pre-apprenticeship programs to historically marginalized communities in the Rochester area. Participants receive training and certification in First Aid and CPR as well as the standard 10-hour safety training from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and 80 hours of construction-related math. They also get hands-on experience, from using power tools to climbing ladders. Those who complete the program and meet the minimum requirements are given direct entry into their program of interest.

"One of the things M.A.P.P. does well is it gives the participants exposure to all the trades. That way, the students can pick which is the best fit for them," said Local 86 Business Manager Michael Bader. "And that exposure, and the training that M.A.P.P. provides, helps those students secure jobs that provide a living wage and can end the cycle of go-nowhere, minimum-wage jobs."

At one time, the city of Rochester, located on Lake Ontario and roughly equidistant between Buffalo and Syracuse, was home to major corporations including Bausch & Lomb, Kodak and Xerox. Those companies provided good-paying jobs, but they've all left. Now, the jobs come from call centers, temp agencies and nonunion construction jobs, Berry said.

"That 'Big Three' economy has long since left us," Berry said. "Consequently, the inner city of Rochester has seen a plunge in residents' opportunities to earn a living wage, making poverty the overwhelming norm."

Enter M.A.P.P. At a time when the average age of a construction worker is inching closer to retirement and unions are looking for new pools of talent, Berry and his team are there, training the next generation. And as unions like the IBEW take concrete steps toward being more diverse and inclusive, M.A.P.P.'s work with people of color becomes even more important.

Berry notes that M.A.P.P. doesn't just teach hard skills like math and how to safely handle a power tool. They train the whole person. Alongside ladders and blueprints, students are learning soft skills like discipline and professionalism, taking a page from the IBEW's Code of Excellence.

"Simply put, it's about maintaining your sense of professionalism at all times. We have rules that go from attendance, to appearance, to hygiene," Berry said.

M.A.P.P. also has Project Phoenix, its sister program that provides an on-the-job component that mimics a typical construction day, beginning at 7 a.m. and going until 3:30 p.m. Students go five days a week, from June until the end of the year, Berry said.

"It instills a sense of discipline that they may not have had prior to enrolling with us," Berry said. "As we all know, construction isn't for everyone, so Project Phoenix doubles as a filter to see who is actually cut from the duck cloth of a union construction worker."

And, like a union apprentice, the students earn while they learn. M.A.P.P. provides a stipend of $12 an hour.

Berry is also working with Local 86 to offer M.A.P.P. participants affordable access to the Electric Prep online training course which helps them prepare for their assessment test.

"It's a pretty easy lift for us, and Electric Prep is a great program," Bader said. "Anything we can do to help M.A.P.P."

What makes M.A.P.P. really stand out, though, is how it takes the curriculum one step further. Its leaders also teach self-love, a beneficial concept for everyone, but one particularly important for a group that's been denied opportunity and discriminated against. It's especially important for young people entering an industry where many of their coworkers won't look like them.

"The truth of the matter is that there's still a lot of racial tension on job sites," Berry said. "You'll hear off-hand remarks, see racist statements written in the port-a-potty, be assigned the least desirable tasks. All these things are realities on construction sites across the trades, and unless you have a base value of who you are, you may very well come to believe, and even accept, that you are less than. Not graduates of M.A.P.P.

"We show them you are beautiful just the way you are. And when a person feels that type of self-worth, there isn't much anyone can say or do to throw them off course."

M.A.P.P.'s success is even being modeled by the Workforce Development Institute, the New York state AFL-CIO's nonprofit arm, to launch a similar program in the capital area around Albany. Berry is serving as a consultant. WDI has noted that M.A.P.P. is the only pre-apprentice program it has seen that combines pre-employment training, labor history and placement into a union apprenticeship with a strong community development component.

"It's that community development piece that reinforces how union labor floats all boats, and that we're interested in improving the lives of others," Berry said.


The Rochester Multi-Craft Apprenticeship Preparation Program works with historically marginalized communities to train and prepare them for a career in the trades.

Subhea'Contactless Office' Program Aims to
Help Chicago Bounce Backd

The Loop is Chicago's heartbeat, 35 snug blocks of landmarks and skyscrapers that draw hundreds of thousands of workers, shoppers, diners and tourists on a normal day.

At "peak corona," as Local 134 steward Jimmy Aiello put it, "it was like the Twilight Zone."

The journeyman wireman has spent every workday for a decade at the 54-story Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower overlooking Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. "It was eerie," he said. "You'd look out the window and it was like, 'Where is everybody?'"

While there's still a long way to go, Aiello's been on the front lines of reviving America's Second City. He's carrying out a commitment made by Local 134 and Powering Chicago, the dynamic partnership between the local and the city's Electrical Contractors' Association.

Alarmed as their city shut down in late March and early April, Business Manager Don Finn and Powering Chicago leaders were determined to be part of the solution.

"There was a screeching halt to work going on downtown," Finn said. "All the offices were working remotely.

"We knew the more we can get employers set up to reopen downtown, the more people will come back, and that's what makes Chicago's economic engine run," he said.

They put their heads together and came up with "The Contactless Office: Powering Chicago to a Better Workplace for All."

Getting there took several months of brainstorming and strategy, said Elbert Walters, Powering Chicago director and a former Local 134 business agent. "The question was posed: how to return to work in some capacity and restore some semblance of the economic community that we had that was thriving before COVID-19," he said.

Their program includes webinars that have been attended by hundreds of people, a detailed guidebook online, and personal outreach, all of it teaching businesses how technology can minimize contact with surfaces, promote social distancing and otherwise protect workers' health as offices reopen.

The technology itself isn't new. But it's being adapted and upgraded to meet the demands of a contagious disease.

