Christian Serrano has done his job well for nearly two decades at an Eaton Cooper Lighting plant in Hicksville, N.Y. Now, a distinctive black-and-white label tells customers that he and his co-workers are working at an elite level.

“It’s like putting on a bow tie to go with my suit,” said Serrano, who has worked at the facility for 18 years and is a shop steward for New York Local 3.

Eaton is the first manufacturing company to attach an IBEW Code of Excellence sticker to its products. The program is a partnership with Local 3, which has 45 members working at the Hicksville facility, and reflects the IBEW’s commitment to the code in its manufacturing branch, which has lost thousands of jobs in recent years due to an increase in overseas outsourcing.

New York Local 3 members during Code of Excellence training in preparation for its being instituted at the Eaton Cooper Lighting plant in Hicksville, N.Y.

“With the Code of Excellence, we’re trying to provide the best workers that the employer can have,” said Scott Zillig, an international representative in the manufacturing department. “We know what they want, so we want to give it to them.”

Serrano said that’s a point of pride for himself and other IBEW members, who assemble lighting fixtures for the electrical industry at the plant.  

“I’m proud to say I’m the first steward with the program,” said Serrano, who works as a shipping clerk and backup truck driver. “I always use it with my guys. I tell them, ‘Remember when we talked about the Code of Excellence? Let’s try to keep it sharp around here.’ I think it helps us.”

The IBEW rolled out the Code of Excellence on a national level in the construction branch in 2007 and it’s received positive reviews from members and signatory contractors ever since. A modified version for the manufacturing sector was formed during a series of meetings in 2013 between international representatives and members from all 11 districts, Zillig said.

The code reminds members that craftsmanship and professionalism are the foundation of the IBEW.  Expectations listed include arriving at a job site ready to work and on time; doing the work safely; respecting the employer’s rules and property; working a full eight-hour day and limiting breaks to allotted periods; showing zero tolerance for drug and alcohol abuse; and refusing to engage in activities that reflect poorly on the IBEW or that extend a job in order to get overtime.

“This is a first-of-its-kind label,” Zillig said. “We’re hoping to make many more of them.”

Union-made labels have appeared on products for decades, but this label is intended to mean something more. Not only is a product union made, but it is being produced at the highest level of quality.  

It is set on a black background with white lettering. The stickers placed on boxes exiting the Eaton facility are egg-shaped with the company name across the top, IBEW across the bottom and the words “Partners in Quality” in black lettering across a white strip. “Union Made in Hicksville, N.Y.” and “Manufactured in a Code of Excellence Facility” also are on it.

New York Local 3 members with certificates following their Code of Excellence training at the Eaton Cooper Lighting plant in Hicksville, N.Y.

“The brothers and sisters of the IBEW manufacture the best products in the world,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “We know this, but it’s critical to make sure everyone else knows it as well. Simply put, our future depends on it.”

In 1970, the IBEW represented about 360,000 manufacturing-sector employees. It had slipped to 145,000 in 1990. Today, it’s around 40,000 – an 87 percent drop during the last 45 years.

“In today’s global marketplace, consumers and businesses have so many choices,” Stephenson said. “We need everyone to know the IBEW is the right choice and that we are the right investment for the future.”

Local 3 business representative Anthony Esponda negotiated the agreement with Eaton. He said he’s tired of having to ask companies to put language in contracts to aid workers in the event of an overseas move. He would rather find a way to promote strong jobs here. The label is a great way do that that, Esponda said.

 “It can be a point of pride for us and something that other electrical contractors should be asking for when they buy their products,” he said.

Esponda said Eaton officials were enthusiastic about entering into the partnership. He conducted a three-day training session with Local 3 members at the plant last year.

“It’s been very well received and our members love it,” he said. “It shows the pride they have at a Code of Excellence facility. The company loves it. It shows the partnership with the IBEW.”

“If we keep doing the same thing over and over, that’s the definition of insanity,” Esponda said. “This is a no-brainer. This is a key to stemming what has gone on the last 10-15 years.”

Esponda and Zillig said they are talking with other companies about setting up a similar program with the IBEW. More agreements are expected to be announced in the future.

Serrano likes the recognition. But in the end, the label reveals something more important, he said.

“It shows the product was made in America,” he said. “That’s what we all want.”