Rico Albacarys didn’t sulk or stew
when he was turned down for a Baltimore Local 24 apprenticeship back in 2010.
Instead, he got back to work – and the right people noticed.
Albacarys, was unemployed at the time following the closure of the printing facility he worked for, decided not to attend college. Instead, he worked nonunion construction near his home northeast of the city.
|Baltimore Local 24 wireman Rico Albacarys is one of the faces of the IBEW’s latest advertising campaign.
A year later, he got a call from Local 24 officials asking him to re-interview for the apprenticeship when they noticed he had met their standard of working at least 450 hours in construction.
“When someone goes out and gets some more experience, we’ll bring them back in for another interview because it shows they’ve taken an interest in the industry,” said Local 24 training director Neil Wilford, who was the local’s training coordinator at the time. “He’s out there working. We don’t want him working against us. Let’s give him a chance to work with us.”
This time, Albacarys was accepted. Now 35, he’s an emerging young leader at Local 24 and the subject of one of the IBEW’s latest national television advertisements. The series of new ads highlights the value of IBEW membership for young people in search of a career that will provide a stable, middle-class life for them and their families.
The commercials, which are airing nationally, put a face on a decision many young people across North America are facing today: graduate from college with mountains of debt and no job prospects, or get paid to learn with a career in the union trades. With more baby boomers set to retire during the next few years, the construction industry, especially, is facing a looming worker shortage that must be addressed.
“A lot of people my age are drowning in college debt,” Albacarys says during the commercial, which also features his wife, Lauren, and their two young daughters. “But I chose a different path. I’m a member of the IBEW.”
Albacarys knew job opportunities in the struggling printing industry would be scarce, so he ruled out returning to it. He enjoyed working with his hands, but knew he would be working at a low salary with paltry benefits as a nonunion electrician.
So when he had a chance to be a Local 24 apprentice – where he was paid from the moment his education started – he jumped at it. His pay immediately increased from $10 to $19 an hour.
“Working as an IBEW member was the first time I had a career and not just a job,” said Albacarys, who topped out as a journeyman inside wireman in 2015 and has seen his salary more than double. “I would have had to keep working if I had gone to [college], and if you’re working full time, who knows how long it would take to get a degree. And then, who knows about debt.
“The first day as an apprentice, you’re starting your career.”
Albacarys was born in Puerto Rico, but his family moved to suburban Baltimore when he was 2 years old. He wasn’t exposed to unions growing up. He now views his time as a nonunion worker as a benefit.
It helps him better explain to others the value of IBEW membership, plus it’s a reminder of why it’s important to be active in the local. The benefits of being part of the Brotherhood need to be protected, he said.
“He was a model apprentice,” Wilford said. “He seemed to take command in class. If people needed help, he would try to help them out. He asked questions and we got good reports on him out on the job.”
Today, he works for signatory contractor EASI Electrical in Pasadena, Md., and teaches at the training center where he was a student just a few years ago. He is a member of Local 24’s examining board and was a founder of its Reach Out and Engage Next Generation Electrical Worker committee – the IBEW’s initiative to get members 35 and younger more involved in the union.
He and Lauren purchased a home. They aren’t rich, he says with a laugh but the only time they argue about money is when they discuss where to go on vacation.
“International Secretary Kenneth Cooper always says IBEW membership was his ticket to the middle class,” Albacarys said. “I agree with that. I didn’t grow up dirt poor, but we weren’t very well off. It means giving to my family what I didn’t have and being part of something bigger than yourself.”
That’s how he felt when he took part in a labor rally with union members from across Maryland at the state Capitol in Annapolis. Or, when he attended the Construction Conference and was in the audience for former Vice President Joe Biden’s speech.
“It’s not just the money,” he said. “It’s a feeling that you can do something with others that can make a difference.”
Local 24 Business Manager Peter Demchuk said he encouraged Albacarys to get more involved in the local when it was having trouble forming the RENEW committee. He took on that responsibility and “before you knew it, we were having RENEW meetings. Even in those meetings, he’s reading off notes. He’s just a very structured and sharp guy.
“I’m just really impressed with his excitement and enthusiasm,” Demchuk added. “I’m amazed at his ability to soak everything in and move forward. It’s almost like he wants to shout out to the world, ‘Come join us.’”
With the television commercials, now, of course, he’s doing just that. “I hope every person out there looking for a real career sees the commercial and says, ‘I can do that, too. I can change my life with the IBEW.’”
Albacarys is especially thankful for what IBEW membership has meant to his family. But if his success encourages other Latinos or people of color to get involved or seek out apprenticeships, it will make it even more rewarding.
“For whatever reason I am getting these opportunities, I am going to take it and show why I was worthy,” he said.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity. The IBEW and Local 24 changed my life. I’m so grateful for that.”
Click here to see the commercial featuring Albacarys and his family.