By CARL GREEN
Collinsville, IL – These days, unions and their members’ employers often are viewed as much in the light of what they do for others as what they do for themselves.
So it may be fitting that retirees from one of the region’s leading Electrical Workers locals, IBEW 309, based in Collinsville, are working with a union and contractors group to perform some much-needed public service jobs.
The union helps line up jobs, and the contractors help pay for things, but the project – under the ElectricPros.com initiative –really counts on the work of some big-hearted union retirees.
Three of them – Bill Hagene, 60, of Smithton, Danny Sodam of Belleville, 59, and Scott Nicholson of Belleville, also 60 – have already taken on three projects, and they expect to do more and involve more retirees who want to give back to the community that has supported them.
“I’m going to try to spread it out among all the retired members who want to help. That’s my goal,” Hagene said in an interview with the Labor Tribune. “I’ve got a list of about a dozen guys.”
The first project, wiring a new Habitat for Humanity house, also involved building a connection to that highly productive charity group.
As September was ending, the retirees trio spent four days roughing in electrical service at the house, which was built to replace an apartment house that burned down.
Habitat’s volunteers were delighted to have professional electricians on the job.
“One of the hardest things they had was to get the electrical part done,” Hagene said. “With us doing that, they kind of got a big comfort zone for that work.”
Sodam noted that the neighbors were happy, too, to see a three-bedroom house being built.
“It’s the nicest house in the neighborhood, and it beats having apartments there,” he said. “It’s not renters anymore, it’s somebody that’s going to own and take pride in it and maintain it the best they can.”
The second project was not with Habitat, but was with the Madison School District, which had built a state-of-the-art greenhouse for its high school years ago. After a change in faculty, the school didn’t use the greenhouse for about five years, and it sat idle and deteriorated.
When the school decided to reinstate a greenhouse program, the Local 309 group stepped up to lend some hands. They put in a new damper motor, new exhaust fans and temperature controls on the heating equipment. Now the school is ready to get back to teaching about how things grow.
“They’ve got another teacher now who’s real big on wanting to bring it back, and the kids are excited about it, too,” Hagene said. “We actually had the control panel motherboard sent off to the outfit that made it, and they fixed it for nothing.”
PARTNERS FOR PETS
The third project is with Partners for Pets, a no-kill animal shelter established in 2012 to provide an option to killing unwanted dogs and cats. Its literature says the group in 2014 rescued and found homes for 1,389 dogs and cats and that since 2012, they have spayed and neutered more than 2,000 animals.
The group recently purchased an old farm and five acres in Madison County between Troy and St. Jacob, and it is working to turn the place into a shelter for cats and dogs. One of the problems is the homegrown electrical wiring, which is far from meeting code standards.
So the retirees group is beginning a project to provide new electrical service.
“There was a guy who stood up at a union meeting and said, ‘My wife has something to do with Partners for Pets, a no-kill thing. They bought an old farm and have some electrical work that really needs to be done out there,’ ” Hagene recalled. “I talked to some of the guys to see if they’d be interested in doing it, and they said ‘Yeah!’”
That mess of wires in the basement will be a focal point.
“The old farmers, God bless 'em, they made everything work, but not necessarily safe,” Hagene said. “They didn’t worry about regulations and stuff, but when we do it, we have all those things, going by the National Electrical Code at the very least.”
Added Sodam: “To get this to code, we’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s the main thing.”
READY TO FINISH
The high school job is finished, but the retirees will be returning to finish the Habitat for Humanity house in Roxana. They are there with the gracious permission of IBEW Local 649, from Alton, which has jurisdiction over the town.
When it happens is up to Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s ready for them to do their thing now,” Hagene said. “We’re just waiting for them to get done with the drywall and paint, and we’ll come in and finish all the other stuff up. It will be literally installing the light fixtures, the switches, the plates.”
He expects to see more collaboration with the housing charity.
“I keep in touch with the Habitat chapters, and as they get more things going, we’re going to be asked to be more involved,” he said. “This was a nice ice-breaker for them, to let them see how it all played out. I’ve got a feeling they’re going to pleasantly surprised.”
GETTING IT STARTED
Tim Evans, business manager of Local 309, said the charity work is part of the ElectricPros project, which is intended to promote use of union contractors and has a website. Hagene’s desire to help others fit in nicely. “He feels like he still has something to offer,” Evans noted.
For their part, the contractors have provided Hagene and the others with a nice work trailer well equipped with tools.
“They asked me to get it started – which I’ve always wanted to anyway – but this is with their blessing and their help,” Hagene said. “The contractors are involved in this too, so it’s not just 309. They want this thing to happen. Between the money and the other things they’ve invested to make this go, they’re knee deep in this. They want to give back to the community, and that’s their basic goal.”
And more retirees are ready to join in.
“All the guys that want to help, they’re there and ready to step up,” Hagene said. “We’re not kick-starting anything that wasn’t already there. I’ve got good guys who want to help.”
IBEW Local 309, with about 1,300 members, provides industrial, commercial and residential electricians for St. Clair and Monroe counties and parts of seven other counties. The Local can be reached at (618) 345-5112. Partners for Pets can be reached at (618) 540-7387 or by visiting partnersforpetsil.org.