BENEFITS OF UNION MEMBERSHIP
This information has been put together in an effort to address some common questions about the IBEW. There is a lot of confusion about our union. In brief, we are much like a Moose Lodge or any other social organization with one major specific difference. We believe that if we all follow a set group of rules that are established and administered in a democratic fashion, our lives will be better off both socially and economically. We also believe that we must be politically astute and active to protect the gains we make through collective bargaining. Business interests in this country would rather have us compete with each other as individuals in an effort to keep our wages down and their profits up.
Admittedly there are a few electricians who are able to demand and receive wages equal to or better than our collectively bargained rates, but they are very few. By and large, most unorganized electricians are earning $30.00 an hour with few or no benefits. IBEW electricians are earning $60.66 an hour in wages and benefits on every job except the North Slope or Pipeline, not just the Davis-Bacon or prevailing jobs.
The goal of Local Union 1547 and the entire INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS is to have every single electrical worker in the United States and Canada organized into a Local Union. Along with that goal, this Local Union has changed its rules to encourage membership and to conduct discussions with electrical workers. Feel free to stop by for advice, information on job safety, labor law, OSHA, or any other topic you care to discuss. What follows is a discussion about some of our basic benefits. Please write down your questions and stop by, call us, write us, or send an email to email@example.com. You will receive a written response to your questions. Call and let us know if you decide to stop by for a visit. We'll gladly show you around and talk with you.
I. WHAT IS A COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT?
The Agreement is the compilation of working rules that apply equally to all who work under its terms. It is the “contract” between each employee and the employer. The contract (or Agreement) is a binding document enforceable through arbitration. The Union is the entity that advocates for the employees while the National Electrical Contractor’s Association - Alaska Chapter (better known as NECA) advocates for the owners.
The contract establishes the wages paid, the benefits earned, the hours of work, when overtime applies, how employees are moved from job to job, what the employer supplies, and nearly every conceivable condition of employment. Local 1547 has negotiated agreements for construction electricians in the State of Alaska for over 60 years, starting in 1946. We have set the standard for working conditions for all electrical workers in the State, whether Union or not. Our working conditions are well defined and reasonable. These terms are reached by mutual agreement between NECA and the Union and subsequently approved (or disapproved) by our members in secret ballot elections.
The negotiated and democratic selection of our work rules removes from competition the one resource that all electrical contractors require to succeed in business, human effort. Jobs are won or lost based solely on the ability of contractors to perform their specific task as efficiently as possible, not based on who can find the cheapest labor. Unlike the unorganized contractors, our contractors compete solely on efficiency of operations. The curious fact is shop time in the Union sector is nearly identical to shop time in the unorganized sector. Where does all the money being saved by the unrepresented employer paying so much less go? Have you seen your boss’s home?
Our wages are not determined by whether we win or lose a job. We are never told that on this job you get $20, on the next job $37, and on the next job $16. We always earn our contractual rate. We decided long ago that as electrical workers we deserved a livable wage with appropriate benefits for when we could no longer work. That’s how our collective bargaining agreement evolved to what it is today.
Some unorganized contractors tell us our rules are noncompetitive, that they are overly restrictive, and that they cannot compete with these rules. The fact is these rules are uniformly applied to all contractors. They level the field of play so that everyone is competing on skill and ability, not on the backs of labor. If every unorganized contractor paid every electrician the same rate of pay, what else would there be to influence fair competition? That’s the precise purpose of the collective bargaining agreement.
IBEW represented electricians earn $38.02 an hour plus $22.64 in benefits on most jobs in Alaska. We have two other inside agreements that are both with the Oil Industry. Under the Trans Alaska Pipeline System and the North Slope Agreement our electricians earn reduced wages and benefits because, get this, the Oil companies have a monopoly of the work and can dictate these reduced wages. As long as they have a pool of workers willing to work for less, we must lower our wages and benefits in order to get work in these areas.
The companies with the largest profits in the history of mankind get a reduced rate because they use labor against itself. They get owners of non-union companies to agree to substandard wages and than rely on those companies to secure employees willing to work for those rates. Often those employees live in the Lower 48 where the economy is in a slump, or where the wages there are so low that the cut rates paid by Alaskan oil companies seem extravagant, thus depriving Alaskans work and our state from the economics of spending that money here, in Alaska, where it is earned!
II WHAT IS A REFERRAL PROCEDURE?
Through the collective bargaining process we have developed a mutually acceptable manner for work distribution to our members. In essence, all electrical workers in Alaska are eligible for work through our referral process. Likewise, electrical workers from throughout the United States and Canada who are present here in Alaska and seeking work have access to jobs through this process. Like any membership organization we try to take care of our members first. However, the rules that we have established apply equally to all, whether a member or not.
The way our system currently works is described following this paragraph. We say currently because our membership tells us how to run the referral and from time to time we will change the process based on their direction.
Priority dispatch is made from four different Books. The first two books require the applicant to be currently a journeyman electrician who has taken and passed a journeyman wireman’s examination from a Local Union of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Additionally, Book I requires the applicant be a resident of the State and to have worked at least 2080 hours within the jurisdiction of this Local Union (i.e. the State of Alaska) within the last four years.
Residents of Alaska have two other methods to qualify for Book I. The first is to have completed training through the Alaska Electrical Apprenticeship and Training Center. The second is to have worked at least 15,000 hours under the collective bargaining agreement during a lifetime.
Book II applicants are those who do not meet the residency requirement of Book I, or who don’t meet the hour requirement, or both. Book III applicants are residents of the State who have not tested out as journeymen but have worked under an agreement of this Local. Book IV applicants are anyone else.
