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From the October/November issue of UDR, #144

IBEW delegates demand due process in construction hiring.

Delegates to last year's 36th convention of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers faced up to one of the most egregious practices in the construction trades, a practice which undermines union strength and militates against union democracy. They adopted resolutions calling for a new due process system in construction hiring. It would limit a right now universally enjoyed by construction employers in all the trades: the right to reject any applicant for employment for any reason and without explanation. It would instead permit rejection only for good cause and would require employers to explain the reason for rejection. This proposal might seem a simple quest for due process in hiring. In the construction trades, its achievement would be revolutionary.

Three locals submitted similar resolutions. One, proposed by Local 292 in Minneapolis, noted that "... language exists in construction contracts which permits unilateral power for employers to stifle and punish stewards and other union activists ... [and] has a crushing intimidating effect on members who might otherwise raise their voices in support of proper safety, union negotiated contracts, and the IBEW's jurisdiction ... [and leads to] a natural progression of the blackballing threat in past or future lives." It concludes with a call to amend construction contracts by changing the "right to reject" language with "right to reject with proper cause."

The resolution submitted by Locals 64 and 573, both of Ohio, referring to the "right to reject," explains: "It has been revealed that some employers are misusing this provision because of personal or other factors not related to an applicants' ability to perform the job; and in some instances are effectively blackblalling applicants by advising other contractors not to hire them." It proposes "new language that would require an employer rejecting an applicant to provide the applicant and his or her local union with the reason for the rejection."

Sentiment for the change must be rising. The officially-appointed convention committee reported that it "agrees wholeheartedly with the objectives of these resolutions." They were adopted by applauding delegates.

Up to now, the IBEW has required that all local construction contracts contain this unambiguous clause: "The employer shall have the right to reject any applicant for employment."

This provision has deadly effects in the construction trade where jobs are short-lived, and electricians move from one job to the other, always seeking referral from their union hiring halls. Some employers maintain blacklists to exchange the names of good, loyal members who talk up union on the job, who become job stewards and insist on enforcement of contract terms. AUD files contain copies of at least two such blacklists used by employers in the past. Those who represent their members conscientiously find themselves unaccountably rejected when they are referred to a new job. Workers who file grievances on one job face a no-win situation; win or lose, they discover to their dismay that they are barred from employment on the next. Under the present system, neither the union nor its members have recourse because employers have that unchallengeable right to reject.

What is a discouraging disability for any active union member can be lethal for those independent-minded unionists who criticize their union officials. No need for an unscrupulous business agent to bar a dissident from the hiring hall; he can dispatch his critic to a job but tip off the employer in advance that a 'troublemaker' will be coming along.

It will not be easy to change a system which, for decades, has been deeply imbedded in all the construction trades. Employers will surely resist the change. Local 292 insists that "the present workforce shortages give this Brotherhood the highest degree of leverage to modify this language." Will IBEW leaders seize the opportunity to fight vigorously for a change so urgently needed in construction? If so, it will lead the way for all the trades.

IBEW manager speaks out.

Mark Catello, Local 573 business manager, told IBEW convention delegates why he supported its proposed resolution.

"... I am an inside wireman .... The resolution affects every brother and sister that works in the construction industry. Rejections are tearing apart this great Brotherhood at the seams because of the things that we believe in, how we act, and what we say: the ongoing rejections of good union stewards, activists, and the everyday Joe that goes to work with dignity, self-pride, and the idea of eight for eight, no more, no less.

"I stand before you as a new business manager and a past working president of my local for the last six years. I've been in this Brotherhood for fourteen years, and the last nine years as an officer with a target on my back. Like some of you sitting here today, I've been rejected, fired, and had many tactics used against me because of my union loyalty to this Brotherhood. It is time to change the right to reject without giving a reason. The time has come to stop this tactic against our brothers and sisters by giving our leaders of the IBEW the power to negotiate with NECA [electrical employers association] and have rejection with a reason. This is what we have always wanted for a long time, just a reason why. God bless this great Brotherhood."

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