The IBEW picked up nearly 300 members in Springfield, Mo., when city workers voted 122-to-eight to certify with Local 753, a major win in the conservative southwest part of the state.
“People are tired of having the thumb put down on them by their employer,” lead organizer Phil Meyer said. “They’re tired of the way they’ve been treated. They wanted the IBEW because they know we’re one of the strongest unions in the world.”
The new bargaining unit will touch nearly all of local government in Springfield, a city of 160,000 near the tourism mecca of Branson. Once an agreement is signed, road maintenance crews and workers at the parks department and the Springfield airport will be represented by Local 753. So will staff from the janitorial, sanitation and public works departments.
A state mandated one-year waiting period following the unit’s decertification from another union in 2014 ended earlier this year. Eleventh District Regional Coordinator Brian Heins said the IBEW was approached by those employees right away.
“We saw people that were committed to becoming IBEW,” Heins said. “It’s not often we pick up a group of 300 people. To pick one up in southern Missouri is huge.”
One of those employees was Randall Stevens, a road construction worker for the city. Stevens said he and others researched several unions, but liked the IBEW because it already had a strong local in the area.
For many years, Local 753 has represented Springfield utility workers, who are governed by an appointed commission instead of the city council, which oversees most city employees.
Stevens said those employees looked at the salary and benefits the utility workers received and wanted the IBEW representing them.
“It made sense,” Stevens said. “They already dealt with the city. Might as well fly in and make it one big happy family is the way I figured it.”
Meyer said he knew the employees were serious during his first meeting with them, when it had to be moved to a local firefighters’ union hall because attendance was larger than expected. That momentum carried over into organizing activities.
“I had a good idea the election was going to be a good day for the IBEW and Local 753,” Meyer said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this kind of smash.”
Local 753 Business Manager Tony Parrish said he and other local officers have had a good working relationship with Springfield city management in recent years. He expects that to continue when contract negotiations begin for the newly-organized employees, probably sometime next year.
“They knew we had good relationships and we were able to negotiate good contracts with the city utilities,” Parrish said. “It seemed like a natural fit for them to come over and join us. They seem really pumped and excited. I really hope we can do them some good.”
It was an extra special moment for Meyer, a retired utility worker in Springfield. He has been a Local 753 member for 32 years and still lives in the city.