By Robert Fulton
After more than 50 years as a union member – the last 45 with IBEW Local 11 – Business Agent Pat Owens is hanging up his toolbelt.
“What a pleasure it’s been to serve,” said Owens, 68. “The good times, the bad times. I feel so privileged that I was chosen so long ago and that there are those who continue to choose me. I’m extremely appreciative. What a great experience!”
Owens was born and raised in Downey, where he still lives with his wife of 30 years. His father, who had a career as a Public Works Inspector for the City of Los Angeles, encouraged Pat to seek a career in the trades. The older Owens worked with various streetlight and traffic signal contractors and saw how well their employees lived, so he suggested his son become either an electrician or a laborer. Owens chose the former.
“Electricians, contract-wise, always made out pretty good,” Owens said. “We had enough training and skills available to keep ourselves up to speed. The amount of work was prevalent and looked like it would continue to be prevalent, so it was very attractive as a career with good pay and good benefits.”
This was not Owens’ first union job. Before joining the trade, he worked for grocery stores as a member of what is now UFCW. At the age of 24, he sought out a more rewarding career to provide for his young family, so he joined IBEW Local 11. Owens would go on to earn two classifications: Traffic Signal and Street Lighting Technician, and a Journeyman Inside Wireman.
For the past 25 years, Owens has worked for Local 11 under numerous administrations. He is the Intelligent Transportation Business Agent, but he oversees so much more. Smaller units he’s responsible for include a billboard company, stationary crane installers and a sign employer. Owens is also tasked with overseeing the Railroad Agreement making him the only Business Agent to work with this unit since it joined the Local 11 fold in 1992. Local 11 members maintain railroad signals, gates and communications equipment.
Owens has seen plenty of changes during his time working in the traffic signal industry, witnessing huge advancements in technology.
“As technology has improved, this whole part of the electrical trade has evolved to upgrading what used to be mechanical signals to what you see now,” he said.
Owens anticipates plenty of work coming down the pipeline.
“We’re going to hit a huge wave – it’s already started, but it will continue – of infrastructure improvements,” Owens said. “Public works is going to be prevalent always. People will always need to get around.”
Early in his career, a mentor to Owens explained the bigger picture of unionism, that it was more than turning screws and hammering nails. He learned that the real opportunity where he could make a broader impact was in finding work and fighting for members.
“That’s what piqued my interest,” Owens said. “I thought I could come in and continue to give people opportunities.”
Owens has four children, and one of his sons is also a Local 11 member. In retirement, he plans to spend plenty of time working on a 1960s-era mountain cabin he purchased in Sequoia.
He appreciates the opportunity that Local 11 and unionism has given him.
“The union cause is a band of members – brothers and sisters – that are on the same page and have the same goals as a group and not individuals,” Owens said. “Unions are strong when members participate, and we set a goal and collectively band together and go forward.”
“As long as people are willing to lift up and not tear down, unions will continue to be strong and get stronger.”