A “Good Brother” Story

In early December while volunteering at the hall I heard yet another version of a story that seems to be pretty common in our local. It was what I call a “Good Brother” story. These are stories about how great a specific brother was/is that usually ends with some kind of cringe-worthy exception to the member’s greatness. Now I understand that everyone is human, and we all have flaws but if we remember these members simply as Good Members, then we are likely to continue to have the same problems generation after generation. We should remember that as late as 1969 out of the 2700 members of IBEW local 46 only two were “non-white”, and none were female.

Now this particular story was a perfect archetypical “good brother” story and I think that is why I found myself needing to write this. In a nutshell the story was about a brother that was one of the finest the storyteller had ever known. This brother was always the fastest, hardest worker on every jobsite. He always stuck up for the contract and he always stuck up for the brotherhood. I emphasize the brother because this particular member’s flaw was that he always said that women don’t belong on the jobsite. Upon revealing this flaw the storyteller quickly followed by saying “but he was a good brother,” that was animated with a shoulder shrug that implied that this members’ flawed understanding of solidarity should be looked past, because he was a hard worker, a fast worker, and he worked the contract.

For the sake of our union moving into the 21st century this attitude must be challenged. We must begin to truly understand what a good brother, what a Good Member, really is. The pace they work does not define a Good Member, but the quality of the work they produce probably has something to do with it. They are not defined by the amount they sweat when they work, but by how intelligently they get work done safely, and lastly defending the parts of the contract a member likes, only for the members one likes also does not make one a Good Member.

The status of Good Member can only be earned as the result of good actions. At his or her very worse a Good Members’ actions hurt no other member. On average their actions are thoughtful and considerate and serve members. When a Good Member is at their very best their actions work to inspire other members to become better. Now it should be understood that being a good member is not like being a Seahawks fan or a member of the NRA, you can’t just pay dues or initiation fees or declare that you are a Good Member. In a strange way being a Good Member is kind of like being an alcoholic. You could be sober for one day or for one decade but you will always be an alcoholic and just the same you could be a Good Member for one day or for one decade but you will always be a human being with ingrained prejudices and selfishness that you must consciously and deliberately decide not to surrender to every single moment of every single day.

When this becomes the standard of Good Membership in our local our union will win every contract, we will have dignity on every jobsite everyday, and we will leave behind a union, a trade, and an industry that we will be excited to hand off to the next generation. “An injury to one is an injury to all” has been a fundamental rallying cry for unions since they began and it is as true today as it was in 1891, whether that injury is physical, economic, or psychological.

 

Veterans Day

President Kennedy once said, “ Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” There are fewer ways less noble than to serve in our country military.  I wanted to thank a friend of mine Luis Sanchez my carpool buddy for the last few months, who served in an Abrams M1A1 in three tours in Iraq, you and others like you deserve our thanks!

 

PSEW PENSION PLAN UPDATE!

If you do the math, it’s  9.31X40= 372.4X4= $1489.6 which is similar to an average house payment! Why don’t we have an updated pension plan? We spend so much money on our pension and our healthcare! notice the bottom of our pension plan REVISED JUNE 1, 2004! Thirteen years without an update, wth!

PSEW PENSION PLAN

PSEW Pension

 

Solidarity at IBEW LU 46

Looks like there is some solidarity developing at IBEW LU 46! Last week Rank & File members put forward a motion to declare Wednesdays as Union Pride Day. The motion specifically asked the Local’s leadership to send out a “robodial” to their membership asking the members to wear IBEW t-shirts each and every Wednesday starting this week.

This is an effort to show unity for a strong Sound & Comm contract as the unit goes back into negotiations in November. When the Inside Wire unit joins in this effort, not only does it support the Sound & Comm unit, it will also help get Inside Wire members geared up for their contract negotiations starting early next year. If you are with IBEW make sure you and your coworkers wear a union shirt, button, or hardhat sticker starting this Wednesday.

Don’t have a union shirt or sticker? You can show your commitment to solidarity by not wearing the company clothing on Wednesdays, or by wearing a button if you have a company uniform!

