This article was updated on 1/13/17.
The workers at Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) have been fighting for union representation for decades. But despite being met with aggressive hostility and union-busting from their employer, these workers refused to give up. In fact, they decided to double down.
In March of 2016, BGE’s parent company, Exelon, merged with Pepco Holdings, and the workers at BGE took advantage of this structural change to once again launch a new organizing drive with IBEW. This time, they pulled out all the stops, including reaching out to the IBEW International Office for assistance.
The IO asked several utility locals, including Local 1245, to dispatch organizers to help the BGE team with their union organizing campaign. Local 1245 quickly heeded the call, and sent two groups of Organizing Stewards and one Business Representative out to Baltimore to support the campaign.
One Step Closer
The first group from 1245 – comprised of Organizing Stewards Nilda Garcia, Charlotte Stevens, Ricardo Hernandez, Alvin Dayoan and Laquania Davis, along with Business Rep Lloyd Cargo – arrived in Baltimore on December 6 and hit the ground running. They were up before dawn nearly every day, braving sub-freezing temperatures while passing out union flyers and hosting “Honk and Wave” actions as the workers arrived at their jobsites in the morning. It was clear that many of the workers were fearful of talking to the union representatives in front of the BGE bosses, so the IBEW organizers spent their evenings visiting the workers at their homes, where they could more openly discuss the union and its many benefits.
“Every conversation we had with the employees of BGE was very valuable. Even though Baltimore is far away from home, the issues and concerns the BGE workers have are very relatable to me,” said 1245 Organizing Steward Ricardo Hernandez. “The only difference right now is that I’m a part of IBEW and they are not. It makes me appreciate the union that much more, and it helps me stay motivated to help them become IBEW also!”
“I learned that listening is essential, especially when it comes to one-on-one conversations with BGE employees,” said Organizing Steward Alvin Dayoan. “I also learned the value of rapport. It builds trust with the individual, and it helps you find the underlying issue that they have against the company. Finding a resolution – with support from IBEW — can lead an employee to sign the authorization card, which brings the campaign a step closer to their goal of filing a petition, conducting an election, and negotiating a fair contract.”
Building a Strong Union
And indeed, the work they put into building those relationships paid off. The IBEW organizing team succeeded in collecting nearly 900 authorization cards. The BGE Volunteer Organizing Committee (VOC), which is comprised of dozens of BGE workers, voted to file for an NLRB union election, and the union submitted the paperwork the following day.
“It was exciting to see the BGE VOC get so involved,” noted seasoned Organizing Steward Nilda Garcia. “I encouraged them to continue their involvement after they vote Union, by running for Executive Board, become a Steward, run for other offices, and just staying active. That is the key to building a strong union!”
“My experience in Baltimore was memorable and fulfilling. The days were long, but the work was meaningful,” said Organizing Steward Charlotte Stevens. “It was an amazing journey filled with training, empowerment, team-building and purpose, doing righteous work. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve my brothers and sisters in IBEW. I look forward to continuing the fight for workers.”
The NLRB election was scheduled for January 11 and 12, and Local 1245 sent a second group of Organizing Stewards to Baltimore just after the new year in order to help get out the vote at BGE. The second group, comprised of Ashley Nelson, Nicole Gross, Walter Carmier, Joe Stewart, Anthony Seemster, Miguel Pagan and Business Rep Lloyd Cargo, spent each and every day garnering support for the union. They waved signs, passed out flyers, visited workers at their homes and called them on the phone. They also participated in a rally outside of Excelon’s corporate office, in response to the overt anti-union tactics that the Company was employing in an attempt to dissuade the workers from voting for IBEW representation. Two members from the Baltimore City Council also attended the rally and voiced their support for the union, and the event was covered by the local news.
It was clear that the Company was committed to fighting the union organizing effort every step of the way.
“Every day, [the Management] holds a two-hour captive audience meeting at our location,” Local 1245 Business Rep Lloyd Cargo reported in the week prior to the vote. “Feedback from the workgroup is that it’s pushing more people to vote Yes.”
It Was All Worth It
Voting began on January 11, and concluded the following day. Turnout was remarkably high; almost every worker who was eligible to vote participated in the union election. In the end, the campaign succeeded, with 55% of the workers voting Yes. The final vote tally was 741 in favor of the union, and 610 against.
“All the work that went into this campaign, the long hours, the loss of sleep, the freezing cold temperatures, the hard work; it was all worth it,” said Organizing Steward Ashley Nelson. “As we come home, we are not only looking forward to reuniting with our families, but we are also so excited for BGE. They now have a voice at the table, and it would not have been given to them had it not been for the employees standing together, demanding a voice, and the greatest union of all banding together to make this possible.”
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
photos by Nilda Garcia and Ashley Nelson