Think union members only care about other union members?
Go see Jimmy Evans, training director at Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 816 apprenticeship school in Paducah, Ky.
OK, it might be hard to see him. A mini-mountain of canned goods is rising in the hallway outside his office.
His fifth-year apprentices volunteered for a special extracurricular activity: a Christmas food drive for needy families.
“I don’t give extra credit,” Evans said with a grin. “They did this on their own.”
Hundreds of cans have been collected so far. The schoolhouse looks like a grocery warehouse.
“We thought it would just be our class,” fifth-year apprentice Andrew Clapp said. But the drive spread union-wide.
Evans could hardly be prouder of his students at the training facility, which operates under the auspices of the Paducah Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.
“You hear all the time that we union members are only concerned about ourselves,” Evans said. “We make good wages, but a lot of other people aren’t as fortunate. This is our way of helping them.”
Clapp agreed. “We want to show people that if you are going through a rough time, you can lean on the IBEW and that we’ll help you any way we can.”
Robbie Rounds nodded. “I am thankful that I earn a good living through the union. But families around here are hurting and need help.”
Clapp and Rounds credit Ethan Feldner, their fellow fifth-year apprentice, with starting the drive. Feldner said his Christian faith fired him.
“I carry my religion with me everywhere—right into the union,” said Feldner, a Baptist.
Feldner and the other fifth-year apprentices carried their food drive proposal right into Evans’ office. “I was sitting at my desk one night before class and they said they wanted to do it,” he said. “I said it was a great idea."
The fifth-year class has 13 students, according to Evans. (Besides Clapp, Feldner and Rounds, they are Jason Avery, Rory Brewer, Travis Conner, Clay Edwards, Scott Hansrote, Justin Jett, Justin Owen, Dillon Riley, Jeremiah Rushing and Tommy Turknett. Joe Moore is their instructor.) "They reached out to other classes and got 60 apprentices involved.”
Ultimately, just about everybody in Local 816 started lugging canned goods to the school or the union hall across town.
Local 816 members trucked the fruits—and vegetables—of their labor to the local Salvation Army food pantry before Christmas day. “We wanted the cans to go to a group that reaches everybody who is needy,” Clapp said. “The Salvation Army does really well with that.”
Evans told the apprentices that their food drive reflected a fundamental principle he learned when he joined the union 27 years ago.
I was taught that we in the union were not just in this for us—we are in this for the community—for everybody.
Berry Craig, recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.