Rekindling the Fire
Unit officers study new ways to build the union
Local 1245 members are under attack. The only question is, what are we going to do about it?
Local 1245 unit leaders, meeting in Vacaville on March 14-15, made it clear they don’t intend to back down in the face of anti-union hostility.
A fire rekindled…
Some people try to portray union members as “a bunch of communists” because we stand up for our rights, said Bill Trathen, a 10-year IBEW member at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“But you look around you can see guys walking around with American eagles on their shirts. I got a flag on my truck. I’m a veteran. I’m damn proud to be an American, but I’m going to stand up for my rights, too. And everybody else’s,” said Trathen.
BREAKOUT! Meeting in small groups created an opportunity to generate more ideas, and for everyone to be heard.
Business Manager Tom Dalzell summoned the unit leaders to Weakley Hall to help the union respond to what he called “the toughest challenges that this local has ever face.”
Those challenges include withering assaults on our members at the bargaining table, and a political climate that has become increasingly “anti-worker, anti-middle class, anti-pension, anti-benefit, and anti-wage.”
Local 1245 is not simply fighting back on particular issues, Dalzell said, but preparing to build a union strong enough to carry that fight into the future. Local 1245 has mobilized retirees to defend their medical benefits, deployed young members to other states to gain campaign skills, helped linemen, gas workers and tree trimmers organize peer-to-peer campaigns to improve worksite safety.
The union has also worked to strengthen ties between members by organizing soccer tournaments, golf tournaments, bowling competitions, and clay shoots, among other events.
“We’ve tried many things that we’ve not tried before—trying to rekindle some of the early fire that started this union in the 1940s and 1950s,” said Dalzell.
Dalzell puts unit leaders at the heart of this new effort. At the conference, he set out three broad goals for them in 2012:
- Create bigger and better unit meetings. How do we make them better attended and more relevant?
- Find new ways to connect with members who will never attend a unit meeting. The union hall used to be the place where members connected. Can we find additional options in the era of social media?
- Make our union relevant in the community. Can we counter negative propaganda about unions by being a more prominent and positive presence in the places where we work and live?
Something in the Air
Conferences can be boring affairs, where someone pontificates up front and people nod off in the back row after the coffee wears off.
This conference felt different. There was something in the air besides the smell of lunch. People bought into the idea that these issues really matter.
The agenda, crafted by union activist Lorenso Arciniega, barreled forward from one topic to the next. Unit leaders were seated around a dozen small tables where everyone’s ideas could find an audience. The best of those ideas were then shared with the whole group in plenary sessions deftly guided by Turlock Irrigation District Unit Chair Aaron Baker.
Forged in Struggle
Read about the hard-fought campaign to organize a union at Turlock Irrigation District at:
Baker’s unit is a story in itself. Attendance at Turlock unit meetings is routinely over half of the membership. At one recent meeting, attendance was two-thirds. This stand-out performance may be due in part to the unit’s newness. Organized just a decade ago, many members in Turlock still have fresh memories of the effort it took to gain union representation.
But the unit also made a conscious decision to tap younger members for positions of authority. Baker, who just turned 33, was recruited for the unit leadership post by previous unit chair Rich Lane, 55, who continues to play a mentoring role.
The following unit officers and special guests attended the unit officer conference, along with much of the Local 1245 staff.
|Cuevas, Ricardo||Asplundh-Mtn. View|
|Gomez, Marcelino||Asplundh-Mtn. View|
|Washburn, Dan||Burney – Frontier|
|Casey, Kelley||Cal Peco|
|Sala, Charles||Cal Peco|
|Moeckli, Gary||City of Redding|
|Snyder, Paul||City of Redding|
|Alberts, Rita||City of Santa Clara|
|Williams, John||City of Santa Clara|
|Casey, Justin||Davey Auburn|
|Middleton, Zach||Davey Auburn|
|Gallegos, Ricardo||Davey Napa|
|Hurtado, Estanislao||Davey Napa|
|Cook, Kenneth||Davey Tree – Concord|
|Simms, John||Davey Tree – Concord|
|Languren, Salvador||Davey Tree – Fremont|
|Ortega, Juan||Davey Tree – Fremont|
|Lewis, Jim||Davey Tree – Placerville|
|Ely, Peter||Davey Tree – Red Bluff|
|Greenlee, Ronald||Diablo Canyon|
|Petersen, Gary||Diablo Canyon|
|Ambeau, Donna||East Bay Clerical|
|Franks, Adrianne||East Bay Clerical|
|Curtis, Raymond||Fresh Pond (SMUD)|
|Garcia, Robert||Lompoc – Guest|
|Tinoco, Jaimie||Lompoc – Guest|
|Snyder, Ione||Marin County|
|Flores, Rodrigo||Merced ID|
|Daves, Karri||Modesto ID|
|Sawyer, Christina||MT. Wheeler – Ely|
|Jessen, Michael||Paradise – Chico|
|Garcia, Henry||PGE – Burney|
|Johnstone, Jim||Red Bluff|
|Neblett, Stuart||Red Bluff|
|Bird, Tom||Reno Retirees|
|Borst, Ron||Reno Retirees|
|Weisshaar, Rita||Reno Retirees|
|Gray, Jennifer||Sacramento Clerical|
|Krummes, Kevin||Sacramento Clerical|
|Bartlett, Lauren||Sacramento RTD|
