By Oren Peleg
Hector Campos, a Local 11 inside wireman, became a US Citizen last November after what he labels “50 years of procrastinating.”
The El Salvador-native came to Los Angeles in 1972, at the age of 16. He attended Belmont High School, just outside of downtown LA, and graduated in 1974 with high honors. “After I left high school, I did a year of college, but it wasn’t for me,” Campos says. He decided to join the U.S. Navy, enlisting in 1976 with the plan “to get schooling there, and I got what I wanted.”
The Navy turned out to be a great place to learn the electrical trade. “It’s pretty fast-paced and intensive,” Campos says. “They’ll teach you what you need to know in order to work on the ship where there’s 480 people moving around. It’s pretty good.”
The six years Campos spent on the USS Southerland were rather peaceful. The Vietnam War had just ended, and the world political order remained in a delicate balance. When he left the Navy in 1981, Campos continued as an electrician. “It was my trade [then], and it’s been my trade ever since,” he says.
Campos was hired at Mass Electric, and he started working in power plants across California, including those at Long Beach and Walnut Creek in the Bay Area. He also worked at the Scattergood generating station near LAX. “That was something that I liked a lot,” Campos says, noting that Mass Electric had solid safety protocols and that the company treated him well. “They didn’t need to take me by the hand, and I appreciated that,” he says.
Over the ensuing years, Campos has established himself as a skilled and talented general electrician. “I can troubleshoot, I worked maintenance in the industrial sector,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “I’m pretty good overall if you don’t mind me saying so.”
For the first 26 years of his career in the private sector, Campos says he avoided joining a union largely because of negative hearsay. If you don’t know anything, you get easily distracted by what other people tell you.”
But when the 2008 recession hit and money was especially tight, Campos finally decided to join his Local 11 brothers and sisters, a move he called “the best decision I ever made. It changed my life.” The union has given him benefits he never previously enjoyed and has made the process of finding new jobs easier.
“It’s easier money,” says Campos whose two sons have followed in their dad’s footsteps, becoming Local 11 electricians as well.
Reflecting on his nearly 50 years as an electrician, Campos says he wants apprentices to “be diligent of the work, be proud of what they do, and respect electricity.”
And to anyone reluctant to join the union as Campos once was, he recommends they “don’t listen to what other people say, but go and get the facts yourself from the office. People are always going to give you the negative aspects of something. Check it out yourself.”
Oh, and about that citizenship ceremony last November? It took place – fittingly enough – aboard the Navy Battleship USS Iowa, on Veterans Day.