October/November 2011

FOCUS Community

Convention Calls for Wider Community Outreach
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In his keynote address, International President Edwin D. Hill told delegates that the problems of the labor movement run deeper than the opposition of business leaders, politicians or right-wing media. "Our problems stem from another cause," said Hill. "We have slowly lost the hearts and minds of the community…we've stopped telling them who we are."

Imploring delegates to support resolutions on increasing the union's reputation and influence in their communities, Hill said, "We are in a good position to help restore labor's standing in the community. Our record of giving back is impressive. The number of members who hold leadership roles in state and local labor councils or building trades councils is unmatched. We have something to tell the community and we need to step out from the pack of the labor movement and use some of that credibility and goodwill we have earned to make our voices heard."

Peter Tighe, the leader of Australia's electrical workers union, echoed Hill's call for wider engagement in his remarks to delegates. "It's about going into the community and talking to the people we live alongside of, telling them about the good things unions do," he said.

Delegates unanimously supported resolutions on building the union's image through public relations, funding political action, supporting public sector workers and setting up an organization of IBEW associate members.

Talk show host Ed Schultz and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka punctuated the community outreach theme in remarks that fired up the convention.

Discussing the huge capital investment that labor's opponents are pouring into political campaigns and anti-union advertising, Schultz said: "Your sacrifice needs to be your personal time. Your sacrifice needs to be the phone bank, the door-to-door, the social networking, the conversation. Let no stone go unturned when you meet your neighbor. Let your neighbor know what exactly is happening to you and to the middle class and don't be afraid to stand up and talk about shared sacrifice and giving the middle class a chance to fight in our country. Nothing's lost until you give up. Nothing's lost until you say, ‘Well, I don't have time. …'"

Reaching out to our surrounding communities and engaging in grassroots politics is especially important for workers in the public sector. Dennis Kuzyk, a Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2034 business representative and Clifford Seniuk, the local's vice president, came to Vancouver on the heels of a struggle to keep Manitoba Hydro, a Crown (government-owned) corporation, from contracting out work performed by bargaining unit members. Working to elect political leaders who respect collective bargaining and understand the value of union workers, say Kuzyk and Seniuk, is essential to protecting the jobs of their members.

Trumka discussed the common dreams of workers, organized and unorganized, calling on union members who are employed to support those who are out of work. He said, "It's up to us, each and every one of us, to make sure that the jobless are not invisible, to make sure that nobody misunderstands the challenge of our time: Jobs. Good jobs. It's up to us to change the debate from this mindless, senseless talk about cuts, to job creation, and the jobs crisis."

Delegates supported a resolution that called for local unions to stay at the forefront of developing renewable energy technologies, including building relationships with workers in surrounding communities who are new to that sector.

Sean Bagsby recapped his experience as Seattle Local 46's renewable energy director during a panel discussion sponsored by the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus.

The work force entering the renewable energy sector, says Bagsby, includes a broad array of men and women new to electrical work, including many who are recent immigrants and some who have been incarcerated. Rather than rejecting these workers, says Bagsby, Local 46 has focused on a pre-apprenticeship program that takes capable and responsible men and women from "jailhouse to job site" and helps the local union put more journeymen and apprentices to work in renewable energy.

To strengthen ties with unorganized workers, delegates unanimously passed a resolution to authorize the International Officers to investigate and consider the advantages, disadvantages and feasibility of creating and sponsoring an organization of associate members.

Gina Cooper, IBEW Director of Professional and Industrial Organizing, says, "Providing workers with the option of becoming associate members during an organizing campaign gives them the opportunity to immediately begin working with their fellow workers to resolve issues in the workplace as well as allowing the organizer to better gauge the workers' interest and commitment to the campaign." If the campaign is unsuccessful, Cooper says, rather than abandoning the volunteer organizers, the IBEW would have a vehicle for keeping them abreast of issues and activities in support of working families.

Read more: Focus Growth: Delegates endorse growth

Read more: Focus Politics: Cross-border political activism

Read more: Focus Youth: First-ever IBEW youth delegation

Read more: Focus Partnership: Employer cooperation highlighted

Read more: Focus Diversity/Inclusion: Discussion, diversity flow at conferences

Delegates unanimously supported resolutions on building the union's image through enhanced public relations and reaching out to communities.

‘Nothing's lost until you give up,' said TV talk show host Ed Schultz.

Australian electrical trade union leader Peter Tighe

Seattle Local 46 member Sean Bagsby