Business Manager: Sean W. Daly
White House Hosts IBEW Members for Policy Talks
The White House has been hosting IBEW members at events highlighting how the Biden-Harris administration’s policies positively impact their communities. Key participants included Minneapolis Local 292 Legislative Director Andy Snope, Milwaukee Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh, Local 494 apprentice Jess Berndt, and most recently, IBEW Second District Lead Organizer Steve Smith.
The Communities in Action forums are half-day meetings spotlighting the administration’s work with states and local governments, labor leaders, businesses, and other stakeholders, to leverage historic investments to create and expand opportunities for working families. At the events, IBEW members shared how the union plays a vital role in their lives.
A second-generation Local 494 member, Berndt told the Wisconsin group how the IBEW represents the key to a new career after working as a hairdresser, for the postal service, and as a probation and parole officer.
“The beauty of being in the trades is there are a gazillion opportunities out there,” Berndt said. “I could be a foreman, project manager, or on the local staff, or become an inspector or an instructor. All of these things are possible. In addition, in this day and age, the pension and benefits give you a sense of freedom.”
Berndt also discussed working on a public housing project being built with federal funds by the Milwaukee Housing Authority. As a kid, she lived near the new housing project, but her family moved to the suburbs as crime rates increased. “Today, there is new hope at Westlawn, and I am helping to rebuild it.”
Smith, a member of Boston Local 2222, said the IBEW is partnering with several utilities and public power associations in Massachusetts to maximize the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These include building a community-owned grid resilience project in Littleton and a microgrid project with Eversource Energy to deploy new technology and integrate additional solar generation in the state.
Snope described the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on Minnesota's renewable energy industry. Nonunion developers who pay low wages have dominated the renewable energy industry in the state. The low wages effectively priced out Minneapolis Local 292’s contractors. However, a new law signed by President Biden includes targeted tax incentives for renewable energy projects that utilize apprenticeship programs and high-road labor standards. As a result, Minnesota regulators approved a plan to build the largest solar project in the Midwest with union labor.
“The Sherco solar project will be one of the largest in the country,” Snope said in prepared remarks. “It will be built on the site of three coal-fired power plants that will soon be retired, creating 900 union construction jobs, reusing the land, and replacing the electricity with renewable power.”
Snope and Warsh spoke about the critical role of the IBEW in building out the electric vehicle charging infrastructure that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds throughout the states.
“Electric vehicle adoption is key to the country’s climate goals, and IBEW members in Minnesota are on the front lines of this transition,” Snope said. “Now that the Transportation Department requires the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP) certification for electricians working on these projects, this high-quality training is mandated for those installing and maintaining the network.”
The IBEW has close to 400 EVITP-certified members in Minnesota with more in the pipeline, Snope said.
Milwaukee Local 494 estimates they have 100 journey-level electricians who are EVITP-certified, Warsh said. He has implemented the training into its fifth-year apprenticeship curriculum.
Smith credited a Biden appointee, National Labor Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, for her efforts targeting captive audience meetings as violating the National Labor Relations Act.
“I truly appreciate General Counsel Abruzzo’s interpretation that they violate employees’ right to free speech because it’s a restriction on the right to a union,” Smith said. “We are trying to build a case on how often that happens. Clearly, she is committed to protecting workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively.”
The Biden administration periodically invites IBEW members to the White House for events, which are disseminated through the network of Government Affairs coordinators.