Energy Independence: Union Leader Optimistic About the Future of a Skilled Workforce

Robert Frost is the business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local 440 in Southern California’s Inland Empire. He spoke recently with Sean Reynolds of Energy Independence Magazine about his members, and why he believes that union electrical workers are best suited to build the future of America.

Riverside, CA (PRWEB) November 04, 2013

Since 1939, his organization has helped to build and maintain Riverside County. Frost says their mission is to be the collective voice for the many men and women employed in electrical industries. The greater IBEW represents approximately 725,000 members worldwide who work in a wide variety of fields, including utilities, construction, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing, railroads and government. Fifteen years ago, he says, Local 440 had about 300 members, and today they have close to 1,000. “We’re growing,” Frost says. “We’re a vital part of the community.”

When asked about the perception that union members earn a disproportionately higher salary compared with non-union craft people, Frost said, “Our members don’t make an exorbitant wage. They are the coaches on softball teams. They go to church with everybody else. They participate in the community. Our members don’t get rich off of working in the industry, but they’re able to buy a house in the community and support their families.”

“The contractor is getting a skilled worker,” he says. “At the journeyman level, they are educated and skilled so that the contractor doesn’t worry when they arrive on the job site. They can hand our members the prints and the materials. The project is completed on time and on budget. This is a key issue for the customer,” Frost says.

The IBEW, along with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), sponsors the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJACT), an organization whose mission is to train a skilled workforce of union electricians. It is a five-year training program that begins with learning the basics of electrical application and theory, then continues on to include advanced skills like computer programming for large power plants. The students get paid for on-the-job training during the day, then go to school at night and earn college credits. Frost says that one of the reasons NJACT’s program differs from other contractor-based training is that they constantly review the program to include new technology. “We update the training to meet today’s demands,” he says.

Regarding green energy, Frost says he favors lessening the dependency on fossil fuels by the use of emerging technologies like wind generators and electric vehicles. He also stresses the importance of using union electricians to install and maintain systems like photovoltaic (PV) panels in residential neighborhoods. “The difference is they’ve been educated on the hazards of these panels. When they come to a site, they have done all of the evaluations that you need as a customer. Would you want to put a person on your roof installing solar panels in your home that only went through a 40-hour class? Our people have gone through a five-year training program on all the different issues of proper installation, including safety requirements and making sure that your system is properly grounded so that there are no hazards to you, your pets, or anyone else in the house. These systems are generating high voltage. Would you want them installed by someone who only had two week’s training?”

Local 440 is currently working with the Riverside Community College District on three separate campuses. “These are great projects, beautifully designed by local architects,” Frost said, adding, the job will be done on time with a local hire rate “well over 70 percent.” The IBEW works closely with NECA. Frost says they are a key partner because, “They’re the ones that bid the job. They put everything at risk and, if they are not making a profit, our people aren’t working. So, our guys go out and perform for them.”

“We have a program that we call ‘Code of Excellence’ where we guarantee to the customer that our members will give them eight hours of work for eight hours of pay. They will show up on time and do a professional job.”

“The IBEW and their contractors are the working class,” Frost says. They are the ones building the future, reaching out to veterans and working with the educational sector. “We are a vital part of the community,” Frost says. “We want to see a strong America.”