The weather was in the triple-digits, but it was the sisters of the Brotherhood who were “on fire” at this year’s IBEW International Women’s Conference, which took place in Phoenix in mid-June.
Nearly two dozen members of IBEW Local 1245 joined hundreds of other IBEW members from across the US and Canada at the biennial conference, which was themed, “Making HerStory.” The three-day conference featured a wide range of inspiring speakers and educational workshops that focused heavily on the unique situations and challenges that women face on the job, in the union and in everyday life.
Local 1245 retiree and longtime activist Rita Weisshaar was particularly inspired by a session that highlighted the relationship between criminal justice reform and organized labor.
“IBEW Local 48 [in the Seattle area] identified a problem with offenders who have trouble finding jobs and housing after being released from prison, due to their criminal background. As a result, they are more likely to commit another crime,” Weisshaar explained. “Local 48 has initiated a program with the women’s correctional facility in the area to train women to be ready to go into an electrician apprenticeship through the Local when they are released. This not only provides a good-paying job for the women coming back into our society, it also puts them on the road to a Union career.”
The “Leadership Through Effective Communication and Conflict Mediation” pre-conference workshop stuck out for IBEW 1245 Organizing Steward Nilda Garcia. She discovered that individuals all have different styles of communication, and she learned how both verbal and non-verbal elements of any given conversation can dramatically impact the efficacy of that particular communication.
“This workshop will definitely help me in future campaigns,” said Garcia. “Knowing how to flex your communication style when working with many different personalities is important.”
Local 1245 Organizing Steward Donchele Soper said that her favorite workshop was “The Multi-Generational Workplace: Standing on Her Shoulders.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed how this topic was presented,” said Soper. “I learned about how different personality traits across multiple generations could possibly influence someone’s perspective — be it real or perceived — when they interact with others.”
But for many delegates, the most impactful part of the conference wasn’t what was on the agenda. Having the opportunity to connect with other IBEW women from across the U.S. and Canada left a lasting impression on the attendees from Local 1245.
“I had a wonderful time meeting and talking with other delegates who were electricians, switch manufacturers, substation maintenance, and equipment operators from Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Indiana, New York and many other states and provinces in Canada,” said Weisshaar. “It was amazing to see that even though we came from different states and countries, we had the same interests in many areas, including respect, equality & opportunity in our working lives.”
“I met many women who shared with me some of the personal struggles & hurdles they experienced over the years working in a predominately male-dominated workforce, which ultimately contributed to many milestones they were able to successfully accomplish,” said Soper. “I admire the strength they had and the integrity that was displayed, which helped pave the way for others in similar situations.”
For Garcia, the most memorable part of the conference was meeting IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson.
“I had a great time chatting with President Stephenson. I talked to him about our great Organizing Steward program, and how we are building a stronger Union by getting more members involved,” said Garcia. “He told us to keep going, and even though we may face challenges, we must not give up.”
Nilda Garcia, Donchele Soper and Rita Weisshaar contributed to this report.
Photos by John Storey