One union representing San Bernardino County employees has played a significant role in local elections for many years, sometimes able to change outcomes through generous campaign donations. That union is the Safety Employees Benefit Association, better known as SEBA, the union that represents law enforcement officers.
The other large union, the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which represents more than 10,000 county employees, has not been nearly as successful. Employees represented by SBPEA have historically received much less in their contracts and county managers have been allowed to get away with creating hostile work environments, up to and including physical violence against employees.
SBPEA is known for taking management’s side on major issues all the while using employee dues to donate heavily to board of supervisors candidates. General employees often find they are on the wrong side of both county management and union management even though dues and monies for political action are forcibly taken from their paychecks every two weeks.
There have been a variety of decertification efforts over the years. Some have been successful, such as county nurses leaving SBPEA and joining the California Nurses Association; the public attorneys starting their own association; and most recently, city of San Bernardino employees leaving SBPEA for an international union.
The remaining bargaining units of SBPEA have not had as much luck. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) tried a hostile decertification effort some years ago but was not successful. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) seriously considered an attempt a few years ago but did not feel employees were committed enough for it to be successful.
More than a year ago, a small group of county employees contacted the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) for help with a potential decertification campaign. They have been working quietly behind the scenes toward that goal.
IBEW representative Stan Stosel agreed to answer questions for a series of articles to explain the process and the changes such a campaign could bring about. If successful, political action and the unions’ influence over the political process could be changed in San Bernardino for decades to come. Readers can decide for themselves if the impact is positive or negative.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the IBEW?
Stosel: IBEW is short for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. It was founded in 1891 and has successfully been serving workers for 121 years.
Originally founded by Lineman and Electricians, it wasn’t long before the IBEW branched out to represent other classifications. By 1900 the union had organized telephone workers and as early 1892 the IBEW had its first woman member.
Today’s IBEW continues to represent workers in the electrical industry, but now includes both private and public sector workers in the United States and Canada. The different classifications represented by the IBEW are in the thousands.
The IBEW has its International Office in Washington, D.C. There are over 750 Locals in the United States. California has 40 Local Unions.
A Local is an autonomous unit that represents workers in a certain geographic region (for example, Los Angeles County, Riverside County or San Bernardino County) or within a employer’s territory (i.e., Southern California Edison, CBS Broadcasting, etc.)
Each Local has its own by-laws and regulations. Every head of a Local is elected by the membership of that Local. Elections are generally held every 3 years.
The International President is elected every 5 years by a vote of all Locals.
Today there are over 650,000 IBEW members. The size of the International organization gives us clout on the regional, state, and national levels. The local union structure allows for the responsiveness to the issues that most directly affect members. The combination of both a national and local structure allows for optimal representation for IBEW members.
An important thing to understand about the IBEW is that it is a Democratic structure – the members elect their leaders and ratify their contracts.
There is no doubt that there has been an attack on American workers. As part of that assault, unions have been demonized due to their efforts to protect workers. But of late public sector workers and unions that represent them have been subject to the most vicious attacks. Wages have been flat, benefits have eroded, and working conditions have deteriorated.
The IBEW, because it represents workers in both public and private sectors, is situated at the crossroads of the American Labor Movement. It is dedicated to representing workers in their efforts to secure decent wages, benefits, and working conditions.
San Bernardino County employees and their families are invited to an informational meet and greet barbecue on Nov. 10 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 1405 Spruce Street, Suite H, Riverside, California. For more information, contact email@example.com.