By Oren Peleg
Juan Uribe has seen it all, going from a homeless kid to a superintendent with IBEW 11 signatory A&H Electric on the City of Hope project. The key to his success, he says, is not luck, but hard work and the opportunities provided by the union.
As a baby, Uribe and his family moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, arriving at the Greyhound bus station in downtown LA with nowhere to go. “We were in the street for a bit until the Salvation Army helped us out,” Uribe, the youngest of six children, recalls. They soon moved in with a relative, but then more bad luck ensued, with Uribe contracting meningitis.
He survived, and by the time he was 12, the family was living in Compton. There, he was hired on to an after-school work program called Tree of Life. With such a large family, Uribe explains, “I had to fend for myself to put clothes on my back, or to buy something I wanted.”
The program was PLA work with the city’s parks and recreation department, and it helped teach a young Uribe financial literacy. Each time he’d go in to pick up a paycheck, he was given a new task: open a bank account, open a savings account, save $200 or start a line of credit. “I was already set up for success through them,” Uribe says.
It was training that would quickly pay dividends. One of Uribe’s first purchases was a 1968 Camaro. He was able to flip the car purchase and “use the money as the down payment on my mom’s first house.” A few years later, at 18, Uribe would become a property owner himself, buying a duplex. But if Uribe’s life seems like a string of exceptional luck, he is quick to say that it’s the result of effort, proper guidance, and “having the right people and the correct programs around you.”
About the same time he became a property owner, Uribe began working as an electrician. In his early 20s, he was organized into IBEW Local 11 where he’s been a member for the last 16 years. “I went from foreman, to general foreman, to superintendent three-and-a-half years ago,” he explains.
Looking ahead, Uribe says he’s committed to teen outreach and career programs. He frequents high school job fairs where he sets up a booth, “and I say here are your job opportunities, labor opportunities, and then let them know about IBEW and other trades that are available” to show them the path to success.
Do young people today have access to the same educational opportunities that he was afforded? “That’s mostly gone away,” he laments. “And it’s a shame, because it was very impactful.” What opportunities does Uribe believe can help change a life and lead to lasting success? Without missing a beat, he says: “The union.”