On Friday, January 26, IBEW 1245 welcomed the union leadership of the Salvadoran Union of Electrical Workers (STESEC), reviving the formal sister relationship that began in 2016.
STESEC Secretary General Julio Santos and Secretary of Culture and Membership Development Alvaro Flamenco represented the Salvadoran union at the IBEW 1245 Conference on the Grid of the Future and at the quarterly IBEW 1245 Advisory Council Meeting.
Secretary General Santos has worked as a lineman and substation system operator for nearly 40 years, and Flamenco works as a mechanical engineer at El Salvador’s largest hydroelectric plant.
“These men lead the union at great personal risk,” IBEW 1245 Senior Advisor Eileen Purcell explained. “Secretary General Santos was threatened with disciplinary action and possible termination if he left the country to visit our union, notwithstanding contractual language allowing them the right to conduct union business. Their courage and commitment are exemplary.”
Tension in El Salvador has been on the rise due to the two-year “State of Exception” imposed by the Administration of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele. This edict has resulted in the suspension of individual and collective civil rights. Arrests and firings of union leaders and their supporters have become more and more commonplace as worker advocates and trade unionists are under increased scrutiny, both from the government as well as from their employers.
Originally, STESEC had planned to send a four-person delegation for a week-long visit to 1245. But the trip was cut down to two days, due to the employer’s refusal to allow union time off, even though it is guaranteed by the contract. Two of the delegates were blocked from participating at all.
Alfredo Ortiz Lopez, one of the veteran labor leaders who pioneered the sister relationship with 1245, was barred from attending. In a heartfelt and touching note to 1245, he wrote, “It is not easy to be a trade unionist in El Salvador.”
When they finally arrived and had the opportunity to meet with the leadership of IBEW 1245, STESEC leaders Santos and Flamenco extended fraternal greetings from their membership and gratitude for IBEW 1245’s solidarity and support as the union movement in El Salvador faces daunting challenges under the current “State of Exception.”
“[Your solidarity] makes a profound difference as we continue the struggle for basic rights, and the preservation of our collective bargaining agreements,” Santos said. “We cannot deny that the current anti-union political climate has impacted membership levels. But we are in the fight for the long haul.”
1245 Business Manager Bob Dean recalled the first time he and Santos met, back in 2017 when STESEC sent its first delegation to the union hall. Later that year, Dean joined then-Business Manager Tom Dalzell and Eileen Purcell on a trip to El Salvador to cement the sister relationship.
“I was greatly impressed and inspired by their struggle to build a union through a Civil War, and successive governments that were incredibly hostile to worker rights,” said Dean. “‘Hostile’ includes the bombing of union headquarters, the arrest of union leaders, and threats and intimidation against workers organizing for their basic rights — conditions similar to the challenges the founders of IBEW 1245 faced 83 years ago.”
In turn, Brothers Santos and Flamenco were greatly impressed by the working relationship between corporate leadership and the union, as well as by 1245’s model of membership engagement, especially the union’s Organizing Steward program.
Several Organizing Stewards expressed gratitude to the Salvadoran brothers for their courage, and new friendships were established.
The delegation and IBEW 1245 exchanged gifts, including IBEW 1245 Staff Jackets celebrating their “honorary membership” of our union.
“Though our time has been short, we return to El Salvador with many ideas that we hope to replicate,“ said brother Flamenco.
In his closing remarks, Santos declared, “From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your solidarity and the sister relationship. And we invite you to visit us in El Salvador.”
The two delegates returned safely to El Salvador on Sunday. On Monday, they presented themselves at work – so far, they still have their jobs! They returned fortified and determined to continue the struggle for working people.
Timeline of IBEW 1245 and STESEC’s Sister Relationship
2015: Exploratory meeting with the Executive Board of the Salvadoran Union of Electrical Union (STESEC) & IBEW 1245 Organizer Eileen Purcell in El Salvador, facilitated by the SHARE Foundation
2016: Visit to El Salvador by IBEW 1245 Assistant Business Manager Bob Gerstle & Organizer Eileen Purcell, along with delivery of PPE
2017: Visit to IBEW 1245 by five- person delegation from STESEC
2017: Visit to El Salvador by then- IBEW 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell, Sr. Assistant Business Manager Bob Dean, Organizer Eileen Purcell
2018: Visit to El Salvador by then- IBEW 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell, Sr. Assistant Business Manager Bob Dean, Organizer Eileen Purcell to formalize Sister Relationship & first regional meeting of Electrical Workers’ Unions. IBEW Advisor Sheralyn Wright and IBEW Director of Education Amanda Pacheco join regional meeting.
2019: COVID interrupts in-person exchanges
2023: Delivery of PPE to El Salvador via the SHARE Foundation
2024: Business Manager Bob Dean renews contact and facilitates delegation visit by STESEC to IBEW 1245 for first Grid of the Future conference & Advisory Council meeting