Building Trades Wage Package Comparison

How does your trade’s wages and benefits stack up when compared to the other trades?  The package information below includes all wages and benefits paid per hour. The training column is the number of hours required to complete apprenticeship. The figures for training were collected from the applicable apprenticeship programs and building trades websites.

Craft Analysis

Sound & Comm Unit Soundly Rejects Tentative Agreement

NECA must increase wage package, drop its Occupied Premise language

They kept streaming in.

Nearly 200 members of the Sound & Comm unit, or nearly one out of every four unit members, attended a standing-room-only contract vote meeting on Thursday, August 17th. The meeting started late due to the large number of Sound & Comm members who needed to sign in.

Of the 174 members who voted, 173 members saw the negotiating committee’s Tentative Agreement (TA) for what it was: simply not good enough.

The high vote turnout was significant for a unit membership that has been given precious few opportunities to participate, or even be informed, in its own contract negotiations.

The Sound & Comm unit has been working under an expired contract since July 31st. Negotiations between our union and the Puget Sound chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) began over two-and-a-half months ago on June 7th. Since negotiations started, there have been no surveys sent to gather member input and no updates requesting their feedback. Many members say they only found out about the vote meeting through other vigilant coworkers.

Negotiations have not been easy, according to the negotiating committee. NECA has stubbornly resisted our union’s proposals, at first rejecting all of the union’s proposals outright during the second bargaining session (except for Tentatively Agreeing early on to a 3-year contract).

So when the negotiating committee was eventually offered $6.75 over 3 years by NECA, they understandably must have felt like they had made progress. When added to the fact that member opinions were not collected in advance, this could explain why the entire five-person negotiating team unanimously recommended that members vote “yes” on the TA. This recommendation the membership soundly rejected, with nearly equal unanimity.

Since the recently elected Business Manager added extra members to the negotiating committee, the committee has dropped key issues that the former unit’s Business Rep and his negotiating committee members had proposed.

The union’s dropped proposals included a pay differential while working in downtown Seattle to help defray the cost of parking and guaranteed upfront travel pay when working outside of the 35-mile zone.

The biggest issue for members at the contract vote was the insulting wage package (a measly $6.75 over 3 years) and a change (for the worse) in the already weak Occupied Premise language. NECA wants to be able to schedule Low Volt members during swing and graveyard shifts, for 4-day-10-hour (4×10) shifts at a flat rate. This would mean a giveaway on top of what has already been given away before. Currently, employers can waive the 17.3% and 31.4% pay differentials for Swing and Graveyard shifts if they claim that the shifts are due to occupied premise. If employers claim occupied premise, they only have to pay you 10% differential. With the TA language, the employer would be able to schedule occupied premise shifts as 4×10 shifts and get rid of all pay differentials entirely. The contractor would still get their 40hrs from you, and on the cheap.

A Change in Leadership Also Needs a Change in Practices

Our newly installed union leadership notified the Sound & Comm unit about the contract vote meeting in three ways; they mailed a small, easy-to-miss, 6” x 4” size postcard over the weekend, and they sent a robodial and “robo-email” less than 48 hours before the vote.

Many members received none of these communications. A tiny white postcard is easily overlooked as junk mail. And many members have not been added to the robodial and email list. This is unfortunately not different from the method of operating by the former unit leadership, which would repeatedly rebuff member requests to send negotiations updates out to all unit members.

Before June 7th, only one meeting to prepare members for negotiations was hosted by the Hall — on Mother’s Day weekend. No surveys have been sent to the over 650 members to encourage member participation, either before contract negotiations started or after.

“I came because I received a text from a coworker,” said more than a few unit members. This is as much a shining example of the power of members to mobilize each other, as it is an advantage for NECA over the negotiating committee and the union leadership for failure to effectively connect with hundreds of Low Volt members.

Given the lack of communication from our leadership, a near 25% vote turnout is nothing to sneeze at.

