IBEW’s Electrical Workers Minority Caucus (EWMC) held its 28th annual conference on Jan. 10-14, 2018 in Detroit, MI. This year’s theme was Transforming the Dream to Reality: Achieving Political, Economic, Racial and Social Justice.
More than 550 IBEW delegates from across the United States and Canada attended this year’s conference. Local 1245 sent 19 delegates to the conference, including 13 rank-and-file members from both public and private sector employers, 50% of which were first-time attendees.
The week-long event kicked off with a special pre-conference hosted by RENEW (Reach Out and Engage Next-Gen Electrical Workers), which unique programming geared specifically towards younger members.
“We had many great speakers at RENEW. One that stood out to me was a youth educator who was discussing the importance of educating our youth about the benefits of a union,” said Brittney Santana, who works as a first field clerk for PG&E out of Fresno. “She mentioned in her speech that sometimes college isn’t for everyone, sometimes kids want to go directly into a career path. This really hit home for me, because I had planned to go to college, but my parents had discussed the importance of finding a union job and encouraged me to apply to PG&E. Luckily, I got the job, just four months out of high school, and have been a part of the IBEW for 10 years now.”
PG&E Customer Service Rep Brian Huffman was also moved by that same speaker.
“I’m one of those individuals who wasn’t cut out for college. I wasted a lot of time and money, knowing college wasn’t for me,” said Huffman. “I want to reach out to the children in the high schools and give them the union option … working in a trade can be a wonderful choice for their future. I am truly fired up about getting active in the community, not only my community, but other communities in need.”
“Having gone to the RENEW conference, I recognize the need to build membership, grow our ranks and create new opportunities,” added PG&E Gas Service Rep Joseph Stewart. “The larger our numbers, the farther our reach will be.”
The full EWMC conference began on Thursday, Jan. 11 with a Day of Giving. Delegates had the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of community service projects throughout the Detroit area.
“During our Day of Giving, we volunteered at Gleaners Food Bank. Some of our tasks were to bag apples, sort potatoes, and pull inventory of non-perishable items onto pallets to be delivered,” said Melissa Echeverria, who works for PG&E out of Fresno. “Over the course of the day, we were able to positively impact thousands of families in Detroit and give back to the community. It felt like such an accomplishment.”
“I enjoyed the day of service the most. Giving back to the community leaves such a good feeling in your heart, knowing you left the city a better place than when you got there,” added PG&E Customer Service Rep Alyssa Fernandez. “Just knowing that our work helped impact so many families made me feel appreciative of the opportunity to make a difference.”
The EWMC delegates also gave back to the Detroit community through direct financial contributions.
“I enjoyed the positive responses from the attending union members that were willing to donate money to a local charity in Detroit,” said SMUD Lineman Elias Escamilla. “The money that was donated from all the brothers and sisters attending the conference totaled over $8,000. Altogether, including the match from EWMC National, we were able to donate over $17,000. This proves that if we work together, we can make things happen and make a difference.”
The EWMC plenary sessions and workshops began the following day. Local 1245 Staff Organizer Rene Cruz Martinez and Organizing Steward Kim Camatti of SMUD addressed the full conference delegation during a plenary session on Right to Work (RTW) and Janus v. AFSCME. They reported on the work that IBEW 1245 has been doing with our public-sector members, shared best practices, and emphasized the importance of being proactive in advance of the Janus decision by the US Supreme Court, which is expected this spring.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference and to share my worksite story, showcasing our organizing efforts with the ‘Right to Work is Wrong’ campaign at my workplace,” said Camatti, a materials specialist and leader of the Volunteer Organizing Committee at SMUD. “What I learned most throughout the event was a concrete definition of ‘brotherhood.’ Even though I’ve been an IBEW member for many years, this conference and the focus on community service, unity and coming together for the common good — regardless of title, age, gender, etc. — really showed me what ‘brotherhood’ truly means.”
On the final day of the conference, delegates had the opportunity to attend multiple workshops on a wide variety of topics.
“At the Labor Law workshop, it was interesting to learn how the National Labor Relations Act came about,” said Nilda Garcia, who works for PG&E in Sacramento. “The class got to participate in an exercise with the instructor, Attorney Gayle Hamilton, a professor at Wayne State University. We went over scenarios of protected, unprotected or illegal issues, and she helped us better understand the differences. This was important info for me to take back and use to educate my peers.”
“The second workshop that I was able to attend was my favorite; ‘The Power of Our Personal Stories,’” said Stewart. “We first established a common ground; what we all want out of our professional lives to help make us happy. Once we agreed that everyone wants the same thing — ability to take care of family, be loved, accepted and prosperous — we were able to share why being in a union helped further that goal. We then discussed why our work with IBEW organizing has had such a strong and lasting impact on us, and were asked to tell a personal story that defined the point we started to feel so passionately about it. [At first] I did not know what the speaker meant by, ‘the POWER in our personal stories’ but I understand now. The stories from my union brothers and sisters were POWERFUL! I feel I am a better person, employee, and union member having been able to attend this workshop.”
Our delegates traveled back home on Sunday, filled with a renewed sense of purpose.
“This conference gave me hope, it inspired me, it energized me! To be in a room full of 600 other delegates who are just as passionate and determined about growing and caring for our union as I am made me want to cry,” said Fernandez.
“With an overwhelming number of eloquently spoken speakers and informative workshops throughout the week, one would think the message from the conference would get convoluted, but it didn’t,” said David Ly, who works at PG&E’s San Jose call center. “The message was clear. I now understand the mission of EWMC. We must unite, inform our members, educate them about the benefits of unionized labor, and promote minority representation. All of this starts at the local level.”
“This conference opened my eyes to the incredible strides we are taking to make the IBEW all-inclusive to gender, race, sexual orientation, and people with disabilities,” said PG&E Customer Service Rep Ashley Nelson Finley. “I feel so energized and ready to share all that I have learned with my fellow brothers and sisters. 2018 is such an important year, and I feel that this conference was just what I needed to get me ‘fired up and ready to go!’”
Rene Cruz Martinez contributed to this report.