With each passing year, more and more women are joining the IBEW, not just here in Local 1245’s territory, but throughout the United States and Canada. As females working in a predominantly male industry, the women of IBEW continue to face their fair share of challenges both on and off the job, but the IBEW has been making great strides to ensure that women feel at home in the union.
Nowhere is that effort more apparent than at the IBEW International Women’s Conference, which draws hundreds of IBEW women (and some men too) from all across the United States and Canada every other year.
Fifteen members of Local 1245 attended this unique conference this June in St. Paul, MN. The Local 1245 delegation, which represented a wide range of both physical and clerical classifications from every corner of the Local’s jurisdiction, arrived at the conference eager to learn, expand their horizons and bond with their sisters.
“I was very excited to be chosen to attend the conference. I have been an IBEW Local 1245 member for almost 18 years and this was the first time I had ever even heard of the Women’s Conference,” said Erica Skutt-Johnson, who works at Plumas Sierra Rural Electric Co-op. “It was very exciting to see how many women belong to the IBEW and all the different fields we represent.”
IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson welcomed the delegates with some candid yet motivating words about the expanding role of women in the IBEW.
“Our workplaces are more female than ever,” Stephenson said, noting that the number of women working in the trades has increased 80% over the last 30 years. “If we want to grow our union, recruiting and organizing women is absolutely key to our success. We cannot win without you.”
This year’s conference was themed “Signaling Success,” and featured workshops and plenaries that touched on the many pressing issues that matter most to IBEW women, including sexual harassment and workplace discrimination; mental health and substance abuse; leadership development; interpersonal communications; and family-friendly workplace policies.
“I think my favorite workshop was on mental illness. It focused on helping someone who may be considering suicide, but [the presenter] also spoke a lot about anxiety,” said Lori Mobley, a 33-year IBEW 1245 member who works at PG&E. “The stress of a full-time job — and a second full-time job if you have children — is exhausting … and the pressure on women working in a male-dominated field is so hard. I took with me some really good tips to help others in need.”
There were also regional and branch-specific caucuses held throughout the convention, which gave the members an opportunity to connect with others with whom they share commonalities. IBEW 1245 member Kim Camatti served as one of the designated mentors during the Non-Traditional Utility Occupation Branch Caucus, where she talked about her experience organizing her co-workers at SMUD as part of the union’s “I’m IN” campaign to fight back against Janus v. AFSCME.
Camatti found the Caucus and the entire conference to be incredibly uplifting.
“It was an invaluable experience meeting and connecting with sisters who also work in the field and have experienced similar situations I’ve come across in my many years working in a predominantly male environment. I feel a renewed sense of purpose, armed with new knowledge and tools as well as valuable new contacts and friendships,” said Camatti, a 12-year IBEW member who works as a materials specialist at SMUD. “I found affirmation, solidarity and humor for things I thought were mine alone to carry. I walked away feeling stronger than when I came, and I am grateful.”
Union newcomer Candace Koff, who just joined IBEW 1245 last year, agreed.
“My experience at the Women’s Conference was incredible and surpassed any expectation I had going into the conference. I loved not only bonding and meeting my sisters from my local but having that connection and love with other sisters from other IBEW locals,” said Koff, who works in the police department at the City of Lompoc. “I am truly grateful that my local IBEW 1245 sent me to this conference, as I feel like every experience — from the plenaries, to the workshops, to bonding with new friends from not only my local but others — helped me grow as a better coworker, friend, mom, and woman.”
“I loved meeting all the women from all over the United States and sharing the ups and downs of our work experience — and also I liked just being an ear for some the women who are struggling in their current situations, and trying to offer them some support if possible,” said PG&E GC Field Clerk Jennifer Threlfall, a six-year member of Local 1245. “The whole experience was a very emotional one. Some days, I felt uplifted and empowered … and then the next day I would feel frustrated and truly heartbroken for the women who shared stories of what they are still, to this day, experiencing at their jobs. It is so hard to comprehend that some of my sisters still have to deal with be treated as less than equal.”
“I realized we have a very long way to go to be equal to men. I went away sad for us, but I also went away wanting to fight,” said PG&E Materials Handler Cindy Rodriguez, a 17-year member of Local 1245. “I want to fight for the future, for my daughter and my nieces. We can’t go backwards, we must keep this thing moving forward.”
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director