At IBEW 1245, “learning by doing” is in our DNA – both on the job, and also within our union ranks.
One of the ways we cultivate the union leaders of tomorrow is by empowering our most dedicated activists and offering them the chance to lead.
Over the summer, the IBEW 1245 organizing team hosted a series of three regional training sessions in Reno, Fresno and Vacaville, which were developed and led primarily by 1245 rank-and-file Lead Organizing Stewards. The interactive sessions were designed to engage, educate and activate members across our service area by highlighting the power that 1245 members have built —and emphasizing that it’s up to all of us to keep our union strong.
The trainings touched on hot topics such as the fights and challenges that our union is facing, both currently and in the future; the role that politics plays in our working lives; an overview of 1245’s ground-breaking organizing steward program; and ways to get involved and participate in upcoming union activities.
Obstacles and Opportunities
The utility industry is in a state of rapid change, so each of the training sessions included a candid conversation on the state of the industry and how our union can ensure that the new utility jobs of the future are quality, IBEW jobs.
With lots of new work on the horizon, IBEW 1245 is working diligently to protect our jobs and stay abreast of potential threats.
As Business Manager Bob Dean said to the attendees at the Vacaville training, “When you’re on top, you have a lot of enemies.”
Fortunately, IBEW 1245 understands that and is constantly growing our power through relationship-building in the Capitol and with our union allies, and by activating our membership to tackle the fights and challenges head on.
“We’re a single-issue organization committed to securing collective bargaining agreements, our priority is to preserve our contracts and keep improving them,” shared Assistant Business Manager Rene Cruz-Martinez in Nevada. “What we can’t win at the bargaining table, we win through legislation or at the Public Utilities Commission.”
Lead Organizing Steward Brandon Fosselman reminded the training attendees in Fresno that IBEW 1245’s fights and challenges have been going on since before he was born. While the fight to protect our work and contracts is ongoing, he emphasized the value of our power in numbers.
“The stronger we are as a whole, the stronger we are together,” he said.
“The Gold Standard”
On the topic of politics, many of the organizing stewards who served as training facilitators acknowledged that, prior to their involvement with 1245, being involved in politics isn’t something they ever thought they would do or enjoy/ But they all have seen the tremendous value in it, and they underscored the importance of have a voice in politics when it comes to protecting our rights as workers, our jobs, and our ability to take care of our families.
“How many of you like politics?” Retiree and Lead Organizing Steward Rita Weisshaar asked the group in Nevada. “When I think of those commercials—I hate it. When I have to make phone calls—it’s hard. But politics affect every single area of your life, and your family’s life. It’s really important to elect people who share our values, and who will defend our work lives, and our retirees, too.”
The facilitators pointed to 1245’s recent successes in the political arena — from beating back SB 284 and supporting SB 410 in 2023, to prevailing on Question 3 in Nevada in 2018, to activating the support of CA Governor Brown in 2010 when PG&E imposed a two-tier wage system — and emphasized the critical role that organizing stewards play in building our political power.
“We are the tip of spear, we are the fight,” declared Staff Organizer Charlotte Stevens. “We are at the Capitol as needed, knocking on legislators’ doors.”
“We’re known as the ‘Sea of Blue,’” she added, a reference to the signature royal blue T-shirts every organizing steward wears to actions.
Lead Organizing Steward Juan Montoya told the Fresno group about our most recent political success over the summer, when a bill known as SB 284 was threatening more than 40,000 IBEW jobs. 1245 responded by mobilizing at the Capitol, and our activists made calls to over 26,000 members, who subsequently generated thousands of contacts to lawmakers. Through this massive demonstration, we stopped the union-busting bill dead in its tracks.
The action around SB 284 exemplified the power we have when members step up and make their voices heard. At the training sessions, the member-facilitators discussed the immense contributions IBEW 1245 members make to our union and our communities by being involved.
“What’s the most important thing an organizer does? Membership engagement,” said Cruz Martinez. “For you, that means going back to your work site and having conversations with your peers about what you learned here today.”
Fabrizio Sasso, Executive Director of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, praised the work of 1245: “You are the gold standard of what a union should be. Member-driven, member-organized. You care, you put in the work, and you build power — not just for yourselves, but for the movement.“
“A Voice and a Purpose”
The Organizing Steward program was formally launched in 2014, with 28 stewards in the first class. The program has grown year over year, and today, more than 120 IBEW 1245 members are currently serving as organizing stewards. The member-activists participate in a wide range of activities, from new member welcome programs, to contract fights, to new organizing, to supporting 1245 allies in elections that directly impact our members.
Organizing Steward Brittney Morris, a nine-year member and operating clerk at NV Energy, told the group in Reno how she got her start with 1245: “After I worked in gas out of the call center, I got involved. Now I’m a shop steward, recording secretary, and organizing steward. I have been given a plethora of opportunities I never imagined. Sometimes, the union family becomes even more important than blood family.”
New Organizing Steward Rocio Gianelli spoke on how the Organizing Steward program transformed her life.
“I have a voice and a purpose,” she said. “It’s also given me the opportunity to travel and participate in conferences. It’s given me a sense of belonging. It has changed the way I work and how I am as a person.”
At the end of each session, the training participants left with renewed energy, enthusiasm, and opportunities to get more involved in the union and continue to build power for working people.
As Business Manager Bob Dean underscored to training participants, “Unions are on the rise. Things are changing. As strong as we’ve become, we are only just getting started.”
Photos by John Storey