NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • What You Give and What You Get

    Posted on Jun 28, 2007 by John M Grau

    NECA President Milner Irvin and I just finished attending the round of NECA Regional and District meetings for the year. The Southern Region held their convention in Lake Tahoe and the Tri-District met in Banff, Canada. Since the meetings overlapped we attended a portion of each. Lucky for us the meeting locations were in the same general part of the continent. I remember one year when I attended back to back meetings in Prague and Maui. I usually handle jet lag pretty well, but that one was tough.

    [You probably know that there have been major fires burning around Lake Tahoe since last week. Hundreds of families have been evacuated from their homes, and many are worried that they may return to find that nothing they owned survived. In a unanimous decision, the members attending the meeting decided to take the $1,000 that have been set aside for ECPAC raffle prizes and donate the full amount to the American Red Cross, as relief for victims of the fire. ELECTRI International immediately followed suit with a $1,000 gift to the Red Cross as well.]

    I know I've said it before, but it’s worth repeating:  there’s no other association whose members respond like NECA contractors in a crisis. The generosity and compassion our members show when the going gets rough is incredible. No matter who’s in trouble, or how far away they may be, NECA contractors make a point of helping however they can.

    Anyway, back to the meetings – as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I really value the face-to-face interactions with members that I get at these meetings. I always come back with new ideas on how NECA can do a better job representing our members and the industry.

    NECA meetings combine business, education and social components, and I know they are invaluable to our members, too. Last week, a member mentioned to me that his friends wondered why he attended all the NECA regional and national meetings. “Why would you want to hang around with a bunch of your competitors?” they ask.

    He said that he tells them that other electrical contractors are the only ones who really understand his business concerns. At NECA meetings he can discuss things he wouldn't discuss with his employees or other friends who don’t own small businesses. Besides, when he really needed help, they were the ones who lent him equipment and advice. (There's that giving spirit again.)

    Other contractors told me that they grew up attending NECA meetings with their parents. It was a part of their summer vacation, and they developed many friendships over the years and saw parts of the country and world that they wouldn't have seen otherwise.

    The next major opportunity for NECA members to meet is at our national convention, October 5-8 in San Francisco. If you’ve never been to one of these meetings or haven’t attended for a while, you should give it a try. You just might discover the competitive advantage you were looking for, and meet some nice people along the way.


  • Academy's Focus is on the Future

    Posted on Jun 20, 2007 by John M Grau

    You would expect to hear a lot of reminiscing at a meeting of electrical contractors where industry experience could be counted in decades and many had retired several years ago. You would expect to hear such “geezing,” but you would have been completely wrong if you were at the 39th annual meeting of the Academy of Electrical Contracting, held a couple of weeks ago.

    The Fellows of the Academy spent their time discussing green buildings, solar projects and what the world will be like in 2025. Their focus was definitely on the future.

    David Riley, a Penn State professor and ELECTRI International researcher, gave the group a progress report on Penn State’s entry in the national Solar Decathlon project. NECA and ELECTRI International are major sponsors of the solar-powered home that Penn State will design and build on the Mall in Washington, D.C. this fall. Our sponsorship is just one way we show that NECA contractors are the go-to source for expertise in the growing solar energy market.

    David also gave a presentation on the “green” building market. A few NECA contractors mentioned that they were becoming involved in green construction because their kids were pushing it as a market opportunity. Riley added that university students were attracted to his construction management program at Penn State because they believed they could make a difference and help improve the environment through green building technology. 

    I made a mental note that we should incorporate this concept into our recruiting efforts for young construction managers in our business. Buildings have more environmental impact than automobiles, so future electrical construction managers certainly have an important role in the burgeoning green movement around the world.

    The featured speaker at the Academy meeting was futurist Erik Petersen. He offered an extremely engaging presentation about the possibilities for our world in the year 2025 based on “Seven Revolutions,” an initiative he leads at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In describing the seven global trends he believes will shape our future, Erik painted the picture of a world with great opportunities and great threats. How we view that future world depends a lot on how we view life in general. 

    It’s impossible to recap the full scope of his presentation in this space, I've included a link to the programs website,  I’ve also added “Seven Revolutions” to my reading list.

