Last April, Houston Local 66’s young members group had four members. Today, they have close to 50 – and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
“The IBEW in Houston is thriving,” said Local 66 Business Representative and organizer Ben Holmes, who runs the group. “Hopefully it’ll never end.”
The group, dubbed RENEW 66, received its official Reach Out and Engage Next Generation Electrical Workers status in February. RENEW is the IBEW’s initiative to get more young members involved in the union. But before that, they were already holding fundraisers, workshops and meetings, all to get more members invested in the Brotherhood.
“When people talk about the IBEW, they’re talking about us too,” Holmes said of the younger contingent. “We’re the future, and we can’t rely on the old guard forever.”
The rapid growth of the group is due to a number of factors, says Holmes, among them buy-in from leadership. Business Manager Greg Lucero has nothing but praise for RENEW 66.
“The group has got the young members talking union for a change,” Lucero said. “We have given them a spot where they talk to others about their issues and feel like someone is listening.”
Local 66’s Facebook page and Instagram posts regularly feature members. Sometimes it’s a member with a new baby, or someone who’s just earned their journeymen card. And Holmes says he makes a video of every event they hold and shares it on social media.
RENEW 66 has helped the local increase participation throughout its 4,300-person membership, for example by having their meetings right before the general membership ones, so more people stay and participate in both.
“A lot of members are stepping up their engagement; some are even becoming stewards,” Holmes said.
Last Halloween, the group put on a “trunk or treat” event where people dressed up in costume and decorated their vehicles and passed out candy for area kids, including those at a nearby women’s shelter, an organization RENEW 66 has developed a relationship with. They’ve also done food and toy drives.
“The folks at the shelter might not know a lot about unions, but they know that they’re a little happier because of IBEW 66,” Lucero said. “If anything, it’s a bit selfish for us because of the feeling we get being able to help.”
The group is also applying for a charter to the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, the Brotherhood’s initiative to bring more diversity and inclusion into the union.
“I’m a white guy with red hair and a beard. It’s important for me to be part of the EWMC, to be an ally for our brothers and sisters of color,” Holmes said.
They’re also excited at the prospect of getting more women involved.
“We don’t want our sisters to deal with catcalls or any harassment,” Holmes said. “This group is about helping people.”
Holmes and Lucero also noted the number of travelers they get and how the group has helped in that regard. One way was by holding a collective bargaining agreement study group. On other occasions, they’ve held meetings where they go over what they call the “12 types of union personalities,” asking members which they want to be.
“It’s good for character building,” Holmes said. “We want to send out not just a lineman but a union member, someone who knows the contract, and how to understand different perspectives.”