IBEW delegates and this year’s conference guests from the United Steelworkers, the International Association of Machinists and the Communications Workers of America-IUE representing workers at the U.S. operations of Siemens, listened closely. “It was eye-opening for U.S. trade unionists to contrast the labor-management relationships between Siemens and unionists in Germany and the U.S.,” says IBEW Manufacturing Department Director Randal Middleton.
“We learned a great deal about the “three-legged stool” of union, workers council, company dealings,” says Middleton, who assists local unions in collective bargaining at Siemens and helps organizers win campaigns at the company’s non-represented plants.
The IBEW and Siemens recently negotiated a first collective bargaining agreement in Portland, Oregon covering customer service representatives who successfully organized in 2014. Out of 60,000 workers at the company’s U.S. operations, only 3,250 belong to unions.
The theme of IBEW’s conference was “Collective Action.” The concept encompasses the promotion of the union’s code of excellence, first developed in the Brotherhood’s electrical construction branch to build a more positive image for the union across North America and help neutralize opposition to organizing.
IBEW International President Emeritus Edwin D. Hill pointed to the importance of the code of excellence, citing the words of CEO Ivan Tepper of Delta Star, an IBEW-organized transformer plant in Lynchburg, Virginia in the overwhelmingly unorganized U.S. South.
“We see real advantages to having a union workforce,” Tepper told the IBEW. “We compete on quality. Because our workers have a voice, it improves the work we do.”
Delegates expressed hope that a similar relationship will be developed with Siemens. To further that effort, IBEW invited Siemens Senior Director of Human Resources Lee Vickers to address attendees on the company’s business plan and agenda for growth. Following his remarks to the conference, Vickers accompanied IBEW representatives to the National Training Institute, a labor-management electrical industry partnership in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“Lee Vickers was totally impressed by the sophistication of our training program and we hope to have further discussion with Siemens about working together to provide better training,” Middleton says.
Relationships between U.S. and German trade unionists are also supported by governmental ties, says Middleton.
On July 31, Germany’s Counselor of Labor Health and Social Affairs, Hermann Nehls and Counselor of Science and Technology Dr. Karsten Hess met with Middleton and other union leaders at the training center managed by IBEW Local 26 in Washington, D.C.
“We are constantly learning from the experience of trade unionists overseas,” says Middleton. “Dirk Linder, the Siemens Global Union Network and our other German friends have been invaluable in helping keep our eyes on the future at Siemens, one of the world’s premier companies.”