Month: October 2012

Walking the Walk: IBEW District 6 & Portland, OR

IBEW 6TH DISTRICT PROGRESS MEETING 2012-211© Tracy Tolbert, 2012
photos © Tracy K.Tolbert, 2012. Tracy is President of IBEW Local 352 in Lansing, MI. Thanks, Tracy!

—by Susan Eisenberg

I’ve been feeling encouraged . . .

Wow! Until I arrived in Green Bay, WI for the IBEW District 6 Progress Meeting, I was unaware that District 6 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota & Wisconsin) was first to hold annual women’s conferences, started under then-District 6 VP Jim Conway. I was deeply honored to have the opportunity to address their 29th (yes!!!) consecutive Women’s Conference, and impressed by the seriousness of the conversation. The hotel had a golf course and casino, but business managers, reps and District and IO officials were all at the Women’s Conference, convened by the awesome District 6 VP Lonnie Stephenson. I loved listening to 5 women tell their Herstories, like Carmon Ellis, who spoke about being a diesel mechanic and President-Business Manager of Local 1865, the first woman to follow her family’s tradition of railroad work, while we watched images of her great-grandfather at work.

So much impressed me! The large number of women in leadership positions and women’s visibility at the Progress Meeting were clear results of respectful relationships built over decades. Each participant received a copy of We’ll Call You If We Need You. I was moved by the many thoughtful comments and conversations that generated.

Some questions that came up:
Given the discrepancy between the percentage of women in the military vs. construction jobs, how can Helmet to Hardhats better represent women veterans and bring them into union construction careers (one BA asked why he’s always sent men)?
In circumstances where discrimination/sexual harassment cases are more challenging for a local to handle, and systems or good intentions break down, what expertise and leadership can the District bring to the situation, so that fairness and the union’s reputation aren’t compromised?
Looking forward to what District 6 will achieve at their 30!

Thanks to the leadership of Oregon Tradeswomen’s Network and their partners, Portland passed groundbreaking legislation. Check out the details of the Portland Community Benefits Agreement. It establishes guidelines for city construction that link a commitment to building union with a commitment to women and minority hiring goals and encourages contractors to diversify their core workforce. I’m particularly impressed that the 9% goals for women apply BOTH to apprentices AND journeylevel: an important precedent that I hope OFCCP will adopt. I’ll be raising the Portland model when I speak next week in the Twin Cities. I’m curious and hopeful to see both what success Portland really can achieve, and what ripple effect this can create in other parts of the country.

So much is at stake in next Tuesday’s election. I hope everyone votes at least once!