IBEW 37th Convention

One union members report on the 37th Convention of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). This is unoffical and unsanctioned.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Friday, 9/15/06 the 5th and final day

Friday was the last day of the convention. It ended early, right around 1:00 PM as planned.

WE HEARD FROM Larry Cohen, General Counsel for the IBEW. The lawyer. He’s been associated with the IBEW for 40 years, and General Counsel for 26 years. He’s the guy that keeps Bro’s Hill and Walters from going to the slammer if they get over-enthusiastic on our behalf. He did use a quote (I forgot to write it down) from one of my personal favorite labor heroes: Samual Gompers.

And we did finish up the unfinished business: the remainder of the 44 resolutions to be dealt with.

Do you want to have a resolution presented to the Convention? Read your Constitution, the new one as modified by this convention will come out shortly. There’s a procedure, outlined in the Constitution. The most important thing, tho, is timeliness. It need to be presented well in advance and is then sent to the Resolutions Committee for review and recommendation and for printing up for the Convention. So be prepared to do this EARLY if you’re really sincere about it.

Again, we didn’t go along with all the recommendations. NFPA Standard 70E recommends against working on live electrical circuits, or something like that. The resolution was to include language in the national contract to throw the switch to off or pull the plug when work was being performed, wherever practical. (Sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it?) However, the committee felt that including the language would mandate it. So the committee recommended NONCONCURRENCE with the resolution.

The committee’s recommendation was rejected and the resolution was adopted.

Another resolution dealt with immigration. It had all the good stuff. It did have one paragraph about “giving undocumented workers (illegal immigrants) the chance to pursue citizenship” (I’m paraphrasing here) and that paragraph was deleted by a vote from the floor. The rest of the resolution passed.

Maybe we should get more IBEW people in the House and Senate. A lot more stuff would get done, and get done well, and faster too.

Anyway, we adjourned sine die (that’s a Latin phrase, go look it up on m-w.com).

Madeleine and Jim went someplace, and I took off on my bicycle and toured around Cleveland. Their lakefront isn’t like Chicago’s. There a couple of small parks and area that are nice, but isolated from each other. There’s an airport on the lake right near the downtown area that maybe they could take a lesson from Chicago and turn it into a public space instead.

I rode out way into the west side of the city. Lots of what looked like abandoned vertical factory buildings. In neighborhoods where people lived, and probably walked to work in the old days. It’s shame to see this waste, and know that a lot of this comes about because of outsourcing and Wal-Mart.

I did try Cleveland pizza for lunch. Sorry, if you want good pizza, come to Chicago. It was only 99¢ for a slice, though. That should look good when I turn in my expenses for my local brothers and sisters to approve.

We met back at the hotel around 3:30, left for the airport on the shuttle bus. As I did coming out, I checked one bag but carried my backpack. While in line for the security check, I realized I had a bunch of no-no’s in the bag! Tools, for fixing the bike if necessary. Compressed air cartridges for tire repair. Not only would then have confiscated them, I might have been questioned very closely. I snuck under the rope and went back into the check-in line and was able to check the backpack.

This was a good experience, and I’m glad my brothers and sisters selected me to attend.

A couple of more links that might be of interest:

http://www.ibew.org/Convention2006/index.htm is the official convention coverage website of the IBEW. Obviously, it’ll be a little more complete and have more coverage than I’ve got here.

http://family.webshots.com/album/554160828wsvaEK is where I’ve uploaded the rest of the pictures I took in Cleveland. Maybe http://tinyurl.com/o93y2 - the Tiny Url link will work easier.

http://www.ibewhourpower.com/ is the latest in the IBEW’s web arsenal. Check it out, it’s interesting.

http://www.ibew.org/ is the Official IBEW Website.

