The Electrical Workers Minority Caucus (EWMC) Leadership Conference is a unique annual event with a focus on minority members of the IBEW. Through this conference, members are transformed into strong, active leaders in their locals. I was first invited to attend in 2012, and have made it a priority to attend for the last five years. At the 2017 conference, which took place on MLK weekend in Anaheim, I was joined by a large and diverse delegation from Local 1245, including both newcomers and long-time EWMC participants.
“The EWMC Conference is a call to duty. Attending is both an honor and a privilege,” said former Local 1245 Senior Assistant Business Manager Dorothy Fortier. “I joined the EWMC in 1978. President Emeritus Robbie Sparks established the Leadership Conference in 1991, and I have attended every annual conference since then. I always return home inspired and energized.”
“Being a ‘newbie,’ I had no idea what to expect, but the moment I stepped into the RENEW opening ceremony, and heard Ms. Robbie Sparks speak with such power and grace on how us young workers have the power to make change in our communities, I was immediately inspired,” said Local 1245 Organizing Steward Jasmine Williams. “An overwhelming feeling to get out and make a difference in the world filled my body.”
The Annual Conference traditionally kicks off with a community service event, something I personally look forward to every year. There were two projects this year; some participants volunteered at a local food bank in Anaheim, while others helped renovate three veterans’ homes in the area.
Between the three volunteer shifts — two at the food bank and one at the veterans’ homes — there were over 300 volunteers donating over 1,400 hours of service! Our good work was even featured on the local CBS news station, which reported on the EWMC volunteers who worked on the veterans’ home renovation project.
Working the Workshops
This year’s conference workshops touched on a wide variety of topics, ranging from race and inclusion to retirement planning to parliamentary procedure and the union’s Code of Excellence.
This year, I facilitated a workshop on the structure of the IBEW, to give members a good foundation of how the Brotherhood was created and how it functions as a Democratic organization. There were also several other workshops that were designed to help members better understand the inner workings of the union.
“The first workshop I attended was ‘Understanding Parliamentary Procedure,’ which was facilitated by our sister, Dorothy Fortier,” said Local 1245 Recording Secretary Rachel Ramirez Hill. “This workshop covered how to effectively run and participate in meetings. I feel like the information provided will be really useful, since we don’t always know all of the rules going into conferences or meetings.”
“My favorite workshop was the one regarding ‘Leadership Styles’ and the speaker’s name was Dr. Krystal Walker,” said EWMC Solano County Chapter President Donchele Soper. “She spoke about knowing your purpose in life, and that touched me deeply. Just because you’re content and good at what you do, doesn’t mean that’s your purpose. She had us do an exercise to try and help us identify what our purpose might be, which she said took her weeks to figure out.”
Since the EWMC is specifically for minority groups within the IBEW, there were also a number of sessions that focused on the often-difficult but always-important subjects that effect minorities the most.
“My favorite part of the conference was the ‘Race, Inclusion and Labor’ workshop,” said Local 1245 Organizing Steward Logan Jonas. “Anyone in that workshop could no longer be claim to not understand and empathize with the human condition of the oppressed. Using clips from A Class Divided opened conversation and thought in a provocative and inspiring way like I’ve never been a part of at any other conference. It gave all of us an opportunity to exchange ideas, inspire and assist each other with action plans to effect real change.”
Panels and Plenaries
The action-packed conference also featured a dynamic array of speakers and panel discussions that were both informative and engaging.
“The plenary session special guest speakers had us out of our seats, ready to take on the fight for the movement,” said Local 1245 Organizing Steward Charlotte Stevens. “Trade Unionist Bill Fletcher explained the challenge ahead with the new administration. Kent Wong of the UCLA Labor Center motivated us to action, letting us know that now is not the time to get tired. Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (District 38) and CA State Treasurer John Chiang described the political opposition taking place in government. Each of these speakers armed us with information and determination to take back to our locals.”
“Every single speaker had a message for those who wanted to listen,” said Local 1245 member Maria Salazar. “From the two young members of the Sierra Club striving for environmental justice and encouraging union support for sustainable energy sources for our future, to the three young undocumented immigrants fighting for rights in a world where they are considered criminals for actions they were not responsible for – the struggles these people have endured were heartbreaking to listen to, while at the same time inspiring in the knowledge that these people survived and overcame these injustices.”
I particularly enjoyed the workshop and plenary session panel regarding mass incarceration, “Reaching Back & Lifting Up”. I agree with Sister Isis Harris, a second-year apprentice with Local 48, who said, “Being locked up was something that happened to me, not who I am.” It was emotional to hear the stories of our sisters and brothers that have traveled this road. In the workshop, we were asked to create an action item we could accomplish as a group. 60 of us have agreed to mentor an at-risk youth in our area.
“A Total Life-Changer”
Nearly all the attendees left the conference feeling motivated and prepared to take action.
“EWMC President Keith Edwards issued a call to action for every delegate at this year’s conference: Political Action. It is up to us to hold our elected officials accountable,” said Local 1245 staffer Tonya Alston, who also serves as EWMC National Recording Secretary. “I am answering the President Edward’s call to action by increasing calls to my Senators and House Representative, and urging my sphere of influence to do the same. “
“The conference ended with everyone joining hands and singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’ led by sister Robbie Sparks. It was an empowering moment … we WILL overcome any new obstacles that are put in our way!” said Local 1245 Organizing Steward Laquania “Q” Davis. “Returning from the conference, I feel rejuvenated and equipped with the right tools to take charge. This conference is a total life-changer. I recommend it to anyone needing leadership skills or just an energizer, and I am looking forward to attending next year.”
–Jammi Juarez, IBEW 1245 Staff Organizer
**Membership in the EWMC is open to all IBEW members who are in good standing with their Local Union and who have satisfied the dues requirements of the EWMC. To join the EWMC Solano County Chapter, please email email@example.com for further information.**