Erick Varela says eleven years in the United States Army taught him this: Lead by example and never quit.
These lessons were put to the test when he left the Army, Varela told the IBEW 1245 Advisory Council during its summer meeting.
“I came back to a housing market that had tanked. I walked into my former employer and said ‘Hello’ and they said “Hello, we don’t have a job.”
Varela became homeless, living out of his car. It was not the sort of life he wanted for himself, his wife, or his child. “I went from someone who had a mission in life to someone who was a failure,” he said.
Things began to change when he learned about a PG&E pilot program for veterans. Varela attended the 16-week program, still living out of a car.
“Then I came to 1245,” said Varela. He began working for a contractor out of the IBEW 1245 hiring hall, then landed a job as a utility worker at PG&E. He credits the IBEW for his comeback.
“It’s given me a career, a mission, a job. No matter where you find yourself in life there’s always a group of people who share the same goal and drive,” Varela told the Advisory Council. “And that group is you.”
Some people may draw a blank when you ask them what the union means to them. Varela isn’t one of them.
“It means I don’t have to tell my wife I’m sorry. I don’t have to tell her we can’t afford insurance,” Varela said.
“It means I have hope. I have a goal. I not only have a job, I have a family,” he said, indicating the dozens of IBEW members in the room listening to his every word. “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here.”
Varela, 32, was invited to the White House earlier this year to participate in the federal government’s “Joining Forces” initiative, which encourages businesses to train or hire military veterans and military spouses. He is currently working at PG&E as an apprentice electrician.