Nashville-Area Electrical Licensing Law Promotes Safety, Local Hiring


February 28, 2014


With a New York Bank data center project, upgrades to a General Motors auto plant and a new convention center job on the books, leaders of Nashville Local 429 figured the time was right to move an electrical licensing law through the Davidson County Council, a 40-member body that covers the celebrated music city and surrounding suburbs.


“We made licensing a safety issue,” Business Manager John Ledwell said. “Our members are well-trained to protect themselves and others, but too many electricians out there cut corners that put themselves and customers in jeopardy.”

 In November, the council passed a licensing law that provides for all county projects that require a permit to be performed by electricians who pass an examination and work under the direction of a journeyman electrician or master electrician.

The council provided for a 180-day grace period for electricians to become certified before the ordinance goes into effect. Ledwell says the IBEW’s apprenticeship program already prepares every member to pass the test. He says the ordinance will improve safety and local hiring and opens the door to more training in the future.

Planning for the ordinance began in 2010, spearheaded by Local 429 President Mike Bearden. A 20-member committee was formed, comprised of local leaders and rank and file members. After Bearden died a year later, the effort receded. Ledwell revived the planning, appointing Assistant Business Manager James Shaw to marshal the law that was patterned after the county’s plumber certification.

“We were ready to go with a media blitz and billboards to make our case for certification,” says Ledwell.

 A fortuitous chain of events made a high-octane campaign unnecessary. Under council rules, a bill is read at two succeeding sessions and voted on during the third. Highly-respected Councilman Bo Mitchell, now a state delegate, introduced the ordinance. By the time of the second reading, the measure had oe sponsor and 29 co-sponsors out of the 40-member council.

On the third and final reading, the council chamber became embroiled in debate over the first reading of a proposal for a new baseball field. The meeting dragged on. Just before adjournment, the licensing ordinance quickly passed.

Associated Builders and Contractors, the nonunion group, accused the union of sneaking the ordinance through. “They don’t have a leg to stand on. Everything was public,” Ledwell said. “The winners will be the local workers who prepare for certification and are available when jobs open up.”

Local 429 has built a consensus among its members in support of pushing for a continuing education requirement for certified electricians in the future. The training would include features such as an OSHA refresher course, enhanced safety training and information on any upgrades to electrical codes.

Progress in improving electrical safety demands electing leaders who understand the benefits of union-directed training and excellence on the job. Bo Mitchell, a Democrat in a district with a Republican majority, took the lead on the certification ordinance, Ledwell says. “We expect our adversaries to go after him hot and heavy. But we will be ready to defend him and re-elect him.”