I was selected by Local 1245 to be a delegate to the IBEW International Utility Conference this year. There was so much useful information provided during this conference that helped me better understand future goals of the utility industry.
Lonnie Stephenson, the International President of the IBEW, spoke at length about an urgent need for membership numbers to grow, and how this task may be accomplished. He urged the delegates to “use the spirit that led you to your first unit meeting” when engaging others. I have to say those are true words that motivate me personally, because I do remember my first unit meeting like it was yesterday. Ten years later, I stand strong in solidarity and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Local 1245 is already a step ahead when it comes to engaging our new members by having the additional New Employee Orientation program once members have reached over a year in service. We also have the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and our Organizing Stewards program. It’s apparent to me that our local is well advanced in comparison to other locals when it comes to implementing new ideas that create opportunities to help to keep members active.
I was super excited that clerical had its own three-hour workshop (first conference I’ve been to that had one) and several times the lead presenter called on 1245 members to share examples of successful methods that work with members to keep them engaged. I shared some examples of how for me, doing the New Employee Orientations (NEO) and being an organizing steward have given me more opportunities to talk about our union. I explain to members that participation in union activities and being informed is not only important, but crucial, emphasizing that the union is only as strong as its members. Another delegate asked everyone how their locals dealt with the animosity and conflict physical and clerical members have towards each other. I mentioned how opportunities like NEO and organizing can help cross those types of barriers, since members from both physical and clerical are put in situations or circumstances where they work beside each other. I told him that, although it will take time, these interaction can slowly help to build trust and respect for members from both sides, ultimately reshaping that “us vs them” mentality.
I also learned about some interesting Supreme Court cases that ruled in favor of labor that could be useful knowledge in the future. I won’t go into detail here, but if you would like to know some, I’d be more than happy to share. The nationwide effort to reduce carbon emissions was talked about at length, as was the related issue of so many nuclear power plants being closed. I also learned that thousands of jobs in the utilities and mining industries are being moved from states with higher wages and qualified workers to states with lower wages and workers that aren’t qualified. Even though productivity has gone up, wages all across the country for the most part seem to be staying the same.
My biggest takeaways were that we need to educate members, register people to vote (especially our members), and use the right words and messaging so that people understand we all want what’s in the best interest for working families.
Thank you to our Business Manager Tom Dalzell, the Local 1245 Executive Board, Senior Assistant Business Manager Jenny Marston, and my Business Rep, Arlene Edwards, for allowing me this opportunity. One of my top favorite conferences and I truly enjoyed this experience.
Donchele Soper is an Organizing Steward and ten-year member of IBEW Local 1245.