In September, the IBEW welcomed Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 1974 as one of the union’s newest chartered locals, representing hundreds of workers making mission-critical military and GPS products equipment.
|Heading up the recently chartered Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 1974 are (standing, from left) E-board members Kyle O’Connor and Steve Beireis, Treasurer Dave Kahler, Business Manager Stephanie Bails, Vice President Jim Wilson, Assistant Business Manager Ryan Hatfield, (seated, from left) E-board member Roslyn Judd and Recording Secretary Jackson Cue.
“The new charter just made sense,” said Eleventh District International Representative Tad Gusta, who services Local 1974, formed after the International Office decided to move out about a third of the members of Coralville, Iowa, Local 1634.
Creating a new local will make it even easier for the IBEW to allocate the resources needed to serve the members. “It will definitely help, getting serviced by people who are familiar with the work they do,” added Director of Manufacturing Brian Lamm.
The approximately 200 members of this new manufacturing local represent workers at BAE Systems, one of the world’s most advanced defense, aerospace and security companies.
“We produce products that support the war fighter,” said Local 1974 Business Manager Stephanie Bails, who started working as an assembly operator in 1996. Having served as assistant business manager and vice president of Local 1634, Bails was a natural choice for appointment as Local 1974’s business manager once the charter was complete.
The creation of a new local is among the latest changes that IBEW workers in Cedar Rapids have seen in recent years. In 2018, Rockwell Collins was bought by United Technologies Corp. Two years later, UTC merged with Raytheon, and that summer, BAE Systems purchased Collins’ GPS business from Raytheon.
“It’s been a really cool and interesting time,” Bails said. The changes also included a move to a new workplace.
In November, BAE Systems opened a state-of-the-art facility in Cedar Rapids that’s home its navigation and sensor systems business. The more than $100 million, 278,000-square-foot complex brings together the company’s design and production employees in one modern multipurpose facility.
“Our workforce in Cedar Rapids is the heart of our military GPS business, and we want to keep our roots in this community,” John Watkins, head of the precision strike and sensing unit at BAE Systems, said in a news release.
The new Cedar Rapids site, with its strong foundation in GPS history, is part of a broader strategic investment by BAE Systems to support business growth, manufacturing capacity and workforce expansion. In 1977, engineers at what was then Rockwell Collins received the world’s first satellite-sent GPS signal.
“We’re fortunate that BAE Systems has prioritized hiring locally and investing in an Iowa-based workforce,” said Bails, noting that workers represented by Cedar Rapids Local 405 installed the new building’s wiring.
More than 800 BAE Systems employees will work at the new site, and nearly 90% of manufacturing employees at the Cedar Rapids site are in the IBEW, Gusta said. “Even in a right-to-work state like Iowa,” he said, “if you service your members, you can have a high membership percentage.”
Iowa is one of 28 states where employees are permitted to opt out of paying union membership dues, even when they enjoy the benefits of a union contract. But even if Iowa wasn’t right-to-work, he said, “if you don’t service your members, you won’t have an active membership. You need to keep them involved, and Business Manager Bails knows and understands the principles of being a good union leader.”
“It’s a privilege to sign new charters, but it is no more essential than personally organizing a single person, something anyone in the IBEW can do,” International President Kenneth. W. Cooper said. “I may hold the pen, but each member holds in their hands the future of the union.”
Local 1974 was the fifth of six locals chartered under Cooper’s predecessor, retired International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, and the local’s number has special meaning for Bails. “That’s the year I was born,” she said, noting how the IBEW favors assigning four-digit numbers to manufacturing locals.
Local 1974’s workers expect to stay busy, Bails said, as the GPS technology the team manufactures is in high demand, used by the U.S. armed forces and international allies.
The local’s contract with BAE Systems expires in May, Bails said, and negotiations for an updated replacement get underway soon.
Gusta is pleased with the relationship between the union and company and the direction the talks are going so far. “As long as you want to spend the time on negotiations, you can get a good outcome for your members,” he said.