By Evan Henerson
When asked if he ever misses being out in the field with his fellow electricians, Shawn McDonald doesn’t miss a beat. “Of course I do,” says the man whose career with Cupertino Electric and Touchstone Engineering Corp has included projects ranging from working at CalTech, the Broad Museum, Burbank Airport, UCLA Medical Center and a bunch of school and college campuses.
“I took a brief hiatus during COVID and then I got back into the field,” said McDonald. “I was just going to take a regular Inside Wireman call because I had been in a supervisory role for so long. It was nice to get the tools back on, but that didn’t last for more than a week before someone called me to see if I wanted to be a General Foreman again. I guess once you’re on the job – and I was good at it and liked being a General Foreman – you continue doing it.”
By now, McDonald is accustomed to having his name called. The retirement of two previous members of the Local 11 Executive Board prompted the union’s Executive Board to ask McDonald whether he wanted to step up and fill a vacancy. McDonald, who had previously served on Local 11’s Examining Board, agreed.
The Executive Board appointment followed another opportunity with the union. In early 2020, he was asked to join the board of directors of the L.A. Electrical Workers Credit Union. Less than two years later, after the credit union’s previous CEO resigned, McDonald was approached to take over as CEO. He started the job in April.
“I’m here full time now,” McDonald said. “At the beginning of April, I removed myself from the field, I serve on the Executive Board and at the credit union. And I’m still on the board of directors of the credit union as well. This has given me a chance to really see the inner workings of the union and see where I can really make a difference.”
A native of Wisconsin, McDonald grew up in Minnesota, the son of a telecommunications lineman who worked for the phone company and was a CWA union member. McDonald’s father told him that electricians made pretty good money which prompted McDonald to enter the trade. He also took some business classes with an eye toward possibly running his own company someday.
A member of Local 159 in Madison, Wisconsin, McDonald joined Local 11 after relocating to southern California in 2001. He took residential calls when he first got to L.A. because, coming from Wisconsin, he didn’t fit into Local 11’s inside wireman classification. In his work with the residential electricians, McDonald notices that many of his brethren were having difficulty. He ended up helping with the contract campaign and getting involved in political action as well. He soon became a regular attendee at Local 11 meetings.
“I was taught at Local 159 that a union is only as strong as its members, that you have to show up and be involved,” he said. “I initially ran for the executive board because I wanted to increase my involvement.”
And whether serving as a foreman, as the leader of the credit union or helping to guide the local’s future as part of the Local 11 executive board, McDonald says he gets satisfaction from being of service. Although he will no longer strap on a tool belt, McDonald expects to find new ways to serve the brothers and sisters of Local 11 and their families by helping them secure their financial future through loans and services offered by the credit union.
“I like helping guys work their way up from the field to supervision, helping guys learn what a union is all about and helping to further your careers,” he said. “The best part about being in the union is the brotherhood. It’s all about the relationships you build.”