Preaching the Union Gospel, Oscar Martinez Goes Above and Beyond

By Evan Henerson

Wherever he goes, whatever he does, Oscar Martinez carries his personal and business cell phone and is always armed with plenty of business cards. This is true both on and off the job, when he is out to dinner or even undergoing medical procedures.

“I don’t stop,” says Martinez who left the field to join the Local 11 Organizing Department in the winter of 2018. “I keep on going. I’ve been that way since day one. I’ve always pushed myself to help give someone the opportunity to have a better life.”

By all accounts, he’s quite good at his mission. During his tenure as a union organizer, Martinez estimates that he has brought between 200 and 250 new brothers and sisters into the union. In 2019, he was honored with the Above and Beyond Award by the IBEW International, but because of the COVID pandemic, he had to wait for the union’s membership development conference this summer to receive the certificate recognizing the achievement.

Not that the Carson native has any time to sit around waiting for accolades. He’s too busy reaching out to potential new union members. Also in 2019, he joined Local 11 Apprenticeship Coordinator – and former mentor – Alton Wilkerson as a Los Angeles County representative on the Organizers Without Borders initiative. The two men traveled to Orange County to recruit new members from a Bergelectric job site. The organizing effort was touch-and-go, but ultimately successful, according to Martinez.

“I was literally hiding in corners from the foreman,” Martinez says with a laugh. “We took guys from every floor. I would poke my head out and when I saw the foreman, I would dash back inside and find another guy to start talking to, and give him a flyer.”

“We’re not salesmen,” he continues. “We preach the gospel of the union. There are Berg foremen who are making $43 per hour. We say, ‘Come across with us and you’ll be making $57 an hour.’ We let them know how it is.”

The ongoing Bergelectric campaign has resulted in 450 new Local 11 members to date, according to Martinez.

Martinez will celebrate his 25th year as an IBEW member in June 2023. Before coming to Local 11, he spent 11 years in the trade on the non-union side. Married and with young children, he was looking for better benefits and protection for his family. He went into the Union Hall and was organized in by Larry Henderson. Martinez completed the five-year apprenticeship program in record time.

“I got a meritorious upgrade and perfect attendance the entire four and a half years,” says Martinez. “I got a certificate for that, too. And it was the best decision I ever made for my family.”

Although he enjoyed his time in the field as an inside wireman, Martinez was quickly recognized for different talents.

“In 2015, I was a foreman on a job and Robert Corona was my general foreman,” he recalled. “In December of 2018 or 2019, he hit me up and said, ‘Hey, Oscar I want to see if you want to come into organizing.’ I said, ‘It would be an honor to help you out.’”

Martinez quickly took to the job, learning when to employ the gift of gab for recruiting purposes and when to listen while the members and potential members are asking questions or voicing their concerns. Martinez credits the many mentors who helped pave the way for his success.

Even after having brought in hundreds of members during his tenure as an organizer, he takes little credit for the achievement. At the local’s annual picnic, Martinez recalls being approached by a member who claimed to be among the first apprentices Martinez ever organized.

“He said, ‘I just want to let you know that you changed my family’s life. I have a daughter who was sick and now I have insurance,’” recalls Martinez. “I said, ‘Wait a second brother. I didn’t do that. You did that. All I did was open the door and you did the rest.’

“We don’t do it for numbers,” he continues. “We do it to give guys careers. Even today when I see Larry, I tell him ‘thank you’. When my kids are with me, they tell him thank you too. It’s such a fulfilling feeling to be able to give someone a career path.”

Martinez and his wife of 30 years, Cristina, have a son and daughter. Martinez has battled cancer for the past three years and he says the work he does for Local 11 helps keep his mind focused on his mission.

“I was going with my dad to treatment and there was a break between treatment, so we went to get a cup of coffee,” says Martinez. “There were a couple of electricians in the coffee shop. I brought one of them in and now he’s in our apprenticeship program.”

“It keeps me going,” he says. “It keeps me from thinking about what I don’t want to think about.”

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