The question in most unorganized electrical workers' minds is, “What Book will I sign?” The preferred answer is, “You won’t be signing any book because you’ll be employed.” If you are signing a Book it means you are unemployed. If you end up being unemployed, it depends on which of the criteria you meet on the above four books. If you’ve taken and passed the journeyman's examination, Book II will be the lowest book you will sign. If you came in with a shop that was organized, are a resident of the State of Alaska, worked at that shop or (whether you organized in with a shop or not) within the jurisdiction of Local 1547 for at least 2080 hours, and you’ve taken and passed our test you sign Book I.
This is a difficult topic to write on because there are so many variables. The biggest difference in how you find employment is that as a member or participant through the union we provide the referral under negotiated terms of employment. Unrepresented workers must find the work and then negotiate as individuals whatever terms the employer is offering.
III. WHAT ABOUT HEALTHCARE?
One of the negotiated terms of employment earned through union membership is healthcare coverage for you and your family. All members employed under the Inside Agreement have $9.15 contributed by the employer on a per hour basis to the Alaska Electrical Health and Welfare Fund.
Our plan covers the member, spouse, and children at an 80% rate with a maximum out-of-pocket cost to the family of $5,200. It has a $500 deductible for each individual or $1000 for the family. Once again, there are so many variables that to write on all the issues would require a book. In fact, the Trust Funds distribute a book to every participant to explain the various options and benefits available under the health care plan. Check out our website at www.aetf.com.
The pension is the key around which all of our working lives evolve. When we are young we are concerned about taking care of our selves, our family, and our loved ones. As we mature and grow in our professions we must look forward to the day when the young people we train will take our place and become the journeymen, foremen, and supervision of the future.
Every hour that we work under an IBEW agreement anywhere in the United States and Canada builds our pension here in Alaska. The Alaska Electrical Workers Pension Fund is reciprocal with nearly every other construction electrical plan under IBEW agreement. This means we are always building our retirement toward the day we decide we no longer want to work.
Retirement age is 58 for 100% benefit and 48 for early retirement at 50%. We currently have contributed to our pension fund $8.90 an hour for each hour worked under the Inside Electrical Agreement. The benefit at age 58 is determined by multiplying the number of hours worked for the year times the $8.90 rate and that figure by .012%. If you average 1500 hours per year for a ten year period, your benefit per month at age 58 (without factoring in the interest earnings and other plan improvements) would be $1600 per month for the rest of your life.
Recognize that most of us work more than 1500 hours per year while some work more than 2200 hours per year. The number of hours worked determines the pension payment. Go back through your career as an electrician and add up the hours you’ve worked. Multiply that figure by $8.90. Multiply the result by .012%. This would be the amount you’d receive upon retirement if you’d worked under a union contract at the $8.90 an hour rate.
Vesting in this plan requires five years of service. A year of service is credited for each calendar year that at least three hundred hours of contributions are made in your name. A typical question asked is if you work 1500 hours in one year, does that get five years of service? No. The three hundred hours is the minimum that must be reached to capture the year. There is no maximum.
The rules for pension vesting are uniformly applied and adopted by Trustees appointed by both the Union and the contractor’s association to represent the best interest of the Plan. Most nonunion plans that we hear of are established and administered by the employer with little or no control by the employees. Which would you prefer? Again, check out our website at www.aetf.com.
Another of our negotiated benefits is the annuity plan. Our contractors contribute $2.50 an hour into an annuity account at the Trust Funds. This fund is very similar to a 401K in that you can access the money under certain conditions. Like the 401 Plan, you must pay a 20% tax to the federal government (IRS) for early withdrawal.
Journeyman wages are $38.02. As part of the benefit of the annuity we are allowed to self-pay up to fifty percent (50%) of our gross wage to the annuity. Some of our members are self-paying ten percent (and more) of their wages to the fund. By the way, all money that is self paid is accessible twice each year without penalty for early withdrawal except that the interest earnings of that money are taxable.
We also have a legal fund established for members to use in their personal lives. The fund helps members with any non-business related personal issues. Our employer’s contribute fifteen cents an hour into this fund. This fund has been well used by our members for wills, marital issues, traffic violations, and other personal legal issues.
VII. APPRENTICESHIP AND TRAINING FUND.
The best an industry can offer its members/employees is the ability to learn new and improved skills to further enhance our ability as electrical workers. We have a nationwide apprenticeship program jointly administered by the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the IBEW. Here in Alaska we have a school located in Fairbanks and one in Anchorage. We, as union members, have an equal say in how the courses will be structured and presented. Our program teaches cutting edge courses in fiber optics, power generation, instrumentation, telecommunications, and electrical construction.
The electrical apprentices in our program serve a five year apprenticeship program consisting of five sessions of seven weeks duration, forty hours per week. In addition to this classroom experience, eight thousand hours of supervised on-the-job work is required before the apprenticeship is complete. Additionally the school teaches regular skill upgrade courses and industry standards such as first aid, hazwoper, CPR, confined space, fire alarm, code upgrade, and other course work for industry enhancement.
There is a great deal of information not presented here that can only be answered in person. If you or someone you know would like to meet with us or to talk some more about the IBEW and the benefits of union representation, contact us at (907) 272-6571. Ask for our organizer. Our mailing address is 3333 Denali Street, Suite 200 Anchorage, Alaska 99503.
When questioned about why he decided to join with the young upstarts within the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, "We might as well hang together, or we'll surely hang separately." In the IBEW, we hang together. Join Us!