NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • Love and Labor Relations?

    Posted on Feb 25, 2008 by John M Grau

    It’s hard admitting a mistake in public. I made a big one a couple weeks ago. Instead of enjoying a night out with my wife on Valentine’s Day, as we traditionally do, I went out to dinner with the NECA Labor Relation’s Task Force. They weren’t happy to be with me either, and their spouses weren’t any happier than mine.

    When we scheduled a meeting with the IBEW leaders in Washington DC for the morning of February 15 we forgot that everyone needed to fly into town the night before. Thus, the dinner meeting on February 14.

    Beyond our personal problems, we did have a good meeting with Ed Hill and his top officers and staff the next morning. Milner Irvin, Rex Ferry, John Negro, John Colson, Geary Higgins and I were there for our regular meeting to discuss key issues of concern to both parties.

    It’s difficult to describe these meetings. They’re not labor negotiating sessions, but they do deal with real, substantial issues. We’re not announcing any new contract language or programs, but we do agree that we must increase market share for our members.

    At the national level NECA’s positions are pretty simple. We recognize the IBEW’s interest in bargaining for the wages and benefits of its members. Beyond that we believe that all other aspects of managing the work should be left to the employer. That includes the decision to select who to hire, how they’re supervised, in what ratios, and where they perform the work.   Over the years we have developed local labor agreements that control too much of what should be management rights. So our solution to competitiveness problems is to remove barriers which hamper an employer from managing his jobs.

    The IBEW doesn’t see it exactly the same way. But they do agree that we needed a new approach, because the old one wasn’t working. To that end we continue to seek common ground and common solutions, and we are making progress. We are developing and testing new tools in the many “initiatives” advancing across the country. Some work better than others.  Instead of waiting around to create the perfect plan, we are willing to make mistakes, and to learn from them.

    As far as my mistake goes, I’ll remember not to schedule a dinner meeting on Valentine’s Day. Actually around the table that evening, as we sipped our complimentary glass of champagne, we admitted that it’s nice to know that our wives wanted to be with us. It would have been much worse if they didn’t care that we were gone.


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NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.


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