    Do you have any thoughts on what will be shaping the future in the next 20 years or so? I’d be interested in hearing them. Use the feedback button below to send a message to me directly.

  • Political Prognosticating

    Posted on Jun 18, 2007 by John M Grau

    I had breakfast with my “inside baseball” group this week. The retired admiral in the bunch was recently nominated to be an Assistant Secretary of Commerce, so we heard some stories about the Senate confirmation process.

    The highlight of the breakfast was talking with Charlie Cook, a non-partisan political analyst. Charlie is a great political handicapper – his comments about upcoming elections are always fascinating and often quite humorous.

    Charlie said it’s way too early to predict House and Senate changes, but that it would be an uphill battle for Republicans to take over either the House or Senate, especially the Senate. He based his comments on the number of seats up for election in competitive districts.

    Boiling down Charlie’s analysis of the 2008 presidential race, he would put his money on Mitt Romney for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats. He gives Fred Thompson and Barrack Obama an outside chance in each party, respectively. He also talked about a possible third-party attempt by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has enough of his own money to outspend either candidate from the two parties. But in the final analysis Charlie doesn’t think Bloomberg will run.

    For political junkies who want to make their own prognostications, Charlie recommends for the best poll data. He suggests that would-be handicappers keep track of trends in four areas: the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationally, as well the amount of money each candidate is raising. Note that the trends are more important than the actual relative ranking of each candidate – proof that perception can overcome reality at times.

  • Executive Committee Meeting Recap

    Posted on Jun 14, 2007 by John M Grau

    I’m back from the NECA Executive Committee meeting that I mentioned in my last post, and I want to give you a brief report on a couple of significant things that happened at the meeting.

    The committee spent a good amount of time discussing the President-Elect position. They nominated Rex Ferry of Valley Electrical Consolidated, Inc of Girard, Ohio, as the first ever NECA President-Elect candidate. Rex served two terms as NECA District 2 Vice President. His nomination will be voted on by the NECA Board of Governors at our meeting this October in San Francisco.

    Speaking of the Board of Governors meeting, the Executive Committee is submitting three proposals for the Board’s consideration this fall. One proposal seeks the Board’s affirmation of the Committee’s decision to adopt the industry “Code of Excellence” as Category I language in all NECA-IBEW labor agreements. (The IBEW has also agreed to this proposal.) The Code of Excellence is a program to promote jobsite excellence and customer satisfaction by bringing out the best from the workforce in order for the signatory contractors to satisfy the customer's needs. It’s already included in many local labor agreements and on individual jobs. Should this proposal be approved, the program would become universal across our industry.

    A second proposal would amend NECA's bylaws to identify Governors by their ballot votes at the Board of Governors meeting. The third proposal involves some technical changes to the bylaw indemnification section. 

    The committee also endorsed a proposal from the District 6 Council supporting the creation of the Emerson Hamilton Scholarship Fund within the ELECTRI International Foundation.

    Details for all proposals will be sent to all NECA chapters and governors well in advance of the fall meeting.

    The Committee dealt with other routine, but important fiscal matters. NECA is in excellent financial condition and moving forward with many programs and activities to advance the interests of the electrical contracting industry.

  • Greetings from Hershey

    Posted on Jun 08, 2007 by John M Grau

    I’m in Hershey, Penn., right now for the NECA Executive Committee meeting, which will be followed by the annual meeting of the Academy of Electrical Contracting. The Executive Committee has a full agenda and many important issues to discuss – one of which will have an impact on the association for years, and maybe, decades.

    In 2004, the NECA Board of Governors adopted a complete revision of the NECA bylaws. A significant change in that revision was the creation of a new governance position of President Elect. Working with a consultant and the special NECA governance task force, we determined that this new position would facilitate a smooth transition and transfer of knowledge from one chief elected officer to the next. In addition, the President Elect would assist the NECA President in his duties and relieve him of some of the chores of his office in the President’s third and final year of his term. 

    The NECA Executive Committee is charged with nominating a member for President Elect of the association. This week will mark this first time they have ever done so. The nominee will be elected at the Board of Governors meeting this October in San Francisco, and his or her term of office will begin January 1, 2008.

