Vision Becomes Reality At Electrical Workers Minority Caucus in Atlanta

By Robert Fulton

Atlanta, the urban capital of America’s Civil Rights movement and the birthplace of IBEW’s Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, played host to a convention this month to celebrate achievements in diversity and push for greater inclusion in the trades.

A delegation of more than 30 IBEW Local 11 members attended the EWMC’s 34th Annual Leadership Conference where the theme was “Vision to Reality: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence, Wisdom, Mentorship and Courage.” The EWMC was founded in Atlanta in 1974.

IBEW 11’s chapter of EWMC won a nationwide contest in the run up to the convention to provide its tagline, “Vision to Reality.” And here in Southern California, that is exactly what is happening.

“At the time that it was put together, it was in the ‘70s, when systemic racism made many members feel that they didn’t have a voice in our union,” said Alton Wilkerson, IBEW 11’s EWMC President. “That was the vision. They fought for that. We still have work to do, but now we have people seated at the high table.”

In the convention hall, IBEW 11 Business Manager Robert Corona reconnected with Edwin Lopez, a member of Local 3 in New York and Executive Secretary of the New York Electrical Contractors Association. Corona told Lopez that he had been appointed to his new position and Lopez said he was “proud.”

On the final day of the conference, Lopez called out to Corona from his perch on the stage and congratulated him on becoming the first Latino Business Manager in IBEW Local 11 history.

“I’m not a big crybaby or anything like that, but that was really something,” Corona said. “When we have a general meeting, it looks different up on stage. A lot of our members are Mexican American. Maybe they haven’t seen themselves in leadership. Younger guys like that, maybe they look up there and think, ‘That could be me someday.’”

One of the key talking points at this year’s conference was mental health. A workshop presented by Dr. Keith Dempsey was especially poignant for Wilkerson.

“I feel mental health is a thing that’s overlooked when it comes to construction,” said Wilkerson, who is now also Local 11’s Director of Organizing and Assistant Business Manager. “It doesn’t matter what your occupation is; you still have the daily stresses of paying your bills, taking care of your family, and all that stuff. It’s a lot to take on. It definitely will place a heavy burden on your mental health.”

The members attending the conference also took part in seminars on empowerment and solidarity.

Victor Blas, a second-year journeyman Inside Wireman, attended the EWMC conference for the first time. He said he didn’t know what to expect and found the experience “inspiring,” particularly the camaraderie as both a member of IBEW and the EWMC. Blas first got involved with the local EWMC chapter through volunteering on Skid Row and with Habitat for Humanity.

Blas said his involvement in the EWMC has been instrumental in developing a rewarding, community-oriented lifestyle.

“They were pretty inspirational to my success in the union,” Blas said, following a shift working for Taft Electric on the Airport Metro Connector at LAX.

Summer Zachary is Vice President of the local EWMC chapter and also attended this year’s conference. She joined IBEW in 2012 and the Minority Caucus two years later.

Like Blas, community service is what drew Zachary into the caucus.

“For me, leadership took the form of just helping others learn about our trade, learning about our union and the wonderful opportunities it offers, and helping people be able to step into those opportunities,” Zachary said. “That’s what kind of sucked me in and why I continued to participate over the years.”

At a meeting last year, IBEW International President Kenneth Cooper presented a challenge: to increase the union membership from 775,000 to 1 million across the United States and Canada.

The EWMC’s role in that effort was evident at the January conference.

“We’ve always traditionally helped people that were interested in the program to get prepared through tutoring or just mentorship,” Wilkerson said. “There are multiple ways that we try to help people in the community who want to join the IBEW.”

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