Half of total hours worked by members of Brockton, Mass., Local 223 last year were rooftop installations for contractors like Beaumont Solar.  

Hiring the best trained, most productive electricians in the business – IBEW members-- leads to successful contractors and happy customers.

IBEW members working for Beaumont Solar built the 1.3 megawatt rooftop solar system on the union Joseph Abboud suit factory in New Bedford, Mass.

We’ve been saying it for years. Phil Cavallo, president and CEO of Beaumont Solar in New Bedford, Mass., is saying it now too. Maybe, even louder.

A decade ago, Cavallo bought a nearly century-old sign company. His timing was not great, as the economy was heading into recession. The meat and potatoes of the sign business are new businesses opening. Old Dunkin’ Donuts and banks that are already there don’t need new signs very often. Businesses that are losing customers don’t demand new billboards.  

“Nothing was opening and no one needed signs. I started asking what can we do with the equipment we own and skills we already have,” said Cavallo, a serial entrepreneur who is also a trained electrical engineer. “We mount signs on rooftops, put up freestanding billboards and run power to them. We can do solar.”

Cavallo grew that sign company’s solar shop into one of New England’s largest.  In 2016, the Boston Business Journal identified it as the 10th largest clean energy company in the state. It was the only solar developer to make the list.

But a year ago, he had hit a wall. If he wanted to grow, and he does, badly, he needed a change.

The open shop model may have gotten him thereabouts, but it was holding him back.

In May 2016 he signed up with Brockton, Mass., Local 223 and hasn’t looked back.

 “I made a bet that we could get more done with fewer heads and fewer headaches,” Cavallo said.  “Through the different halls, we can staff and manage installations totaling 20 megawatts every quarter instead of two or three. We are scalable, and we weren’t before.”

And Beaumont didn’t just sign up quietly. Cavallo trumpeted his relationship with the IBEW, sending out a press release and putting the relationship in his advertising, his pitches to customers.

By signing with the IBEW, he wrote, Beaumont Solar could now “provide guaranteed construction and workmanship with predictable costs… there is never any question about accountability. With this partnership, it enables Beaumont to be productive and scalable on each and every project.”

Reading through the release the first time, Local 223 Business Manager David Fenton said he wasn’t exactly surprised. It was just that, seeing it all on paper, with a contractor’s name at the top, trumpeting the good news that they were no longer an open shop for all to see and hear?

“Just because it’s true doesn’t mean people always say it,” he said. “So, surprised? No. People have been saying bad things about unions for so long it just gives you a smile a mile wide when people get it and then just say what is so.”

And then, it worked. Cavallo gave the nonunion electricians in the shop the chance to sign up with the IBEW. Some did. Some didn’t.

Then he put out the word, work rolled in and so did the plaudits.

“We knew what we were doing as an open shop, but the quality of the work that is being done by our company has reached a new level in the last nine months. I am delighted with the work,” he said. “However you measure it -- callbacks, meeting schedules or customer satisfaction— the feedback is phenomenal.”

They’ve even brought in new customers eager to hire a union shop. The Joseph Abboud suit factory in New Bedford is not only the largest tailored clothing shop in the U.S., its 800 employees are all members of UNITE HERE. When the company wanted to install solar panels on the south-facing, saw-toothed roof of its 1909 factory, it only had to look up the street to find Beaumont.

“They were so happy that a union contractor could do the work,” Fenton said. “A union solar contractor from New Bedford did the solar roof on a union textile factory in New Bedford. That’s perfect.”

The solar business is booming for Local 223. Beaumont may be one of the most enthusiastic solar contractors using members from the Brockton hall, but it isn’t alone, or even the biggest. Beaumont has more than 45 members working long term. Mass. Electric Construction has 50 members now and will nearly double its demand this year, Fenton said. Fishbach Electric has 35 and Aldon Electric is running between 25 and 30 members.

“Half of our total man-hours in 2016 were in solar projects,” he said. “Cavallo wants to be the biggest solar contractor in the Northeast. We told him what we tell all our contractors: ‘Go on. We’ll go with you all the way.’”

For Fenton, Beaumont’s high-profile embrace is more than just a top-down organizing win. It’s a message to open shop contractors.

“Southeastern Massachusetts is watching this,” Fenton said. “If a solar contractor can make money with us, so can they.”