If you want to make constructive criticism or comments, my email address is: mailto:R-Kastigar@neiu.edu

If you’re really bored at work, you can check out my home page, http://www.neiu.edu/~rkastiga

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thursday, 9/14/06 the Fourth Day

Notice: this was the penultimate day of the convention, hence I’m writing this from my sparse notes. Tonight, I need to pack because tomorrow is the last day. Pack, as in including the computer. So I won’t be able to update this day (from the published notes) nor publish the last day, Friday, until I return home from Chicago.

One speaker we heard from was Michael Morris of American Electrical Power, one of our employers. (Again, somebody with a different set of priorities than ours.) American Electric Power owns and operates power generation equipment and distribution lines. (Disclaimer: I know very little about this, sorry.) Anyway, he spoke of the plans the and the power generation plans. They include coal, gas, and nuclear and said that many people would oppose this. He stressed that we can’t conserve our way out of the energy crunch. He said alternative energy was useful, but couldn’t supply the anticipated growth.

He told one story: AEP gave their customers coupons good for a substantial discount on energy-efficient refrigerators. They had calculated how much to discount and how much impact this would have on the reduction of energy use – and it was a substantial reduction. However, it backfired. Energy consumption actually rose! Why? Everybody who bought the refrigerators put the old one out in the garage for beer and the overflow and now were powering two refrigerators in their home instead of one.

Then we heard from Peter Tighe, a labor leader from Australia, facing many of the same problems we are – the offshoring of labor and the outsourcing of manufacturing. Like the USA, there has been an ongoing problem with this and we face the same problems. Someone in the audience suggested we amalgamate with them. We are, after all, the INTERNATIONAL Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and we have locals in Canada. Maybe not a bad idea.

At the conclusion, he presented two Australian “Outback” hats to Bro’ Hill and Bro’ Jon. They both tried them on. Bro’ Ed said he thought he looked like Jed Klampett (of the Beverly Hillbillies) but I thought he looked a little bit like Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Arc.

Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labor Congress praised our commitment to organize and reminded us we have to be, and stay, organized internally as well in order to be effective.

One company that’s been around since the founding of the IBEW is Klein Tools. Still made in the USA, still preferred by electricians everywhere. Mathias Klein III, CEO of Klein Tools told us about the company and it how it was formed. Rarely is a company founded and last for more than two or three generations. Mr. Klein is the SIXTH generation to run the company! And an American company too.

Most of the day, though, was spent considering various resolutions from the Law Committee, the Resolutions Committee, and the Appeals Committee. If you think this type of convention is a “rubber stamp” for the decisions of the officers and the executive council of the International office in Washington you couldn’t be more wrong. This is a very democratic process, and very open, and any of the member delegates could speak up at any time.

First, the process: As I explained earlier, the hall was set up with various kiosks complete with a swipe-pad, a monitor, microphone and camera. ANY delegate could walk up to the kiosk, swipe their card which would identify them and their local. Select one four four buttons: Support, Oppose, Question and Point-of-Order, then wait to be recognized.

And there was opposition. One of the recommendations involved how delegates would be paid expenses future conventions. This got voted down. One proposal went to how nominations for delegates to other conventions would be chosen. This was followed by a spirited discussion and almost got voted down.

Here’s the procedure: First, the President asks for an Aye/Nay vote. If the result is inconclusive, the President asks for a ‘show of hands” of the delegates stand for a count. The Sergeants-at-Arms would conduct a count. If that wasn’t conclusive we would all march to the voting area, swipe our cards, and record our votes.

Rousseau, who was never a fan of representative democracy would have approved of this procedure. It’s very open, very democratic. If anybody thinks this is a dog-and-pony show and only happens to ratify what the officers have decided in advance, they are dead wrong.

The next convention is in five years. If you’re an IBEW member you should really consider running for Delegate to the National Convention.

Another resolution was offered to change the numbering of the Constitution to the Arabic numbers from the Roman Numerals used now. This was to simplify the document and make it easier to read. Guess what? This got voted down! I guess we have a lot of traditionalists in the IBEW. I thought this would be a routine vote, but it wasn’t.