As the folks at Labor Notes have pointed out, members get a contract that they can be happy with when their leadership keeps them informed and engaged. Jason Ide, the president of Teamsters Local 814 in New York City, writes:

Surveys can:

  • Get members involved. Contract campaigns ask more of the members at every juncture, from wearing buttons all the way up to walking off the job. Asking members to fill out a survey is an easy first step that will help set the tone for wide participation in your campaign activities
  • Gather contact information. Working cell phone numbers and emails are the foundation of any contract campaign. If you can’t reach your members, you can’t take action.
  • Assess your strength. You should track how many surveys you get from each department, shift, or building, and use the data to assess where you are strong and where you need to do more organizing. If you can’t get members to fill out a survey, you certainly won’t be able to get them to wear a button or strike.
  • Identify and evaluate leaders. You should also track what percentage of their group each steward, business agent, or committee member delivers. The people who can motivate their co-workers to fill out a survey now will be the most effective at motivating those same co-workers to take bigger actions later.
  • Show unity. If you craft your survey correctly, you will have some questions that most members answer the same way. You can use the results at your union meeting as evidence of unity—building members’ confidence in each other.

The Tasks of the Negotiating Committee: Engage, Inform, and Empower the Membership

Going forward, the negotiating committee must work on the areas described above to successfully negotiate a strong contract that members can support. Otherwise, the leadership’s own practices could stymie our success. A few small things they could do right now:

  1. The negotiating committee could email the recently rejected Tentative Agreement to all Low Volt members who have given the union their email address. Members need to know what was voted down to be more informed about what has changed (and what hasn’t) at the next contract vote.
  2. The negotiating committee could post the recently rejected TA on our union’s Facebook page and website so all members can access it.
  3. The negotiating committee could create an online poll that Low Volt members can access to clarify what they’re willing to vote for, not just what they’d vote against.
  4. The negotiating committee could send out an update after each negotiation session to keep members up-to-date.
  5. The negotiating committee could make copies of the next TA available to all members days before the next contract vote so that members have more time to read, think about, and discuss the issues with our coworkers.

Next Steps: We Need an Active Rank-and-File

The best contracts are won when members get involved. The Caucus of Rank-and-File Electrical Workers (CORE46) is a grouping of local electrical workers who want to strengthen our union for the betterment of our members. We believe solidarity and action are some of the most important ways to do this.

Inside Wire members, support your fellow Sound & Comm union members. What happens in their contract will set the terms for your own negotiations next summer.

Low Volt members, there’s no more important time than now to start coming to unit meetings and voicing your opinion. This new contract will affect your life and livelihood for the next three years and many more years to come.

IBEW members, let’s demand $15 over 3 years for the Sound & Comm contract, and an Occupied Premise language that matches the Inside Wire contract.

Contact the Sound & Comm Business Rep, Mark Samuelsen (253-395-6528), to let him know: $15 over 3 Years No to NECA’s Occupied Premise Send NECA Packing!

Brotherhood is Worth More…

…Than Time and a Half

I am a first year apprentice. Like everyone else in the world I have money problems. My money problem is that I don’t have enough of it to keep up with cost of living in this city. This is not going to be a long-winded complaint about my low wages though, don’t worry.

So as a broke-ass first year apprentice I look for opportunities to work overtime. Not only are the extra hours at a higher wage great, but they also help me advance to my next raise more quickly. Well recently I found myself in a position where the only right thing to do was to refuse overtime, while I watched journeymen and apprentices alike put their consciences aside and take it.

It started a couple minutes before the end of the day on a Wednesday. My foreman came up to me and asked “do you want to work on Saturday?” My immediate reply was to ask if everyone had been asked because I knew everyone wanted overtime and I thought it was strange that he asked me when I was away from everyone else. He then told me I was one of only four people on the crew that was asked to go. I felt uneasy about this, and when he told me that the overtime would be on a different jobsite I became even more uneasy about it. Unfortunately I let my money woes get the best of me and I agreed to work anyway.

The next day I had class so I was not on the jobsite, but it is my understanding that word got out about the chosen few that were asked to work overtime. When I showed up to work on Friday the journeyman that I work with seemed to be in a particularly bad mood. I didn’t want to pry so I let it be. Towards the end of the day the journeyman finally told me why he was frustrated. He (a book 1) had not been offered the overtime while a book 2 had been. He knew I had been offered the work and he told me I should take it, but he also seemed frustrated that the two other journeyman asked to work would go even while knowing that each book 1 should have been offered the overtime before the book 2 if only a limited amount of wireman would be needed.