|Bibbs, Constance||Sacramento RTD|
|Jones, Vincent||San Francisco|
|Blanton, Judith||San Jose Physical/Clerical|
|Johnson, Douglas R.||San Jose Physical/Clerical|
|Felicich, David||Santa Maria|
|Sandy, Angelo||Santa Maria|
|Stubblefield, Lem||Santa Rosa|
|Del Grande, Dennis||Santa Rosa Retirees|
|Rawles, Ken||Santa Rosa Retirees|
|Skillern, Tim||South Lake Tahoe|
|Stahl, Percy||South Lake Tahoe|
|De La Torre, Cecelia||Stockton|
|Langelier, David||Tiger Creek Powerhouse|
|Pence, Lewis||Tiger Creek Powerhouse|
|Cervantes, Juan||Trees Inc. – Stockton|
|Garcia, Rosario A.||Trees Inc. – Stockton|
|Arroyo, Jose Manuel||Trees Inc. – Fresno|
|Beede, Craig||Truckee Donner PUD|
|Atkins, Edward||Truckee-Donner PUD|
|Baker, Aaron||Turlock ID|
|Zumstein, Chad||Turlock ID|
|Trathen, William||USBR – CVO/Folsom|
|Janisse, Murray||USBR – Keswick|
|Sharp, Dean||USBR – Keswick|
|Brown, Ashley||Wright Tree – SMUD|
|Day, Josh||Wright Tree – SMUD|
Baker’s experience showed at the conference. He didn’t work from a script, just paced around the room, nudging the conversation forward with questions, keeping the focus on the challenges ahead, at times referring to his unit’s bitter battle with management at TID.
“They’re trying to take everything away—our pay scale, retirement, medical. They’re hitting everything they can think of,” Baker said. “They don’t understand what we do, they don’t understand the sacrifice we make when we go out on Christmas Day to put the power back on or the clerks answer the phones after hours. This is a major fight.”
Baker was speaking from his own experience, but to make a larger point.
“It’s important to get your members not only to the meetings but getting them involved in other areas, too. Politics, community—it’s all going to make a difference,” he said.
Organization in Transition
At times the unit leader conference seemed like an advertisement for an organization in transition. Young unit leaders, including a contingent of youthful-looking line clearance tree trimmers, were mixed together with old-guard union stalwarts like Novato Unit Chair Ione Snyder, East Bay Clerical Chair Donna Ambeau, Reno Chair Dana Moler and Tahoe Chair Smiley Stahl.
The conference’s invited speakers put many different faces on the transition now underway at the union.
- Political media guru Eric Jaye described how unions will increasingly rely on social media to communicate with our members and recruit public support for our campaigns.
- Retiree activists Ron Borst, Rita Weisshaar and Tom Bird gave first person accounts of their protracted battle to defend retiree medical benefits at NV Energy.
- Kim Oaxaca talked about the highly personal journey that led her to create the Facebook support network called PG&E Wives. (See an excerpt of her presentation at www.ibew1245.com/video-files/videos.html.)
- IBEW lobbyist Scott Wetch described a hostile ballot measure that will strangle unions in red tape if members do not mobilize now to defeat it in November.
In the closing plenary session, the unit leaders were clearly jazzed by the things they had heard. But there was also a clear-eyed recognition that hard work will be required to build the union of the future.
“This has been great, but the proof’s in the pudding,” said Placerville Unit Chair Jeff Campodonico. “We’ve got to implement these ideas and get our name out there as a union, let the public know who we are and what we do.”
“If we don’t do it nobody’s going to do it for us,” said Gary Moeckli, Redding Unit Recorder. Others fought in the past to create a union that delivers the good wages and benefits we enjoy today, he said. “We’ve got to get out and fight and keep it going.”
Educating Our Own
Educating our own members about the union’s role in their lives is a major part of the challenge that unit leaders face.
If members don’t start paying attention and getting involved, said Diablo Canyon Unit Chair Ron Greenlee, then five years from now IBEW members will be wondering what happened to their wages and benefits, and will ask why the union didn’t do anything about it.
“Well, we’re the union, they’re the union,” said Greenlee.
Don’t be intimidated, start with something small, suggested Michelle Benuzzi, the Local 1245 Advisory Council representative for NV Energy and other Nevada employers. Benuzzi recounted how she had used her own money to print up some union t-shirts, and discovered she had created a hot item. The Executive Board then loaned her money for a second production run.
Members in your area have skills, Benuzzi said. Find out what they are and think of ways those skills could be used to advance the union.
After posing for a group photo outside the union hall, the unit leaders began to pack up. There would be a lot to think about on the trip home.
“There is always something new and fresh out there that never even crosses our minds,” said Sacramento Regional Transit Chair Connie Bibbs, who took careful note of Benuzzi’s suggestion. Members can start by doing something small. Sometimes those small things catch fire and become big things.
“It’s about us taking it forward now and getting people involved,” said Lorenso Arciniega. The union isn’t just about going to meetings, it’s about “organizing our communities and building a future for our kids.”
“I think a lot of people got engaged,” he said. “The fire’s been relit.”
Check the next issue of the Utility Reporter for more photos of this event.