One item of business troubled me. It was in the Appeals Committee report. It involved charges at the local level against officers. It involved (according to the factual statements) several members (17) all getting sick simultaneously together as the same time, on the job and going home. I will admit this is quite a coincidence. They were accused of causing a work stoppage.

There is a procedure for appeals in our Constitution. You can make a final appeal all the way up to the convention floor! These guys did, but their appeal was denied.

This bothers me. Yes, I agree the union cannot sanction a wildcat work stoppage during an agreement. But I don’t see how anybody can judge the degree of sickness of another individual. Saying “I’m sick” ought to fall under the First Amendments right to free speech. Even if 16 other guys are sick at the same time.

I didn’t speak up. Perhaps I should have rather than writing what I think in a blog. The convention floor was the proper place to have made known my feelings, but I didn’t. My bad.

I did, however, raise my voice on the convention floor. I wrote it out the night before, fidgeted and stalled during the morning session trying to work up the nerve to walk up to the kiosk and swipe my card. Madeleine and Jim neither supported nor discouraged me. I was actively discouraged from opening my big mouth by Bro’ Ro Wratchko, former Business Manager of Local 1220 and now some kindofa wheel in the International Office in Washington, DC. He didn’t want me to “rock the boat.”

But sometimes I get sofa king upset with what’s been happening in my industry and how my brothers and sisters in the TV racket are getting screwed I felt I had an obligation to speak up.

Herewith are my comments, at least as far as I wrote them. I don’t think (I hope!) I didn’t ad-lib too much. I really was very nervous about addressing my remarks to the International President and to the 2000+ delegates:

-----------Begin quote of text ----------------------------------------------------

Yesterday we heard about a television show on the Outdoor Life Network.

The day before that we heard about the need, and opportunities to organize.

In the old days, BC, “Before Cable” every one of the television networks was organized. Every major television station’s employees worked under a collective bargaining agreement.

Today, with the explosion of cable there are many new networks, some large and some small and very few if any of them operating with a union contract.

Today, with the cost of electronic equipment so cheap anybody can buy a couple of TV cameras and call themselves producers, production companies, contractors.

This has fractured and decimated our television industry. Competition has forced us to go along with practices such as at-will employees and members working part time and the erosion of our once jealously guarded jurisdiction.

Never mind the economic impact this has had on our members; we can always make that up when we get strong again. And we will get strong again. We will get strong again if we organize and bargain so that all the employers are leveled out and don’t compete on the basis of disparate pay and terms and conditions of employment that exist today in our industry.

There are American jobs, and American made products. America leads the world in exporting entertainment. It’s very difficult if not impossible to take the work of producing a sporting event, a news occurrence, a soap opera episode, or an entertainment extravaganza and export that to Bangaladesh or China.

When we get our organizing program up and running this is one industry ready to be organized. We, the members of Local 1220, and I will presume to speak for all of the other locals that represent broadcast employees, want to help and are willing to do whatever it takes to take back this industry, an industry once dominated by union workers.

It’s in our own best interests to do this.

Thank you for listening.

-----------End Quoted Text------------------------------------

I did receive a round of applause after this, and got a couple of thumbs-up after my little speech, so I don’t think I was too far out of line.

Bro’ President Ed Hill thanks me for my remarks and then he went on to say that he ENJOYED READING THIS BLOG!!!!

Which ought to be a lesson to anybody posting something on the internet: be careful of what you say. Be prepared to stand behind what you say. Sign your own name, which may help you to be more careful.

I got my shorts so twisted up today that I forgot to take any pictures!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wednesday, 9/13/06, the third day

Started reasonably promptly around 9:00 again, got a report on the costs of this convention. Rental, transportation, salaries of delegates, etc. Someplace around 13 million! Good thing we only do this every five years. Good thing in International picks up the tab – at least our per capita goes for something.

