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December 2020

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Gary V. Buresh

Seventh District International Representative Gary V. Buresh retired effective Sept. 1

Brother Buresh was born and raised in Miles City, Mont., joined the Army after high school and went to Germany as a cook.

"I thought I wanted to own a restaurant," Buresh said. "I discovered I just like to eat."

His ascension into the ranks of the IBEW was, he says, timing and luck. He was working in Wichita, Kan., as a carpenter in 1979. Wichita Local 271 ran an ad in the Eagle, the local paper, for two weeks at the beginning of the year.

"I joke that I saw the electricians on the job and they weren't working near as hard as we were driving nails," Buresh said. "But really what stuck out was the word 'career.'"

When he turned out in 1983, though, the economy was in a tailspin.

"The local ran a food bank for three years. When you were paid on Tuesday you took a sack of groceries to the hall on Wednesday," he said.

It was hard, but it built a deep connection with his local and a clear understanding of the purpose of the IBEW.

"It created a feeling that 'I don't get ahead without you getting ahead,'" he said.

Buresh was a foreman, general foreman and superintendent for the next 10 years. He also began his lifelong passion for teaching when he started as an instructor at the Wichita JATC.

In 1989 he was elected recording secretary, joined the organizing committee and was then appointed president of the local. In 1993 he came on staff as the local's first full-time organizer.

"There had been almost a generation with no organizing. There was no training. How to do it was forgotten and not passed down," he said.

What was remembered, he said, were crude and often self-defeating tactics that could alienate contractors and nonunion workers alike.

The belief of many of the older members who came out of the '60s and '70s was that we will take nonunion electricians when we are short on labor, but not let them join, he said. Instead of giving them yellow dues receipts like members, they got scraps of white paper and were called "white ticket journeyman" or "half-brothers."

"The attitude was, 'What are they going to do? They don't know how to be electricians,'" he said. "What did they do? They formed nonunion companies."

Coming on as an organizer coincided with the launch of the Construction Organizing Membership Education Training, a program designed to return the IBEW to a tradition of organizing.

"COMET was one of the best ideas we ever had," he said. "It answered the question, 'Why do we have to change?'"

Buresh became a district-wide COMET instructor. He knew it was a success when a brother who had been organized in ran for the examining board in the late '90s and won.

Then, one day in 1994, he came into the local and was told he wasn't the organizer anymore.

"I found out on a Monday that I was going to be business manager the next day. The business manager called the assistant in and said 'I'm quitting,' and the executive board chose me," he said.

In the coming years he'd serve as president of the Kansas Building and Construction Trades Council and the Kansas State Association of Electrical Workers.

Seventh District International Vice President Steve Speer met Buresh at a new business manager training when they were both freshly minted in the position.

"We made a fast friendship. We always shared a philosophy of how this work should be done. It's based on relationships," he said.

Speer said there was a moment for him that captured who Brother Buresh was. There was a dispute between Speer's local and another about the status of a member. Buresh was already an international representative at the time.

Both locals had legitimate claims, but the fight meant the member couldn't work.

"Gary said, 'We need to find a way to say yes rather than be right and keep saying no,'" Speer said.

It was like they all snapped out of a spell. They found a solution that required everyone to back down a little.

"We all got to be a little right, but the member was taken care of. I always have that in my mind. When I talk to my 50 local unions in the district, I repeat that like a mantra, 'Find a way to say yes,'" Speer said.

In early 2001, then-International President Edwin D. Hill hired Buresh to be a Seventh District international representative, specifically the desk rep, the person in the district office that everyone can turn to to get questions answered.

That same year he graduated Magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in labor studies from the National Labor College.

His nearly two decades as desk rep may be unprecedented in the IBEW, Speer said. He became the person everyone turned to, the reverence almost an inside joke.

"Everyone would tease him, saying, 'I called Gary. I talked to my preacher," Speer said.

Buresh also expanded from teaching COMET to developing and then teaching the district's Code of Excellence program in 2004.

"Gary is an exceptional educator. He's a good friend and, like a lot of people in our trade, he can be a little rough, a little cynical. But when he is in front of a classroom, there was no one more empathetic. He always met people where they were," said Seventh District International Representative Chris Wagner. "I have known him for almost three decades but his skill as a trainer could still surprise and impress me."

His crown jewel, Buresh says, was the next step in the progression that started with COMET and continued with the CoE: the lead foreman development series.

At the turn of the millennium, the importance of foremen was increasing. New construction methods required well trained and flexible supervisors.

"When I was a foreman, I made a list of supplies we needed on a cardboard box or a piece of sheet rock," Speer said. "I would make guesses off drawings."

New building techniques like design-build and fast track construction, put greater demands on and gave new tools to foremen. They became indispensable, and without a corps of qualified foremen, the IBEW was losing work.

"By the mid-2000s, our growth was limited. Contractors would call and tell us, 'I am bidding all I can, but I just don't have foremen,'" Speer said. "We realized that every available, qualified foreman meant 10 more journeymen and apprentices on a job.'"

Then-International Vice President Jon Gardner decided the Seventh District couldn't sit by and wait for contractors to take on the training.

"If we are saying foremen make the job successful, well, what union do they belong to? We needed to develop our own solution that we would implement," Buresh said.

Gardner was the dreamer, Speer said; Buresh was the legs on the ground.

"Gary wrangled it to make it go," Speer said. "He had the horsepower of Gardner's business card, but all the influence wouldn't make a difference unless Gary was in the hall getting locals to implement and use it."

In less than two years, Buresh had a six-module program known as the Foreman Development Series. It is now taught across the IBEW.

"This is my baby," he said. "Eternal education is how we thrive."

Buresh and his wife, Deborah, have put their retirement travel plans on hold until the COVID-19 crisis passes. In the meantime, Buresh is deeply involved in political efforts to turn Texas blue.

"We have a real opportunity to make this state a place that works for working people," he said.

Please join the officers and staff of the IBEW in wishing Brother Buresh a long and healthy retirement.

"He certainly did the IBEW proud. No one can say he didn't," Speer said.


Gary V. Buresh