Local 11’s RENEW Sets Foundation for Next Generation
By Robert Fulton
Travis Cook, a second-year Inside Wireman apprentice, wanted to learn more about the union and meet other electricians his age. So someone suggested he check out Local 11’s Reach out and Engage Next-Gen Electrical Workers (RENEW) group.
Cook sought out the group and he is glad he did.
“It’s been so awesome to see what opportunities are available to us if you’re interested,” said Cook, 31, and RENEW’s incoming treasurer.
The goal of RENEW, which started in 2012 and is for members 35 and under, is to inspire younger workers to become more active in their union by educating them in how the union operates, developing the next generation of leadership and emphasizing the importance of labor history.
“This is our livelihood,” said Crystal Herrera, 36, RENEW’s outgoing president. “We should absolutely be active members of our union, and I think RENEW is one of the avenues that can make that happen.”
Herrera, who has been a Local 11 member since 2014, credits RENEW with jumpstarting her involvement in Local 11. She’s now on IBEW 11’s Executive Board.
Former presidents of RENEW stepping into other leadership roles within the union is not uncommon. RENEW’s first president, Alton Wilkerson, is now IBEW 11’s apprentice coordinator.
Acknowledging that union business can be confusing, tedious and foreign, RENEW makes an effort to break down what’s going on. Leadership goes over tools such as Robert’s Rules of Order and how to make a motion at a meeting.
Maybe the most significant development instituted by Herrera in recent years is RENEW’s Lead Program. As a Lead, a RENEW member acts as a liaison between the group and the local’s various districts and classifications. The Lead learns about how the union operates, builds relationships with current Local 11 leaders and relays news back to the RENEW membership as a whole.
“It really highlights young workers and pushes them to the front,” Herrera said. “I feel that young workers always hear information best from their peers.”
George Lopez, 32, began his involvement with RENEW after Herrera approached him on a jobsite in 2020. At the time, he didn’t know much about how the union worked or how to get involved. He joined the Lead program, and is now the incoming vice president for RENEW.
“It’s important for younger workers to have an avenue where you can come together and learn and be able to get involved,” said Lopez, who has been a Local 11 member for five years and turned out of the apprenticeship program in October.
RENEW is active on social media and the group also hosts a number of events during the year such as its Labor Day Luau and Friendsgiving event. There’s a national convention planned every two years. The St. Louis meeting in 2020 was held virtually and New Orleans is on tap for 2022.
Incoming RENEW President Celina Barron embraces a basic motto learned from her grandfather – if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain. She has taken that same approach in getting involved with IBEW 11, and RENEW has given her that voice.
“If I’m not actively trying to be part of what the solution is, then I don’t have the right to complain,” said Barron, 33, who has been an IBEW 11 member since 2012 and turned out of the apprenticeship program in 2017.
RENEW’s leaders see their involvement as a way to give back to their union while setting the foundation for the organization’s future success as well as for their own.
“Our union is incredibly strong,” Cook said. “But it only got that way from the work of the people who came before us. The only way it’s going to continue to be this strong is if we have leaders in my generation who want to learn the process.”
Added Herrera, “We’re the future of IBEW. It might be 20 years before we’re in those seats [of leadership], but we shouldn’t wait 20 years before we care about what’s going on here.”