When Emergency Call Came in, Wolfpack Jumped into Action
By Oren Peleg
For the last two-and-a-half years, a large, white cantilevered structure has been rising over 103rd Street in Watts, but in the final weeks of construction, it was a race against the clock.
Construction managers needed to find a union electrician crew that could come in and get the job done. Quickly. And on time. So, they put in a call to IBEW Local 11 member John “Big John” Harriel and The Wolfpack.
Big John and the Wolfpack crew are part of 2nd Call, an organization that shepherds formerly incarcerated men and women toward careers as union electricians with an emphasis on life skills courses and mutual support.
The crew sprang into action with five weeks left to check all the boxes and successfully turned Kaiser Permanente’s Watts Medical Offices/Watts Counseling and Learning Center over to the new owner. The building will provide holistic medical services to a historically underserved part of Los Angeles.
“We were out there with integrity, and we all put it together, made it happen as a team,” Big John said of his union brothers, many of whom are local to the area. “Every single person out there, with the exception of [one] guy, their families will be using this building.”
The site’s general foreman, Tony Vargas of Briggs Electric, had worked one time before on a project in West Covina with the Wolfpack members, and said he found nothing but exceptional, professional electricians who come to work every day and rise to their full potential.
So, he felt good about making that second call.
“I believe in second chances,” Vargas said, explaining that he himself “has a history” and never believed he would become a general foreman. “For me, it’s about getting everybody involved, exploiting their potentials, and getting them to that next level.”
2nd Call members meet every Thursday for two hours to “save lives,” Big John said, through personal development and growth courses on issues like self-esteem, functional family dynamics, unresolved trauma, money management, and goal setting.
“We’re a way of life, not a program,” Big John said. “There’s no beginning; there’s no end.”
Outside the Watts site, Big John gathered with five of his 2nd Call brothers who had served a collective 50 years behind bars.
For one of these men, Donald Trotter, an ex-gang member who served time, 2nd Call provided a new chance at life.
“Down at 2nd Call, they got a saying: we help you put down guns to pick up tape measurers,” said Trotter, who is now a foreman with Morrow Meadows and IBEW member. “In order for a guy to succeed in life, you have to give him something to hold on to, something to look forward to. I look forward to waking up every day so I can feed my children and go to work. I got something to live for now. It’s different.”
Ultimately, helping Briggs and Morrow Meadows finish the Kaiser Permanente job allowed the organization to show what it’s about, and to shine.
“Not only was it an opportunity to help a fellow contractor, but it also was an opportunity to use our skills as electricians to be a part of the solution, not the problem,” Big John said. “Now, we’re all building community instead of destroying it.”