The Electrical Worker online
December 2022

Organizing Wire
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Organizing CWs and CEs Helps Louisiana Local
Boost IBEW Reputation, Market Share

A Louisiana local's successful strategy to organize more residential wiremen into the IBEW could serve as an effective model for helping other locals gain members.

Just over a year ago, Shreveport Local 194 Business Manager Brent Moreland signed a memorandum of understanding with the North Louisiana chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, aimed at helping to ensure that all single-family home construction within the local's jurisdiction will go to workers represented by the IBEW.

When Moreland came on as business manager in 2018, he said, "things were extremely slow then." But ever since — even during the widespread lockdowns early in the COVID-19 pandemic — remarkable booming business interest in Shreveport has been keeping Local 194's nearly 600 members busy.

For example, Forever Energy recently announced a $100 million investment in the old General Motors truck plant there, and two new steel mill projects totaling $550 million are on the way. Then there's a $200 million casino hotel renovation project, plus schools work — including maintenance and new equipment installations — and significant healthcare-related work.

"Our market share here now is near 60%," Moreland said. This includes all of the journeyman wiremen in Local 194's jurisdiction, which covers the seven parishes in Louisiana's northwest corner. "We've consistently had one of the highest market shares in the Fifth District."

Local 194's joint apprenticeship and training center is positively humming, educating as many new journeyman wiremen as possible to meet a seemingly never-ending need for workers. "At the JATC, we're teaching 147 people," he said. "Typically, it's anywhere from 80 to 100." Those men and women will obviously be instrumental in meeting contractors' needs for qualified, highly trained wiremen. The local recently broke ground on a 5,000-square-foot addition to the training center, Moreland noted, to help meet the expected future demands for journeyman training.

Not bad for a union local in a state that's been right-to-work since 1976, when laws pushed by anti-union business and organizations gutted unions' bargaining power by granting workers access to all of the benefits of a collectively bargained agreement without having to pay the dues that make bargaining for and protecting such contracts possible.

Large market share, though, can sometimes make further organizing growth challenging, Moreland said. Even so, the local's leaders refuse to give up on capturing the remaining 40%.

The influx of new workers and their families into the greater Shreveport area will naturally need housing, Moreland said. "One contractor is doing 400 homes a year," he said. But Local 194's impressive market share notwithstanding, a great number of these homes might have been built using nonunion residential electrical workers — that is, until Moreland and his leadership team crafted a memorandum of understanding with NECA that would bring many of these electricians into the IBEW.

Across North America, there are thousands of highly qualified nonunion men and women performing electrical work every day who don't precisely fit the IBEW's definition of a journeyman or apprentice wireman. To meet the IBEW's No. 1 mission to organize all electrical workers, nearly 20 years ago the union initiated a program to bring in new members as construction wiremen and construction electricians. These alternative classifications have been helping the IBEW remain competitive and boost market share by capturing work that likely would have gone to nonunion competitors.

Moreland wasn't sure the IBEW's longtime partners at NECA would go for the plan. "We went ahead and put it together expecting it to get slammed, but it didn't," he said. "NECA was into it. Now, we go out and grab CWs and CEs as helpers and put them to work till they're ready for apprenticeships. It lets us evaluate them and lets them see us."

The MOU, which stresses that CWs and CEs will not take work away from an available apprentice, gives an added layer of protection around the IBEW's potential job opportunities, Moreland said. "We already have work on apartments, so this MOU is specific to single-family houses."

This targeted focus on organizing CWs and CEs is working, Moreland said. It's helped Local 194 so far sign up four new residential contractors, along with four more shops that work on everything, including residential.

"It's just been a great opportunity to give union-protected, journeyman-supervised work to men and women under the CW and CE classifications," Moreland said.


Shreveport, La., Local 194 signed an agreement that virtually guarantees that all new single-family home construction within the local's jurisdiction will go to the IBEW.