Organizing is often described as a marathon. It takes time to build relationships and establish trust. For Phoenix Local 640, that long effort has come to fruition, and the local's rolls are swelling.
"This is the culmination of a lot of things that we've been trying for a long time," said Dean Wine, Local 640 business manager and International Executive member. "It's like dominoes falling into place."
In 2015, Local 640 had fewer than 1,500 members. By January of this year, that number had more than doubled to 3,600, and it's still growing, with much work filled by travelers.
As for how Local 640 made it happen, Wine said there was no magic bullet. It wasn't one campaign or one person. It was the result of a concerted group effort, from the leadership down to the members, and a willingness to try new things — alongside a booming job market.
|Since 2015, Local 640’s membership has more than doubled to 3,600, and it’s still growing.
Business in Arizona really started to open up in 2019, said Wine, with data centers and chip factories popping up all over, as well as facilities like hospitals. There's so much going on in tech, said organizer Kevin Maher, that Phoenix is now being called the Silicon Desert.
"We have more work than we can shake a stick at," Maher said.
Arizona was fortunate in that few jobs were lost during the worst of the pandemic, and the economy has quickly surged since. And legislation like the CHIPS and Science Act, which promises federal dollars for domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, has helped as well. In fact, said Maher, one project went from having a price tag of $12 billion to $40 billion. So it's no surprise that Local 640 has been bringing in a lot of travelers to help meet the demand.
"We've been employing around 900 travelers," Wine said. "There's work all over."
With so much going on, Local 640 has been trying everything it can to fill the jobs. There's the tried-and-true tactics of attending job fairs, doing organizing blitzes, going out to area schools and running ads, which have all played an important role. But they've also engaged in some out-of-the-box thinking and are doing things like offering bonuses to any member who brings in a nonunion worker who stays for at least 90 days.
"It's been pretty popular," Wine said. "It's brought in close to 100 guys so far."
And when that worker comes over, their friends are more likely to follow. More dominoes falling into place.
"We now have the ability to strip entire crews and place them with a contractor," Maher said. "And these are guys who know each other already and have been working together. It's a win-win for everybody."
The local is also making it easier to become a member and start getting benefits. Now, workers with certain journeyman qualifications who haven't yet taken the journeyman exam can become full-fledged members, which wasn't the case before. And for anyone who comes in and can show that they have health insurance through their current employer, Local 640 offers to cover them immediately upon getting a job.
"We have some very forward-thinking things going on," Maher said. "If there's a front we can be effective on, we're on it."
Another avenue that Local 640 has been using is the construction wireman/construction electrician classification, which allows those who fall somewhere between a journeyman and an apprentice the chance to join the union and get additional training. Wine and Maher say it has been vital in terms of filling the jobs gap.
"The CW/CEs saved our butts," Wine said. "We couldn't possibly bring in enough people, with the amount of work we have, through just apprenticeships."
The members were skeptical at first, said Wine and Maher, but they kept the conversations going, explaining how important it was to the local and their ability to bid more jobs. Eventually, they said, the members came around.
"The key is getting members to understand that most CW/CEs will eventually become journeymen, and that they're not taking jobs away but are actually allowing us to be more competitive," Maher said.
In fact, getting the membership on board has been a core component in the local's organizing. Wine and Maher said they've been talking to the members about welcoming all newcomers, underlining the principle that organizing is everybody's job.
"Don't be afraid of the membership," Maher said. "They will help you if you educate them on what the goal is."
Wine and Maher also credit their organizing team for working so well together and with partners like the National Electrical Contractors Association and the Labor Management Cooperation Committee. It's a team that includes organizers Javier Ortega, Robert Lopez and Carmen Eaves and previously had Phil Aguayo, Benny Cabarloc, Enrique Perez and Greg Kelly, with new organizers Steven Perez and Roxana Barrett coming on board. Wine also extended his appreciation to organizing administrative assistant Paula Korintus and membership administrative assistant Margaret Rinker.
"It's a complete and total group effort," Maher said. "We're rooting for everyone's success."
And it's a team that includes bilingual organizers, as well as the local's first woman organizer.
"Having a diverse staff who look like the people we're trying to organize has been extremely helpful," Wine said.
Wine meets weekly with the organizers, so everybody stays in the loop and can share ideas on what's working and what might need to be tweaked.
"You need to keep an open mind," Wine said. "Sometimes you have to break the mold and find a combo that works for you."
Local 640 has also been using tools like Action Builder, which digitizes much of an organizer's paperwork, making it easier to get out in the field, and the Workforce Recruitment Task Force. The WRTF generates leads from social media and forwards them to organizers.
"WRTF has been valuable in building a database of electricians, especially in areas that are not licensed where it would be public information," Maher said.
Local 640's success has not been lost on the nonunion contractors, either.
"The nonunion side knows we're here," Maher said. "And we're not stopping until we have everybody under our umbrella."