On October 9, Patrick Guidice, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1049, was the guest speaker at LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action). He discussed how organized labor makes a positive impact on Long Island’s economy.
IBEW Local 1049, which was formed in 1937, currently has 49,000 members. The union represents gas line mechanics, electric transmission workers, call center operators and customer service representatives for local utilities such as National Grid, PSEG and, most recently, Altice USA. In addition, the union is very involved in the community, supporting organizations such as United Way of Long Island and the March of Dimes. Local 1049 also works with veterans’ groups which provide assistance to veterans living with PTSD and other disabilities.
Mr. Guidice said younger people should look into joining a union because these jobs provide livable wages that make it more affordable for them to live on Long Island. Union benefits also include generous health and retirement plans. “That’s the best stimulus for our economy,” he said. “It’s all about the economy and getting people to invest in the local economy. By investing more, it helps everyone. It’s a cycle and we are proud to be a part of that cycle.” He also noted that some have taken these jobs later in life: one lineman used to be a lawyer and another worker was a trader on Wall Street.
He visits local high school and college students at career fairs in an effort to get them interested in the trades. Two public colleges — SUNY-Oneonta and SUNY-Cortland — offer line worker courses as part of their curricula. To work as a line worker or other union job, applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, a permit for a commercial driver’s license and no criminal record.
Both Local 1049 and Local 25 offer apprenticeships for young people to train them for certain positions. It is for three-and-a-half years and, once they complete the program, they will have the opportunity to work in the field. They will learn how to climb poles and how to work on an elevated position from 40 feet above the ground. The starting salary for a line worker is $28 an hour; every six months, they receive a step increase in pay. There is also overtime available. Mr. Guidice said that workers can expect to make six-figure salaries within three-and-a-half years.
However, “it’s not easy work and it’s not for everyone,” Mr. Guidice said. “Climbing up 40 feet is not a natural act.”
Those who are interested in being an apprentice must undergo an interview, similar to a job interview. They must look presentable, they have to answer questions whether they are a good fit for the program and they have to be prepared, which means learning what the prospective employer does. They also need to know which vocation they will enter into. “You can do anything you want to in life,” Mr. Guidice said. “You just need to aim for your goal.”
Mr. Guidice was asked about the diminishing numbers of unions and the low number of women and minorities in union membership. In response, he said, “We are omitted to ensure that we have the best-trained people, and we are adaptable to every emerging technology.” He also emphasized that his union has encouraged women to take on more nontraditional roles in the union, such as line and utility workers, and has seen more minorities join its ranks.
With the 2020 election season nearing the end next month, Mr. Guidice emphasized that they openly support candidates who, in turn, support organized labor, regardless of their political affiliation. He
thanked the Long Island Federation of Labor for its work in holding elected officials accountable.