Posted on May 19, 2009
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.