Coded keycards long used for entries and exits can be programmed for secure, contactless movement through office suites and elevators. To promote social distancing, there are digital panels that show how many people are inside a conference room and doors that stay shut from the outside when the new, lower capacity is reached. Thermal cameras in lobbies can check body temperatures. UV lights can be installed to kill germs.

"Behind the scenes, it's still the same devices; it's how they're being utilized that's different," said Gene Kent, director of Local 134's IBEW-NECA training center.

As the program helps steer the city toward a new, safe normal, it's also starting to create work for Local 134 members and signatory contractors.

"Part of our marketing effort is to really get out there and create knowledge so that our contractors can go out and sell to existing customers, 'This is what we can do for you,'" said John Donahue, executive director of Powering Chicago.

Generating jobs for his members right now, and in the months ahead, is imperative, Finn said. The pandemic has taken a huge toll, grounding non-essential construction, shrinking building maintenance crews and cutting jobs at other Local 134 worksites.

Just as things were starting to look up, the local's out-of-work list began growing again with fall's fierce new wave of COVID-19 infections.

Finn is hopeful that as more businesses embrace contactless office technology, more members will be drawing a paycheck again.

"Think about it," he said. "If you got up out of your cube on a normal day, you touched the door in the hallway, you touched the bathroom door, the lobby door, you hit the light switches and elevator buttons — with everything being a pass-through, it has the potential to create a tremendous amount of work."

The crew at the Blue Cross building can operate with as few as seven electricians, "but with all the projects right now, there are 32 of us," Aiello said.

Their major focus is upgrading the building's cellular antenna signals to increase data speeds, and also installing new radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers.

The technology has many functions. But in terms of COVID-19, RFID can be used for contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. The stronger antenna signals will improve cellular and data transmission as some employees return to the office and others continue to work remotely.

By October, Aiello was seeing more people in the neighborhood, more signs of life, and his own building was humming with a few more of its 6,000 workers. But it's still empty enough that the installation project — originally scheduled for overnight shifts — is getting done ahead of schedule during the day.

The crew's tasks directly related to COVID-19 have included wiring a system that checks temperatures as people peer at a screen on a pedestal, then sends the result to the lobby desk. Other building trades are busy, too, Aiello said, including union carpenters who are moving desks and remodeling office suites for social distancing.

Word is spreading about Powering Chicago's innovative approach to the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders and staff are getting inquiries from other states, spurred by ads in area building-trade publications with far-flung readership.

No matter how the pandemic — or whatever comes next — affects technology and how it's deployed, Local 134 members are ready, Kent said.

"The training we do instills confidence in our apprentices that they have the skills to negotiate any challenge," he said. "Even if it's brand-new technology, we're ready to install it with very little learning curve because we're so well trained."


An animated video from Powering Chicago guides employers through the steps they can take to safeguard offices against COVID-19 and other contagions.


Elbert Walters, Powering Chicago director and former Local 134 business agent, checks out cables at a downtown high-rise where IBEW electricians are installing and upgrading equipment that will help employers protect workers from COVID-19 exposure, including technology to improve the communications network between the office and employees working from home.

Ontario Local Raises Money for Area Women's Shelter

Members of Hamilton, Ontario, Local 105 have a history of supporting a local women's shelter. And while they couldn't sport their usual pink high heels this year, they still raised a lot of money.

"Our membership has always been very generous and supportive of our community," said Business Manager Steve Fox. "Although we are getting better, like a lot of building trades, our local is still mostly men, so this is a great way for us to show our commitment to our sisters in a visible and meaningful way."

Local 105 has supported Halton Women's Place for the last six years. The center provides emergency shelter and crisis services for abused women and their children, as well as counseling and other support programs, including education on breaking cycles of abuse. Each year in September, they put on their "Hope in High Heels" event to raise money by asking men to wear the iconic shoe and walk in solidarity. But this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event shifted to a week of wearing pink and encouraging participants to do walks from home.

"It was different this time, but the support poured in as usual," said Local 105 Executive Board Member Brendan Smyth, who also sits on the board of Halton Women's Place. "We have zero tolerance for discrimination."

Unfortunately, the coronavirus has created what the United Nations is calling a "shadow pandemic" of domestic abuse. The lockdown orders, intended to keep people safe from the deadly virus, have also locked up victims with their abusers, making the work of places like Halton Women's Place all the more important. Data from Statistics Canada found an increase in calls to police for domestic disturbances as the coronavirus was taking hold and forcing Canadians indoors.

"It's a horrific situation, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with help from the community," Smyth said.

In addition to the walks and wearing pink, Smyth and his daughters got creative and built miniature picnic tables — think just the right size for a hungry squirrel to catch a quick bite — to raise additional money.

"It was a welcome reprieve from everything going on to have this project to do with my daughters," Smyth said. "And they turned out to be really popular."

They were so popular that they got about 170 requests for the tiny tables, Smyth said, which were offered for a donation of any amount.

All told, Local 105 raised about CA$3,000 for the shelter, with around $2,000 coming from the tables and $1,000 from the local's philanthropy fund.

Local 105's commitment to women in its community includes support for other organizations including the Hamilton YWCA; Interval House Hamilton, another shelter; and the Sexual Assault Centre, Hamilton and Area.

"Supporting women both inside and outside of the trade is a priority for Local 105," Fox told the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario. "We take a lot of pride in helping these organizations provide the necessary supports. Everyone deserves to be safe, empowered and respected, whether in the workplace or the community. We want to be part of the solution."

The 1,150-member local is also working on setting up a women's committee and has applied for government funding to help increase its recruitment of women, Indigenous groups and veterans.

"True unionism means being invested in your community," Smyth said. "We'd like to see our membership better reflect the communities we come from."


Hamilton, Ontario, Local 105 has continued its support of Halton Women's Place, an area shelter for women in domestic violence situations, despite the coronavirus.