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From the December 2000 issue of UDR

Snapshots from the IBEW

In 1984, on big 11 x 17 sheets, some IBEW members were gathering signatures on "The Journeyman Wiremen’s Declaration of Independence," asserting the claims of "tramp" electricians, those who travel from job to job outside the jurisdiction of their home locals in search of steady work under other locals. "One by one," it read, "we will either drop out of this trade, simply to survive—or we will get ourselves involved in union politics and try to turn this thing around." The sheet in our possession is signed by 30 IBEW members from almost as many different locals. We never learned how many finally signed up or what they decided to do. But they remind us that the IBEW is a lively place to be.

Over the years, AUD has heard from members of more than 100 IBEW locals, scattered over the United States and Canada. A few reported routine personal grievances, but most told of election contests, caucuses formed, rank-and-file newsletters published, charges of discrimination in job referrals. Many wanted information on their democratic rights, including their rights in contract ratification.

In 1984, Charles Delgado got 170 locals to endorse his petition for a membership referendum on a secret ballot vote by convention delegates in the election of top international officers. (It was dismissed by the international office.) It took 12 years, but in 1996, overcoming opposition from the international, Mike Lucas convinced the delegates to amend the constitution and require the secret ballot.

Regrettably, we are not on the mailing list of the IBEW Journal, but members continue to keep us informed. Here is a recent rundown:

One member wrote that his local gave a manufacturing plant permission to move most operations to Mexico in return for a very modest payout to seniority employees. From West Virginia: a petition campaign in protest against a merger imposed on a local. A traveler writes that he can’t get full rights in a local although he has worked for years under its jurisdiction. An electrician writes from California to say that since he has begun to publish an independent newsletter, he is excluded from certain local activities. In that same local, another member asks about his rights in an election. Members in Illinois and in Georgia have similar complaints that they suffered retaliation after criticizing their local officials. From Local 21 in Illinois we get a correction of our web page and report that the local is coming out of trusteeship.

Too much to report in detail has been happening in the 675-member telephone Local 2326 in Vermont. At last report, an opposition election slate won all spots except the top post of business manager. But that kind of incomplete "victory" can be dangerous in the IBEW. Jamie Longtin, who headed the insurgent slate, lost the BM spot by 40 votes out of some 370 cast. But later, weeks after the election, it was discovered that 70 ballots had not been picked up from the post box and were never counted. Back in office, the reelected incumbent denounced Longtin as a traitor. The international office informed executive board members that the BM was top dog and they had to cooperate with him. Under pressure, the newly elected president, a Longtin supporter, resigned. One of the executive board members who was outspoken in Longtin’s defense was removed from her steward position.

Back in June, we learned that members of Local 26 rejected a contract proposed by their business agent or manager, but the business manager proceeded anyway in submitting it for adoption at their Council on Industrial Relations.

In the 700-member Local 1220 in Chicago, the local adopted a bylaw amendment that would prohibit full-time staff union members from holding office on the executive board. The idea was to prevent the paid staff from dominating the board. They were shocked to learn that the international, particularly agitated, vetoed the local’s action.

One member writes to ask whether we know the status of the U. S. Labor Department’s suit against a former top officer of the IBEW and an official of the National Electrical Contractors Association alleging that they imprudently invested electricians’ pension funds in companies owned by a top Democratic fund raiser. We could not help.

Re Local 98, Pennsylvania. Ed Foley, a former local president, was successful in his civil suit against the Local 98 Pension Fund. The court ruled that the fund had arbitrarily denied him years of credits in computing what was due him. He was awarded $99,624 in back payments.

Forrest Darby, member of Local 357 in Nevada is suing in Federal District court against the Defense Department and Air Force charging them with retaliating against him as a whistleblower. The events began in 1994 when he and about 20 other electricians who lived in Las Vegas were working 10 hours a day, Tuesday through Friday, for a contractor at a secret Air Force range 250 miles from home. The 500 mile round trip, which they usually had to drive at night, was dangerous; there had been accidents and two deaths.

An Air Force chartered 737 jet, tax-payer financed, carried authorized personnel from Las Vegas to the range, but union craftsmen were not allowed to fly, even though there were 40 empty seats on each trip. Enter Forrest. After his protests were rejected,. he complained to his congressman, then was threatened for revealing the "secret" of his employment site to the congressman. But after a big fuss and many months, apparently they won the right to fly. But that was only the beginning. Three years later, when Darby started to work at another Air Force base, he was denied security clearance and consequently fired by his contractor-employer. After he had evidence to prove that he had been retaliated against because of his 1994 campaign, he filed his current suit.

At the Mobile Tool company in Westminster, Colorado, the IBEW supported a buyout plan in 1995 which made the company’s 920 workers its owners. According to a report by the National Center for Employee Ownership, "workers elect lead persons and foremen" and they "have a say in any subcontracting decision and can communicate concerns to the top through a labor-management subcommittee." Sounds like it might be a nice spirit to permeate local unions.

From New York, one local union officer writes from New York "I received your special issue on the IBEW....There sure rings a tone of similarity with what Brother refers to in my local." He reports that his business manager has been violating referral rules and asks whether there is any recourse in law.

In Local 134, Chicago, the second largest IBEW construction local, the Seventh Circuit Federal Appeals Court has upheld an injunction barring Business Manager Mike Fitgerald’s Unified Social Club from soliciting or accepting money from interested employers. the successful suit had been brought by Local 134 members who charged that the contributions violated federal law and helped solidify Fitzgerald’s hold over the local.

[if you have more information about life in the IBEW, please contact us:, 718-564-1114 ]

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