When I was forced to confront the fact I was offered overtime and he was not I knew I would not be working that Saturday. I know that I am nothing special. I am a first year apprentice wireman. That is it. I had no more right to overtime than anyone else on the job, and in fact I had far less right to it than the seasoned journeyman who was denied the opportunity.

The journeyman I was working with insisted that I still go work Saturday because as an apprentice it is not my responsibility to hold up certain aspects of the union dogma. I considered his advice and I decided that if I could make an excuse to not do what I knew was the right thing now, I would likely be able to do the same thing later on. At the end of the day I told my foreman that I would not be able to come in on Saturday. He then asked me why not and I told him it was because I was beat. He then told me I would have to tell the project manager in a threatening tone and I responded by asking where the project manager was so I could tell him, the foreman then told me I would be doing panel work in an attempt to bait me into working on Saturday, or possibly to help me out since I told him I was beat. I told him “that sounds great…… but I’m not working.”

The following Monday I found out that the other three guys that were offered overtime indeed worked on Saturday. I also found out that not one of them did any panel work. Before break time I found myself in the material room with the foreman alone and he asked me what the real reason I didn’t work on Saturday was. I told him the truth. I told him I didn’t like the cloak and dagger way he offered overtime to some people while excluding others. He then explained that is wasn’t cloak and dagger, it was simply a misunderstanding.

As the day went on the foreman pulled the journeyman that was excluded the week before off to the side. I later found out that he was the first person to be offered overtime for the coming weekend. At the end of the day everyone on the crew was given the same opportunity to work overtime and everyone took it with the exception of the book 2, citing a personal engagement he had already committed to.

It is probably most likely that the timing of the work is what created the expanded offer of overtime, but there is a small chance that my little stand influenced it in someway. Regardless of whatever impact my actions did or didn’t have I know I slept better knowing that I stood up for what I knew was right, and that was worth a lot more to me than the 8 hours of time and half. I have always believed that virtue untested is no virtue at all. What you believe only has meaning in those moments when words are manifested into actions. Well now I can add one more virtue to my short list and begin to look for the next opportunity to add another.

Local Solidarity

In this month’s copy of Labor Notes, there is a quiz and discussion in the “Steward’s Corner” about assessing the risk of the impact Right To Work (for less) could have on your Local Union. The survey and discussion revolve around the relationship between the leadership at the Hall, representatives, stewards, and the membership. The survey is only 10 questions, but the answer for every question in regards to Local 46 was one of the two worst possibilities. For example:

“What happens when a workplace problem arises that affects many people?”…

  • (a) Members are too afraid or unaware of their rights to file a grievance, much less take collective action.
  • (b) Members call for help, but the union representative doesn’t act.
  • (c) Members call for help, and the union representative files a grievance.
  • (d) Members call for help, and the union representative works with them to make an action plan.

My answer to this question is in bold. This is just one of the 10 questions, but they all have a similar tone and they all illustrate a lack of support from the Hall. Our Local is in serious trouble when it comes to building solidarity with the membership and while we get to experience the short term repercussions of this on a daily basis, we are setting ourselves up for long term issues that could break our union if RTW finally comes to be established in Washington State.

The number of people who are not participating in our Local should be taken as a sure sign of the number of members we are at risk of losing when RTW gives them the option to stop paying dues. Around 20% of the membership are participating in our Local’s elections, that leaves 80% of the members with their hands up saying what difference does it make.  If even half of these members take that thought a step further and instead say, “why should I pay for this?”, then we are going to be in serious trouble.

We cannot sit back and hope that the election will bring a change in our leadership which will lead to increased solidarity. We have to start demanding it from the representatives in our Hall, and from our fellow brothers and sisters in the field. Let us demand that the Hall take our concerns seriously and get them out to our jobs so we can show them the issues in person.

If we don’t build solidarity in this Local, we will not only continue to lose the short game, but we will lose the long one as well.