Unions have an interesting and memorable history in America, and one of the most effective, most caring, and oldest of these unions is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. As a union, it represents many electrical workers across America, and as an organization, it also is responsible for, as most of us know, the training of apprentices in electrical fields across America. But the IBEW’s passion for education does not end with apprenticeship, as the union also offers a variety of additional training opportunities, such as equipment operator courses, OSHA 10 classes, and other certifications that can enhance members’ careers.
Additionally, for members that wish to expand their knowledge and understanding of the broader union movement, IBEW 1245 also offers a Labor Education Assistance Program, which reimburses members for 50% of the cost of tuition for labor relations courses at recognized institutions of higher learning, including community colleges and universities. While these labor studies programs may not necessarily expand your knowledge of electrical theory or certify you to operate heavy equipment, they do give you a better perspective on why unions are so valuable in America. Most of us were born many decades after unions were fully established in America, so we never had the opportunity to witness the birth of the movement and how it fundamentally changed our country for the better. But through these labor studies programs, we can develop a far greater appreciation for an understanding of the IBEW and a variety of other unions.
As a current student in the labor studies program at California State University – Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), I’ve found the program to really cater to blue-collar adults like us. The subject matter and the nature of the courses are specifically geared towards educating us on the formation of the labor and socioeconomic environment we live in today, and the distance-learning course offerings make it accessible for those of us who travel for work. (I myself have never even stepped on the campus).
I initially found out about this program through classes I took at my trade school, Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (LATTC). After taking some classes at LATTC, I simply transferred the courses over to CSUDH for the program. With tax deductions for educational expenses, as well as the IBEW tuition reimbursement opportunities, these classes are most likely well within the budget of any member who is interesting in learning more about the history of the labor movement.
While a labor studies program may not boost your income or give you a new job directly, the courses will do you the great service of teaching you how and why IBEW and many other great unions like it are able to guarantee such high quality of life for their members. At the end of the day, pursuing a degree in Labor Studies is almost an end in and of itself, where you walk out a much more informed person with a working knowledge of how and why your union operates the way it does today.
For me, learning about the sacrifices that union members made in the past, as well as the heinous actions that employers took to squash these efforts, and more importantly, the awful work conditions these workers were forced to operate in before unionization, made me far more appreciative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Where before, I thought of union halls as places of employment, I now see them as the defenders of our interests as working-class people.
Jake DeFeo a traveling groundman out of IBEW Local 47. He’s been working in 1245’s jurisdiction since April of 2021.