IBEW 11 Members Re-Launch the Latin American Electrical Workers Association
Revitalized LAEWA Helps Members Discover and Express Activism in New and Unique Ways
For IBEW 11 members, “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” aren’t phrases casually tossed around, and diversity, equality, and inclusion aren’t empty slogans that get paid lip service or get tacked on at the bottom of a web page. They are daily affirmations of union values.
So, when the idea of resurrecting the dormant Latin American Electrical Workers Association (LAEWA) surfaced in 2018 a core group of IBEW 11 members jumped at the opportunity to provide members access to a dedicated, inclusive community where they and their families could gather to strengthen bonds, spark activism, and forge deeper friendships on and off the job site.
One of the core members behind the relaunch of LAEWA is Francisco “Paco” Arago, who said one of the primary motivators behind the revitalized Association was to provide union brothers and sisters with an outlet where they could both discover and express their activism in new and unique ways.
“LAEWA is about strengthening our local union so that we can fight for stronger contracts and build our numbers,” Arago said. “When a non-union guy joins the IBEW, and he comes to his first LAEWA event, they’re immediately impressed. They tell me, ‘I’ve never experienced anything like this in the non-union world.’ They immediately feel a sense of family. That’s what union is all about.”
Activism is infectious, Arago says, and the LAEWA provides members with a trusted space they can use to realize the fraternity of brotherhood and sisterhood that makes the shared bond of union membership such a powerful force.
“We spend so much time with each other, sometimes more time than with our own families, so we become family in that sense,” Arago said. “We’ve got to continue to find intriguing, exciting, and innovative ways to build our ranks and grow, because if we’re not growing, we’re dying. We want people to come to one of our events and say, ‘This is amazing. How do I become a shop steward? I want to do more.’ That’s success right there.”
LAEWA member and IBEW 11 District 6 Organizer Tommy Zielomski agrees the club is a tool to unite brothers and sisters and inspire them to become more engaged and active advocates.
“Having clubs like LAEWA helps grow solidarity and camaraderie amongst the members,” Zielomski said. “It gives members an opportunity to be involved and participate within their union. I believe to take this local to the next level we need more participation from the membership, and LAEWA is one more way for members to get involved.”
LAEWA is comprised of an informal executive council who all share equal participation and equal voting rights and members gather, create consensus, and “do things that are best for the union.”
“We stay true to the mission of the IBEW: to organize every worker into their industry, and we see (the LAEWA) as an organizing tool – a way to build a sense of fraternity to completely fulfill our mission as IBEW members. (The IBEW) is 131 years old, and we respect and honor the original documents because they’ve stood the test of time. All we’re doing is making sure that everybody’s included in it,” Arago said.
IBEW 11 Sound and Communications Organizer Lali Castillo said the group offers members a vital sense of inclusion and involvement and helps them “feel seen in every way.”
“It’s important to build member solidarity because that’s what the brotherhood is all about,” Castillo said. “LAEWA is just another resource to be active. It helps IBEW 11 show how important it is to be diverse and have representation for all workers within the trade.”
Arago says he and his fellow LAEWA founders hope the club can inspire other chapters nationwide.
“We believe our duty to our union goes from our local level to our international level,” Arago said. “We believe that by starting this club, we’re serving our union and coming up with creative ways to be more inclusive. Maybe what we’re doing here might echo in Kansas City or Denver or New York.”