On the committee reports: an unusual but good IBEW practice. Each member of each committee is introduced. As each member is introduced, there is only on clap – that is everybody claps just once. Sounds like a rifle shot. Then, at the end, after everybody has been introduced then applaud the entire committee. Speeds things up quite a bit.

Nice speech by Jerry O’Connor, former International Secretary-Treasurer, retired. He’s older than he looks. Anyway, his main thrust was the need to organize. He told us he was surprised to learn that International Workers of the World, the IWW, the “Wobblies” were trying to organize Starbucks. He said he didn’t even know the IWW was still around.

Now I did bring with me a small flashing light for my bicycle from the IWW, which they sell on their website. I’d purchased a couple and they make a good backup or alternate. Nice IWW logo on it. I tried looking him up, to give it to him. I couldn’t find it but I did find where he was sitting in the VIP section for non-delegates. His seat had a name tag on it, so I clipped the light to the name tag. Later on, I saw him walking around wearing it. No doubt he’ll be wondering where the heck that came from – and how many secret wobblies are in the IBEW.

Bro’ O’Conner did deliver a classic line, regarding the elections in Novemvber: “Let’s annihilate the bastards and then organize their pallbearers!”

A couple of examples we could all learn from the IBEW: invite to the convention those with whom you DISAGREE, or those seemingly on the other side of the fence.

Dan Hesse, Chairman and CEO of Embarq Corporation, a telecommunications venture that employs our members. He shared with use the plans of the company. He seemed to be open and honest. His message was one of growth, both for the company and for the IBEW working together. I have no idea what it would be like to be across the negotiating table from him but I got the impression he would be straight.

Another example: we heard from Joe Hansen, President of the UFCW, the United Food and Commercial Workers. You know, the union that pulled out of the AFL-CIO and was critical of it’s operation while the IBEW stayed behind and supported the AFL-CIO. He talked about our differences in strategy but that the goals we were seeking were still very much the same.

We heard from Fred Myers, VP of TRCP, the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which host an outdoor show on OLN, the Outdoor Life Network. Many IBEW members hunt and fish – and this show is for them. The TRCP supports hunters and outdoorsmen and is an alternative to the National Rifle Association which takes the traditional hard-line approach and general support of Republican candidates and values. An upcoming show sponsored by TRCP, “Escape to the Wild” will be an all-union show and feature union members hunting and fishing.

Fortunately it didn’t rain (much) today and I was able to take the bike, Along the way I was able to take a few pictures:

Burnham was not only influential in Chicago, but had an impact on Cleveland as well. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to convince them to preserve their lakefront so it doesn’t really compare to Chicago in size or scope.

The Browns Stadium is right on the lakefront.

And if you think we’ve got some screwy sculptures in Chicago, I dunno who came up with this one for Cleveland, and how they sold it to ‘em.

But they’re not entirely uncivilized. They don’t have

many bike lanes, but they do have some amenities for cyclists.

Lastly, the picture you’ve all been waiting for: the IBEW Local 1220 Delegation from Chicago: from left to right: Madeleine Monaco, Business Manage/Financial Secretary of Local 1220, Jim Sterne, Business Agent, and ME, Bob Kastigar, Executive Board Member.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Tuesday, 9/12/06, the second day

Arose early, went down for the free continental breakfast in the eating area. Waffle, didn’t turn out to good but I didn’t want to starve at the convention.

We started promptly at 9 AM, with another invocation, then got down to business right away. A few more guest speakers.

One of them was Lou Dobbs of CNN business fame. And he agreed to take questions from the audience. Good speaker, and outside the mainstream of ordinary business reporters. He admitted that he originally supported NAFTA but has since come to regret his mistake. He blamed both the Democrats and Republicans for failing to come up with meaningful labor and environmental protections, which they promised to negotiate. His insight was warmly received.

