Pueblo, Colo., Local 12 member Eppie Griego and his wife Rayann. The couple has accepted about 150 children into their home as part of foster care.

Service to others was central to Eppie Griego long before he became an active member of Pueblo, Colo., Local 12.

Griego, who is a member of Local 12’s executive board and is running for a seat on the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners, has served as a foster parent for nearly 150 children along with his wife, Rayann. That’s in addition to raising four children of their own.

“We enjoyed helping children and moving their lives forward,” he said.

Sometimes, the Griegos would house a child for just three or four days. It usually was for no more than six weeks. They took pride  they raised their grades or showed interest in improving their lives before before the children were sent back to their parents or on to another permanent home.

“What I mean by moving life forward is that when they would come in, they were usually scared,” Eppie said. “You would sit down and make sure they got their homework done. Just watching them progress from Fs to As and Bs and Cs was so rewarding.”

Sometimes, it took years for those rewards to become evident. The Griegos often wouldn’t see a foster child for several years after he or she left their home. One time, they bumped into a young man who had stayed with them as a teenager. He had just finished a stint in the military and said he had turned his life around. He apologized for being so disrespectful during his stay.

“We were around a few people that had tried foster care and were impressed by how close those kids were to them,” said Rayann, who met Eppie in high school and recently celebrated her 40th anniversary with him. “My husband coached youth football at the time. He’s always been involved with community events and clubs and he wanted to get involved.

“We just felt like we could make a difference in kids’ lives.”

Or, as Eppie said: “You give them your love and your time. Treat them the same way as your own kids.”

The couple stopped fostering after their own son was involved in a serious auto accident and needed more personal care. But the desire to serve lived on.

A lifelong Pueblo resident, Eppie Griego has been a union member for most of his professional career, including stints with the Laborers, Steelworkers and United Transportation Union, the last while working for the Santa Fe Railroad.

At the age of 53, at the urging of a cousin who was a Local 12 member and a supervisor for PAR Electrical, he applied for IBEW membership. Griego first worked as a groundman before moving up to a ground operator position with a CDL license.

“He told me, ‘Man, we’re like a brotherhood,’” Griego said. “'Everyone gets along. You’ll fit right in because you’re a hustler.'

“Right away, I knew I made the right decision. It’s great pay, great benefits and a great retirement.”

Local 12 is primarily an inside and outside construction local. Because of that, Business Manager Tom Kelley said he and his staff encourage line workers to make sure they are represented on the executive council so their concerns aren’t overlooked. Griego volunteered for an open spot and was recently elected to a three-year term.

“I think Eppie’s a representation of the community of Pueblo,” Kelley said. “He’s a go-getter. He doesn’t tell you one thing and then go do something else. He gives you his word and he does it.”

Pueblo, about a two-hour drive south of Denver, has a population of just over 100,000, with about 280,000 people in the metropolitan area. It’s long been known as a strong union town, primarily because of the steel industry’s presence there, and it has been recognized nationally for its affordable housing. Some organizations, such as AARP, have listed it among the 10 best American cities to live.

Griego came up short when he first ran for a commission seat in 2012. He proudly played up his union roots when announcing his candidacy, telling a local paper he’s the “labor candidate.” So far, he has been endorsed by Local 12 and Pueblo’s steelworkers and laborers local unions. The general election isn’t until November of next year.

Currently, Griego serves on the Pueblo County & Zoning Board and as a delegate to the Southern Colorado Labor Council/AFL-CIO. If elected, one of his priorities will be helping to bring good-paying jobs to Pueblo – which means they likely will be union jobs.

“Unions have taken care of me,” he said. “I’m going to do the best I can for them.”

Rayann is a longtime union member as well. She works as a psychiatric technician at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo and is a member of Colorado WINS, which represents about 31,000 public employees in the state. The couple has four children – Eppie Jr., Raquel, Janelle and Eric, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom --- and five grandchildren.

“We were young when we first got married,’ she said. “We’ve had heartaches and tragedies in our lives. We know the importance of union wages and benefits. We both have good jobs with good benefits and know how much it’s helped out.”