    Since this will be NECA’s first-ever President Elect, the whole process, from nomination through service, will be set a precedent. For this reason, the Executive Committee is devoting some time to discuss what the role and activities of the President Elect could and should be. Everyone is committed to getting started off on the right foot and making sure that model we establish will serve the association well in the future. I’ll let you know what happened next week.

  • NFPA 70E Seminars: Not Just Preaching to the Choir

    Posted on Jun 05, 2007 by John M Grau

    NECA contractors and IBEW workers have long been aware of the hazards of our industry. Recently, the NFPA 70E standard and its requirements regarding personal protective equipment and safety precautions for working on energized circuits has generated even more attention to electrical safety. One of the most interesting consequences of NFPA 70E has been the involvement of building owners and customers in these safety issues.

    Take a look at the latest edition of The “Spotlight on Skill” report about preventing arc flash includes interviews of attendees at a recent NFPA 70E seminar in Canton, Ohio. NECA’s North Central Ohio Chapter, along with the NJATC, put on this seminar for contractors and customers, and several hundred people showed up. This report drives home the fact that our customers need to be as concerned about the safety of the jobs on their property as we are. Owners and builders are a critical component in a team effort toward a safe construction job. 

    This report also points to an opportunity for NECA and NECA chapters. The fact that a similar electrical safety seminar in Philadelphia also drew a large crowd of customers shows that we provide a vital industry service when we educate building owners and contractors alike on protecting workers from electrical accidents. In Philadelphia and in Canton, customers left with a favorable impression of NECA and NECA contractors. They see that we are actively working to prevent and mitigate such accidents, and it helps them understand the difference in quality and safety that our contractors provide.

    We need to expand on the Philadelphia and Canton experiences and provide this information to thousands of customers at seminars across the nation. Not only will we have a dramatic impact on reducing injuries and saving lives, but we can show our customers how our investment in training and safe management practices is worth the price.

    Please use the link below to let me know how you think NECA can bring this information to your community.


  • Local Initiatives Can Win Us New Work

    Posted on May 30, 2007 by John M Grau

    By now almost everyone has heard about the successful Florida Initiative. It's a statewide effort by the IBEW and NECA to win back work in the Sunshine State. It includes innovative labor agreement provisions like a small works addendum, portability, CW/CE classifications, and other flexible work conditions.

    What everyone may not know is that the Florida Initiative has spawned similar market recovery initiatives in other parts of the country. Recent ones include the Carolinas Initiative in North Carolina and South Carolina and a special initiative in the Dallas area. Initiatives also are underway in Georgia, Central Pennsylvania, Western Michigan, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

    These initiatives aren't exactly alike, but they all incorporate special conditions and labor agreement provisions designed to increase market share in the areas they cover. They serve as proving grounds to test out new ideas and ways of doing business in the union electrical contracting industry. As these ideas prove successful, it's only a matter of time before other areas adopt them in their own local labor agreements.

    I don't mean to make any of this sound easy. Change is always hard, no matter how necessary it may be. Some people will oppose these changes, no matter how successful they prove to be. I'm not sure why. Maybe because these changes carry some element of political risk.Or maybe it's just because implementing them is hard work.

    Regardless, we can't let the naysayers stand in the way. And we also don't have a lot of time to convince the fence-sitters to get moving. The pressure is on. This is a crucial turning point for our industry. Let's make sure the turn is in the right direction.



  • 1 week, 2 panels, and 40 CIR cases

    Posted on May 24, 2007 by John M Grau

    Milner Irvin and I opened the May quarterly session of the Council on Industrial Relations (CIR) over Mother’s Day in Washington, D.C. Ed Hill was there, along with NECA’s Co-Chairs of the CIR, John Gueldner (District 5 VP) and Jim Stouffer (District 4 VP). NECA had six contractor members serving at various times on the two panels hearing cases.

    The CIR heard and decided 40 cases, pared down from over 100 that requested submission forms. Traditionally, May has been CIR’s busiest month, and the fact that the number of cases heard is lower than normal is a testament to the hard work that the local parties and our field staff put in to settle these negotiations at home.