Another speaker, E. Milner Irvin is the President of the NECA – the National Electrical Contractors Association. As you can imagine, he was received politely but didn’t get a standing ovation. He’s a third-generation owner of an electrical contracting company based in the south. He was interesting, and tried to bring out problems that were facing the construction industry – problems that are going to impact members of the IBEW. He pointed out the need to address the problems head-on, that minor skirting around the edges wasn’t going to cut it. I had to give him credit, kinda like walking into the lion's den.

We heard from Ed Sullivan of the AFL-CIO Building and Trades Department. He said the AFL-CIO didn't favor gun control, because they knew many of our members hunted and fished. Rousing Applause! He told about the AFL-CIO stance on drug testing. Silence.

Another guest speaker was Matthew Caufield, retired Marine Corp Major General talking about the H2H, or Helmits to Hardhats program. Returning military are courted and given entrance into the IBEW to make the transition back to civilian life easier. He told us of the many testimonials. So far it seems as if this is only an IBEW program. He got pretty emotional about it, which is unusual for a former marine. This is a very important, and worthwhile program. Many of the participants in the program said they missed the closeness of military companionship - but found it again in the Brotherhood and compared the brotherhood to the military.

After lunch (which we ate in the supplied mess hall, sort of cafeteria style but it was sustenance) we heard from the Law Committee, chaired by Bro’ Mike Fitzgerald of Chicago’s Local 134.

The big issue: an increase in the per-capita: three bucks a month, spread over the next five years. Surprisingly, not much debate. Only one speaker from Canada pointing out that their local had the need for resources that this per-capita was going to take away from. I suspect there might have been planted some supportive comments, they were too well prepared and presented. On the other hand, at one point Bro’ Hill asked specifically for those in opposition to come forward and be heard so he actively sought to encourage debate.

A minor hiccup, and this technical error occurs at our local union meetings sometimes. Someone rose on a point-of-order and called for the question. Bro’ Hill immediately called for a vote on the question. Later, someone in the hall called him on it: the first vote should be on the question of limiting debate, and if affirmed then vote on the question. It’s a parliamentary question so ensure that debate isn’t stifled. Anyway, Bro’ Hill checked with the parliamentarian, acknowledged his error. We then voted to end the debate, and voted again to affirm the change in the constitution.

How do you have 2,138 delegates have a chance to speak, and be heard? Perry good system: there were about 15 kiosks around the hall. Anybody could step up to one, swiped their ID card. The kiosk was equipped with a microphone and a camera. Bro’ Hill would identify each speaker for the group. Nobody was shut out of speaking up.

The second change was to allow the International President to set the wages for the organizers to be hired as a part of this campaign. Per-diem hires? It was pointed out that these organizers are especially trained, know that this is part of their job. They come in, organize a place, and then move on to the next job where an organizing campaign is needed.

There were more law committee recommendations. I suppose we’re going to have to go through them tomorrow. Somebody motioned we skip and the “Whearas-es” and go directly to the meat of the matter, since we all have the recommendations in printed form in from of us anyway, and should have read them before this all came up. I think we’re going to do that.

The last speaker was Jack Moore, International Secretary Emeritus. Good speaker, and kind of a colorful guy. He was one of the labor dignitaries who escorted Harry Truman to the podium at the Democratic convention in the 40’s, just to give you some idea! He hasn’t lost it, he’sill as sharp as we was in the old days.

I took a couple of pictures in the hall. Hard to do, with the cheap camera and the hall is essentially pretty dark. I shut off the flash, so the foreground wouldn’t wash out. Not to bad. One picture from the back of the hall, and another picture of the stage area. TV monitors all over the place, so everybody could see everything and an excellent sound system too so you could understand every word. In fact, Bro’ Hill at one point walk around in the audience explaining how this organizing was going to work, and you could hear him very plainly and their wasn’t any feedback either!

