A Voice for Apprentices: Cristopher Rodriguez

By Evan Henerson

During their years learning the trade, Local 11 apprentices are kept plenty busy. But Cristopher Rodriguez believes that they can be doing even more, and he wants to help provide an avenue for apprentice action to happen.

As the creator and president of the new Local 11 Apprenticeship Council (AC), Rodriguez envisions a forum in which apprentices can branch out from their work at the ETI, helping each other to become more involved union members both at IBEW and in organized labor as a whole.

“We talk about Local 11 being the best, most innovative local and we have the largest apprenticeship program,” said Rodriguez who also serves as the secretary to the District 6 Welfare Committee. “I felt like we needed a little more, a way to represent ourselves and be taught about activism and unionism. There are currently no classes, no curriculum that teach that.”

The counsel is still in the development stage with the organization looking to ask the Local 11 Executive Board for funds to create a website that will serve as a gathering point for apprentices to give and receive information.

“The goal is to have a seat at the JATC monthly meetings,” said Rodriguez a native of Hawaiian Gardens who was raised in Orange County. “We would like to be able to present our case, raise issues and concerns and also help provide solutions that would benefit all of the JATC and the ETI as well as the apprenticeship program.”

Rodriguez’s journey to becoming a passionately committed union member took a couple of detours. With no unionism among members of his immediate family and no awareness of the benefits of organized labor, Rodriguez joined the military out of high school. He encountered difficulty and ended up incarcerated in the State of California for more than 12 years.

During his incarceration, Rodriguez took advantage of an inmate day labor rehabilitative program through IBEW Local 100 in Fresno. Through this program, inmates would work to help build hospitals and other facilities. Rodriguez embraced the opportunity and began to learn about the electrical field.

“Those brothers were really good to me,” said Rodriguez. “They taught me, and I fell in love with the trade. They said, ‘When you get out, reach out and join the local.’ That’s what I did.”

He was paroled in 2017 and immediately applied to Local 11.  After not passing his entrance exam on the first try, Rodriguez received tutoring through the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and started attending meetings. The experience gave him a taste of what union life would be like. Ultimately, Rodriguez passed his exam, joined the apprenticeship program and now reports that “it’s been amazing ever since.”

He has worked at job sites around the city ranging from Cedars Sinai Medical Center to Kaiser Permanente to LAUSD and LAX where is currently employed.

“I’ve been blessed to get a lot of work, but for me it’s not necessarily the job itself,” said Rodriguez. “It’s cool to work at a hospital and learn some amazing stuff, but at the end of the day, what makes the job pleasant and memorable for me is the unity that you have with your brothers and sisters on the job. It’s that tight bond that makes the job pleasant.”

Asked what other elements of a union life he has come to appreciate, Rodriguez quickly answers “the trade.”

“It’s the ability to learn a trade that will let you make a good living,” he said. “It’s challenging. Obviously, the pay is good and the benefits are great, but for me it’s learning a craft that will provide for me and my family for a lifetime.”

“It’s important for people to know that IBEW is a second chance,” he continued. “They’re not concerned that you made mistakes in the past. It’s more like ‘Welcome to the family. We’ll give you a shot and you decide what you make out of it.’”

And that second chance is precisely what motivates Rodriguez to give back.

“I’m very grateful,” he said. “That’s why I stay active and why I’m involved in the local in any way I can be.”

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