    The CIR was designed to be the decider of last resort for local negotiations and labor disputes in our industry. It helps us avoids strikes and other punitive actions in resolving these disputes. It’s also timely and efficient, especially compared to other forms of arbitration. 

    Because the CIR meets quarterly in Washington, D.C., some people think that the council is some kind of government body or that the arbitrators on the panels live and work here. To the contrary – the CIR was created by NECA and the IBEW, and the people serving on the panels are industry representatives from all parts of the country. The twelve members of the panel (six appointed by NECA and six by the IBEW) reach a unanimous decision on every case.

    Admit it – getting twelve people to agree on almost anything is a feat in itself.

    Like we do with our country’s founding fathers, we can marvel at the foresight displayed by the creators of the CIR. They designed a process that works as well today as it did 80 years ago. The issues may be radically different, and the faces of the panelists may change, but the institution itself remains relevant and effective. I know I’m grateful for their service and the council they serve. Thanks to everyone who devoted their time and energy last week to make the CIR work for our industry.


  • Multi-tasking meetings

    Posted on May 16, 2007 by John M Grau

    The first week of May kicked off with a busy round of NECA meetings in Washington, D.C. Things got started with the Government Affairs Committee meeting and ended with the Future Leaders Conference. In between, there was the annual legislative conference and a meeting of our Labor Relations Task Force with the top IBEW leaders.

    All the meetings were very productive. NECA is a force on Capitol Hill, and our members proved it by showing up in strength to meet with their Congressmen and Senators on repealing the 3% withholding tax. (Meeting details and pictures from the event on posted on NECA’s government affairs web page.) Over 125 NECA contractors and chapter staff attended the conference, the most participants from any of the Campaign for Quality Construction coalition member groups.

    The Future Leaders group drew 70 young contractors to a two-day forum on the topics that will shape their future in electrical contracting – topics not that different from the interests facing the current NECA leadership.  Discussions of labor relations issues were everywhere. IBEW President Ed Hill spent nearly two hours in a broad ranging discussion with the group. NECA’s Future Leaders are also extremely focused on working with Congressional leaders.

    In fact, that’s probably what I noticed most about this group: their willingness to pursue multiple courses to improve their businesses.  The next generation is exploring new market partnerships in Mexico and shoring up Congressional support to repeal punitive business legislation. Their enthusiasm for multi-tasking was contagious.

    The fruits of our Labor Relations Task Force meeting with the IBEW leaders will become evident in the weeks ahead. The task force has discussed a broad range of issues from market share to productivity, flexibility, and the Code of Excellence. Workforce training and development are also at the top of the agenda. We’re serious about our efforts to reform our industry, and I’m convinced that the IBEW national leadership is as well. 

  • Blue skies and red coats

    Posted on May 07, 2007 by John M Grau

    There was a brilliant blue sky overhead this morning as I waited on the South Lawn of the White House to witness the formal arrival ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II. I received an invitation from the White House to join American and British delegations, members of Congress, Cabinet members, White House staff and guests at this special event.

    Brendan Grau at the White House arrival ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II
    Brendan Grau at the White House arrival ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II

    My 7-year old son, Brendan, accompanied me to the event. He particularly enjoyed watching the military color guards form on the driveway by the South Lawn fountain. One unit, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, dressed in black tricorn hats, white wigs, and red regimental coats. The group’s attire was patterned after George Washington’s Continental Army, and Brendan thought President Washington himself was leading the parade.

    In a town accustomed to high pomp and formal pageantry, this morning’s arrival ceremony was easily at the top. Long trumpets sounded “Ruffles and Flourishes” from the White House balcony, followed by “Hail to the Chief” from the Marine Corps band. A 21-gun salute echoed across the Potomac River from Fort Myer, and the Queen and the President dutifully reviewed the troops. They then gave brief remarks and left for lunch, while the rest of us headed back to our offices and decidedly less formal lives.

    It was a fun morning and something that I (and Brendan, I hope) will always remember.  Seeing two heads of state greet each other in a formal, public setting – one leader from a centuries-old monarchy, the other from a fairly new democracy – is a rare experience. It made me proud to be an American and grateful for our country’s good relationship with Great Britain.

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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