Ever since high school, I always wanted to be an electrician. I was fortunate enough to have a cousin who owned Fresno Electric Motor & Supply. My mom had told him I wanted to be an electrician, so he told me to be at his shop Monday morning; this was in 1972.
This shop was signatory to IBEW Local 100, with 25 inside wireman and 20 motormen. He took me over to the supply side of the alley and said I needed to learn all the electrical material, and then learn all about the motors, and one day I would be a good electrician. I worked for two years at two dollars an hour, 12-hour days, six days a week.
Working with all the union electricians and motormen, I learned the value of being in a Union. That job, and the respect my cousin had with the Union, helped me get into the apprentice program at Local 100. During my 17 years at Local 100, I was a two-term Vice President, apprentice committee member, and examining board member. I also started the Local’s first COPE committee, where each member contributed 5-cents an hour for political power to fight the encroachment of nonunion labor.
One day while having lunch, I sat next to an old friend. He told me that they were so busy, and asked if I knew where he could get 20 men. As long as I had known him, he never stated what he did. Turns out, he was a Superintendent at PG&E Test Dept. Substations. I was the acting Vice President at Local 100, and I told him I had built a substation before; I had worked in Victorville building a 500KV- DC to AC converter station in 1986. That job taught me what the true meaning of brotherhood meant. I told him we had 80 men on the books who could do the job. I mentioned that Local 100 members might not know how PG&E does things, but they can get it done.
Several Local 100 inside wiremen got hired out of the Local Hall and were sent to Henrietta Sub, installing two 230kv breakers and a transformer bank. I was getting calls from the wiremen on that job, telling me how great it was working for PG&E. So, I asked my friend, “What about me?” I was getting tired of watching prevailing-wage jobs going to non-union contractors.
That was in 1992, and the same year, I was hired at PG&E. I got the job offer on a Wednesday night, and I reported on Friday (not knowing the company was having a complete hiring freeze on Monday morning). My friend took me out to Los Banos Substation on the 500 KV relay change-out working behind the boards at a 500 station; something I knew nothing about. I had to learn fast.
My GC crew went on to Gates, Diablo, and Midway changing out 500 relays. Then came the PG&E downsizing when anyone with less than five years with the company got downsized to a Utility Worker, GC Gas Dept in San Francisco; that’s when I learned about seniority.
I found out that they needed Journeyman electricians at Midway Substation in Buttonwillow. The Supervisor at Midway hired me on a provisional status. After one year there, and then 10 years at Gates sub in Coalinga, I finally got back to Fresno.
During my time at Gates, I met my mentor, former IBEW 1245 Senior Assistant Business Manager Ed Dwyer. We talked about the Union; I told him I was an International Shop Steward trained by the IO, and he made me a Local 1245 Shop Steward. I later became the Lemoore Unit Chair. Dwyer offered me a position on the Review Committee; I held that position for five years. In 2013, when 1245 Business Rep Mike Grill was having surgery, I was asked to cover his assignment for three months. It was a great learning experience. Then in 2015, when Grill was preparing to retire, Business Manager Tom Dalzell asked me if I would take that assignment on permanently, and I accepted. The rest is history.
I have dedicated most of my life to the IBEW, and I am forever grateful.
IBEW 1245 Business Rep Jim Brager retired from IBEW 1245 in summer of 2023.