Electricians Expose Exploitative Contracts, Poor Working Conditions

By Peter Garland

Over 90 electrical workers from across the country protested on October 10 outside the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) trade show in Nashville, Tennessee. NECA is a contractors’ syndicate with which all International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) local unions negotiate their contracts. The workers highlighted a recent contract dispute in IBEW Local 606 in Orlando, Florida, which instituted a seven-day workweek for all members in addition to ten-hour workdays. Tribune spoke with workers involved with the protest, who expressed their ongoing grievances with NECA and the union.

Earlier this year, contract negotiations began in Local 606, where the workers rejected NECA’s contract offer. The contract offered only a 15 cents per hour wage increase, in addition to increasing the workweek to seven-days, and increased the standard shift length from eight hours to ten.

According to union rules, workers are banned from going on strike, showing the limitations of the union to fight the contractors for a better offer. Instead the contract dispute went to arbitration in the supposedly “neutral” Council on Industrial Relations, which enforced the rejected contract on the workers. The Council has a history of siding with the contractors against the workers, recently cutting pay in the Daytona Beach, Florida local union by several dollars an hour.

Matt, a journeyman electrician in Local 606 who helped organize the Nashville protest, shared his concerns to Tribune about the national implications of this contract: “[The contract] can move very rapidly throughout the United States. IBEW 606 was just a starting point,” he said, “Once it’s implemented in one contract it can quickly move through the nation. Now things that people gave their life for are now going away. There once was a time when people fought and died for an eight-hour work day. And now with it implemented with one contract it could quickly turn throughout the nation into a ten-hour workday, into a seven-day workweek.”

“We just went through a pandemic and it’s like the contractors could care less,” Matt said, “[…] They want to play that card that the pandemic just happened when it comes around money but when we ask for safety and clean and sanitary spaces they want to act like the pandemic never existed.”

At the October 10 protest, electrical workers criticized the contract and sought to raise awareness on its implications for unionized workers. The workers demonstrated for six hours outside the NECA convention, but received little attention from monopoly media. Workers in the IBEW travelled from across the country, including sixteen workers from Orlando and five from Nashville, to stand in solidarity with Local 606 and to protest poor working conditions and bad contracts in their own local unions.

Matt told Tribune, “NECA forgets that without us there is no them … We can’t allow this to continue as workers. We cannot allow these contracts to get pushed through by people who are sitting in an international office or people that are going to Washington [DC]. With a swipe of a pen they’re changing our livelihoods.”

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