By Evan Henerson
When an event or a campaign needs an assist, Local 11 can count on Steve Grageda. Since joining the union in 2019, Grageda has racked up more volunteer hours than he could probably tally.
“When the pandemic hit, I must have volunteered 20 to 30 times,” says Grageda, a first-year apprentice inside wireman who works at Gregg Electric. “I went to food banks helping to deliver food to families as they drove through. I’ve done door-to-door campaigning for different mayoral elections. I’ve passed out turkeys at the ETI on Christmas. Anything my union is involved with, I try never to miss.”
Local 11 Political Director Antonio Sanchez, who has been an important figure in ramping up Grageda’s participation, calls Grageda “a succeeder.”
“He started attending volunteer events with the purpose of learning and wanting to become an active union member,” said Sanchez. “He’s such a great guy.”
As the 2022 midterm elections ramp up, Grageda figures his phone will be ringing off the hook. Whether it’s voting drives, neighborhood-canvassing or a rally, Grageda knows that getting the right, pro-labor candidates into office will pay dividends in the long term.
“I know that the congressmen and -women we support all bring work to IBEW 11,” says Grageda, who credits Local 11 Political Director Antonio Sanchez and Tommy Faavae for helping to get him involved. “We should support them and show them that we’ve got their backs. It comes back around ten-fold. These people bring the work to us, and then it becomes more meaningful when you’re at the site because you know what went into it.”
Married to Samantha and father to daughters Alexzandria, Mason and Miranda, Grageda says he is making up for lost time. He spent nearly 15 years in a penitentiary and has been through programs with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and 2nd Call. Upon his release, he quickly picked up his career as an electrician and joined the Local 11 in 2019. Even at 53, and as a first-year apprentice, he is grateful to be able to earn a living wage and support his family.
“I left the streets when I was 35 and came back when I was 50, and I joined Local 11 in 2019,” Grageda says. “I’ve never looked back. I’m still running forward in a positive way.”
Once he turns out, Grageda expects to spend another five or more years in the field and hopefully one day move up and become a business rep or organizer. In the meantime, he continues to preach the values of unions to young people he encounters.
“I want to be able to bring people into my union and show them the way, show them what it did for me,” he said. “I want the youth who are graduating at 18 to see the positive notes: Hey, come to the union. Support your family. Have a pension.”
Sanchez was particularly touched by Grageda’s realization of the impact of being within the brotherhood. After having been repeatedly asked whether he was proud that he joined a union, Grageda said it didn’t hit him until he was undertaking what most people would consider a routine family errand.
“He was taking his kids to the dentist for the first time,” recalls Sanchez, “and he said, ‘I finally felt like I had made it when I qualified for health benefits and could take my daughter to the dentist.’”