NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • Time to do what we're not doing

    Posted on May 19, 2009 by John M Grau

    The annual IBEW Construction Conference was in town last week. I dropped by to hear IBEW President Ed Hill address the business managers from IBEW local unions across the country.

    Ed threw some slides up on the screen showing the number of IBEW-signatory electrical contractors versus the total number of electrical contractors. He broke the numbers down by district and also showed how they looked for some typical local unions. In most cases, the number of non-union contractors exceeded the number of union contractors by six or seven times or more.

    No surprise there. Ed then asked the group what they were going to do about it.

    He also showed slides depicting various types of work, much of which has been abandoned by the union side of the industry - stuff like residential, small commercial, strip malls, churches, and fast food restaurants.

    Ed challenged the audience to go after this work. He told them that the IBEW Constitution does not allow them to decide that this is no longer union work. He suggested that every local union consider developing a small works labor agreement and to use all the tools available to capture this work — such as the CW/CE classification.

    Of course, capturing or recapturing work isn't the sole responsibility of the IBEW. In fact, they can't do it alone. For many reasons, both good and bad, we collectively have decided to walk away from huge segments of electrical construction work.

    We need to sit down in each local area, assess the work that we're not doing, and come up with a plan to do it. It's as simple, and as hard, as that.

    Based on Ed Hill's challenge to his local union leaders, I think NECA chapters may find a more sympathetic partner in attempting to seriously address these issues with their IBEW counterparts. And they will expect our contractors to be ready to accept the challenge as well.

    This isn't the time to score political gains. It’s the time to do what we're not doing.

  • The NECA Field Service

    Posted on Mar 24, 2008 by John M Grau

    The idea for NECA “field service” came in the late 1930’s when the Labor Relations Committee reasoned that NECA could negotiate better terms with the IBEW if it represented a significant portion of IBEW-labor employers. The committee adopted a set of seven objectives to guide the work of one field representative whose first objective was membership. The fifth objective was “to give assistance to contractors locally, as needed.”

    In May 1939, NECA hired Paul Geary, former manger of the Youngstown, Ohio Chapter, as its first full-time traveling representative. He had one primary goal: Build members’ bargaining strength by soliciting electrical contractors to join and work together.

    As NECA’s lone field representative, Geary soon found himself concentrating less on his first objective to build bargaining strength and considerably more on his fifth to assist contractors locally. In an October 1941 report to the Committee, he wrote:

    When this Committee adopted that objective, I am sure that it did not fully appreciate how far it was “sticking its neck out.” I am sure that it did not foresee that our Local Chapters and members would need and desire so much assistance as they have; much less, that they would not only request it, but would demand it, backing up their demands with threats that they would drop their N.E.C.A. membership if we didn’t get them exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it. What they want ranges anywhere from the total extermination of Journeymen (working) contractors, to the removal of an alleged uncooperative, incompetent or dishonest Union Representative. Performing under this objective has taken up at least 80% of your Representative’s time and the expense connected therewith represents of course a proportionately large share of your revenue.

    Today the NECA field service team is a vital component in NECA’s service to its members. It is comprised of 16 field representatives organized into four regional offices, each under the direction of a regional executive director.

    Unique among trade associations in the construction industry, NECA’s field service is the link that connects the national organization with independent local chapters and local members.

    More on the field service in my next post.

  • 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.


  • Jon Walters Retiring as IBEW Secretary-Treasurer

    Posted on Feb 19, 2008 by John M Grau

    Jon Walters is hanging up his boots, and I mean that quite literally. Jon may be the last in a long line of IBEW Secretary-Treasurers who favors wearing cowboy boots, and he recently announced that he is retiring at the end of this month.

    Jon was serving as the IBEW Vice President for the 8th District when I became NECA’s CEO in 1986. He’s currently the only IBEW officer still serving from that time, so for me, his retirement marks the passing of another chapter of our industry’s history.

    Jon exemplifies the best of IBEW leadership. He always dealt with problems directly and honestly. He took personal responsibility for getting things done, and his objective was to do what is best for the industry, not just for his constituents.

    Jon Walters is appropriately credited with creating the Code of Excellence program. He first tried out his ideas in his own district and then worked to implement them on a national basis. He understood that every IBEW worker should show up to work each day with a good work ethic and a good attitude. He also had a clear understanding that both IBEW members and NECA contractors have a customer and it is our job to give that customer what he paid for.

    The IBEW has appointed Lindell Lee, currently the IBEW Vice President for the 11th District, as the new International Secretary-Treasurer. Lindell comes from Local 124 in Kansas City. When Bob Doran was NECA’s President, Lindell was his local union business agent. Bob often told me what a great person Lindell was to work with. It’s good to know we can expect that same positive working relationship on the national level.

    In addition to all his experience with IBEW, Lindell also earned a master’s degree in business administration. That accomplishment may not be on the typical resume for a union leader, and it speaks well to the changing face of labor and the increasing acumen of the IBEW.



About NECA Transmissions

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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