Tonight, some kind of musical entertainment thing over in the Flats area of Cleveland (that’s a neighborhood) sponsored by the 4th District. Again, if I can edit this tomorrow I’ll include it, or maybe start out the next day with it

I edited this - let me tell you the Fourth District knows how to throw a party. It seemed like a genuine bacchanalian affair. There was food and music everywhere. Three floors of it, and an outside area as well. At the Powerhouse in the Nautica Entertainment center. You didn't just eat, drink, and enjoy - you absorbed the energy just by walking around. Of course part of it comes from feeling like you know everybody. Which you do, since you're all in the same union.

I ate a mussel. First time. Like chewing a rubber band. Tiny little thing in this big shell. I'm not sure I appreciate mussels. But they had everything from shrimp to roast beef and everything in between. Open bar. Several venues for entertainment and food at practically ev ery one: Howl at the Moon Saloon, Powerhouse Pub, Improv, Dance Club, Windows City View, the Dock Patio, the Plain Dealer Pavillion. Acts like the Dueling Piano Players, Armstrong Bearcat Band Blues, Charlie Wiener, comedian, Disco Inferno, a Steel Drum Band, and a Beatles ensemble. When they say "Cleveland Rocks!" they really mean it.

Naturally, pictures aren't going to cut it but here the entrance area, the music stage, a part of the crowd and only one of the food tables.

You really had to be there to appreciate this extraveganza!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday, the first day

Registered in at 8 AM eletronically. Got a pass card with a photo ID, which needed to be scanned every time you went into the coOnvention hall.

Started at 9, but we went through the US and Canadian national anthems, heard the NY drum and bugle corps, welcomes from several dignitaries. Oh, and an opening prayer too.

By 11, we got down to business. Nominations and elections of officers: everybody was relected by unanimous vote. Ed Hill, Intl President. Jon Walters, Intl Secy-Treasurer, Robert Pierson, Intl Exec Council President. (Yeah, Jenn, male, pale, stale) We sat through the nomination speeches and the acceptance speeches. Broke for lunch for two hours.

Came back, hear more speeches. John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO. Bill Burga, Pres. of Ohio AFL-CIO. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. He was a good speaker, very interesting to listen to.

Finally, keynote address from Pres. Ed Hill. Good ideas, good choice of words but lacking in inspiration, I think. In fact, the whole day I think I heard more cliches than one should have to listen to.

Then, the 6th District Caucus. I swiped in with my card, then snuck out early and went and rented a bicycle so I'd have some transportation and a little more independence. Nice bike, Releigh. Cleveland isn't the most bike-friendly city. One bike lane, over the bridge. Nice weather, though.

Sunday 9/10 the Travel Day

The plane was scheduled to leave at 7:10pm. It didn't leave until after 10 pm! As a result, we checked into the motel and got in bed after 1:30 AM Eastern Time.

We could have taken Amtrak and gotten here earlier.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The 37th IBEW Convention

The 37th International Convention of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will be held September 11-15, 2006 in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Cleveland Convention Center.

This year marks the 115th anniversary of the founding of the IBEW. The theme of the convention is “Rhythm of the Past, Drumbeat of the Future,” symbolizing the union’s respect for its long history and commitment to growth and remaining on the leading edge of technology in all aspects of the electrical industry of the future.

I'm just a "working stiff" selected by the members of my local union, IBEW Local 1220 in Chicago, to attend as one of the delegates from our local. I'll be leaving this afternoon, Sunday 9/10/06, along with Madeleine Monaco (Business Manager of Local 1220) and Jim Sterne (Business Agent) - the other two delegates from our local.

The number of delegates each local union sends depends on the size of the local, and I think there will be several thousand delegates from all over the US and Canada. I'm going to be a very small fish in a very large pond and know that I'm unlikely to have any considerable influence on the actions taken at this convention.

It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.

If all goes well, and I understand this blog-thing (this is my first attempt!) I'm hoping to post updates here of the activities and my impressions of the affair.