Getting Political: Amplifying the Union’s Voice 

Local 11 Political Director Antonio Sanchez Builds Relationship, Ensures Local 11 has a Seat at the Table

Antonio Sanchez has worked as IBEW 11’s political director since 2013, trying to shape policy and ensure that the priorities of IBEW 11 members are voiced at the local, state and national levels.

Sanchez grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and he worked for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor before joining Local 11. Armed with a master’s degree in urban planning from UCLA, Sanchez builds relationships, keeps tabs on area politicians and advocates for important legislation.

News@11 recently spoke with Sanchez.

What does the political director do?
I divide my work between several categories. One is the political work that I do. Another is the policy work that I do. And then a third is the business development work that I do. The categories tend to mesh together. Sometimes they’re separate. It really depends on the issue and what the goal is.

What do you mean by “policy work”?
A lot of it is focused on securing more work for our contractors and for our members. So, asking a school board to implement a project labor agreement (PLA) — I see that as our policy work making sure that they have an understanding of the targeted hire, of the local hire, and are connected to the building trades so that they can negotiate the PLA.

The political aspect of asking a school board to approve a PLA is making sure that your allies are elected. What we’ve done in the past is change the makeup of a school district through the political arm, spending some of our PAC dollars to either try to get someone out that we know is anti-union, or if there’s an open seat, making sure that we get someone who is pro-labor.

You mentioned business development. What does that entail?
Ensuring that our contractors are aware of certain projects and that they’re bidding the work, that they’re going after the work.

Politics can seem like such a remote thing for your everyday journeyman. How does what you do relate to what they do, or how does it affect what they do?
I’m confident that most of our members have taken a job call that was secured through a PLA. That’s a big focus of mine. If someone has taken a job call at LA Metro, a job call at LAX, a call at LAUSD… a lot of those were secured through PLAs. And we ensure that elected officials on these boards know us, have been to our training center and are supportive of hiring our members, hiring our union.

Not all unions have the benefit of having a political director on board. How does having a political director at IBEW 11 help the local?
I have the relationships and the time to meet with policy makers, to meet with their staff, to build a relationship and advocate for our issues. What sorts of things are you looking for when doing interviews for endorsements? I like to let the candidate speak and see where they take the conversation. That’s usually how I lead — by letting them speak. I’m looking for thoughts and positions on energy, our energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and how our members fit in that transition in the candidate’s mind. They may not even be thinking about it, so I want to see what their platform is and if it focuses or overlaps with our big issues. Generally speaking, it’s energy, it’s construction, it’s housing.

What are some challenges you run into in your position?
Making sure whoever builds housing is able to afford it and making sure that prevailing wage is included in residential construction. That’s a big policy challenge. Overall, we’re aggressively going after solar work — not just large industrial-scale solar projects, but smaller projects. We’re aggressively going after more solar and battery storage work.

Is it challenging to hold electeds accountable, or keeping an eye on legislation that might be floating around?
It’s always challenging maintaining relationships because there are so many elected officials in the county. I try to make sure to reach out and stay on people’s radars because that means our members are on their minds. Fortunately, we have a team in Sacramento that tracks our bills along with the State Building Trades Council. So, they do most of that work, in addition to our team in Sacramento.

What’s the most rewarding part about what you do?
I love being able to walk into a meeting and remind the policy makers that they have to advocate for working families. That’s my job. That’s why I’m here. You’ve got to build trust and build a relationship with someone, and that takes time. Building a relationship can be challenging. One of the reasons we’re so good at what we do now is that we’ve been around, and people know who we are. They trust us and they know that we’ll keep our word.

Focused more on 2022 specifically, what are some front-burner topics, legislation or local races that you’re focused on?
LA County is going to see about a dozen new state legislatures. That’s a lot. That’s a consequence of redistricting and legislators deciding not to run for reelection. So, the focus has been, let’s see who the new candidates are. The open seats at the legislature have been a focus of mine.

Is there any legislation that the members should know about?
We’re sponsoring a bill, AB 2143, by Wendy Carillo. That’s our bill. That bill will secure more solar work for IBEW, and it’s working its way through committee right now.

Are there any specific contests you would like to highlight as being critical?
They’re all important. We’ll highlight Mike Fong, who just got elected. It was wonderful to see Mike go from the LA Community College District to elected office. He ran in a special election. It opened up this opportunity for Mike to be able to run for Assembly and win. He’s a member of Local 11. There are multiple open seats. When Juan Carillo was on the Palmdale School District, he helped pass a PLA. Then, he was elected to the Palmdale City Council, where he’s been an ally. Now he’s running for State Assembly. We’ve endorsed Juan. It would be incredible to see him. The guy’s an immigrant and he’s a planner by training, so he knows policy, but he’s been elected to office, so he knows politics, and he knows IBEW. So, we’re definitely tracking that race and doing everything we can to help him win. The City of Los Angeles is electing a new mayor. The City of Long Beach is electing a new mayor. Both councils will also see new members. This year is incredibly important for our future in these two cities.

Anything you’d like to add?
When I go to a state association meeting, or a conference in D.C., IBEW Local 11 is always recognized and well-respected because we are one of the most progressive unions, We are one of the most diverse locals, and what happens here in LA tends to have a ripple effect and is duplicated in other cities and in other states. I’m very proud of who we are and who we represent.

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