Lending a hand to fellow veterans

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VETS VacavilleGovernment and independent reports show that the unemployment rate for U.S. veterans in 2013 was higher than for non-veterans from similar age, educational and economic backgrounds.

How can union members give veterans a hand? This was the question the newly formed IBEW 1245 Veteran’s Group asked themselves as they reconvened for their second steering committee meeting in January at Weakley Hall in Vacaville. The group was welcomed by Business Manager Tom Dalzell.

“This group has a lot in common and it’s a group that has an absolute commitment to service and to unity. It’s a completely logical thing for (the union) to have done this,” Dalzell said.

All in attendance agreed that the brotherhood and camaraderie of union members make the Veteran’s Group a natural fit for Local 1245. There are certainly some similarities between the union and the military – besides the good natured ribbing that the different military branches and job classifications give each other. The union’s structure also provides familiarity for the group.

VETS Vacaville 2“The union is similar to the military, there are ranks and there are rules and guidelines that you have to follow,” said Joe Sanchez, whose service was with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Reaching out to other veterans and asking them to take part in this group makes perfect sense to Casey Salkauskas, a PG&E electrician in Bakersfield.

“The whole idea behind the union is organizing,” said Salkauskas.

He’s right about that. In the IBEW Constitution the number one objective is to organize all workers.

At the group’s first meeting they tasked themselves with recruiting other Local 1245 veterans to join the Veterans Group. As the meeting got underway, each group member gave a progress report. All reported that the support and feedback received has been positive—not only from veterans but from other members as well.

“The biggest response to this has been from non-vets. People that are non-veterans coming up and saying, I’m not a vet but what can I do; how can I help you guys?” said Erick Varela, whose service was with the U.S. Army.

Mission

Their motivation for joining this group is clear: help veterans transition back into the workforce by providing tools and resources once they return to civilian life. The group’s number one mission is to assist returning veterans in finding a job with decent wages and benefits. Who better to do this than skilled IBEW 1245 workers who know what it’s like to have a great union job.

“It would be nice to help hook them up with a great company that supports veterans,” said Jordan Bean, who works for NV Energy.

To accomplish this mission one of the tasks of the group is to reach out to Local 1245 employers, encouraging them to start a veterans program if they don’t have one established already.

Committee member Varela is himself a success story from the PG&E Power Pathway veterans program, proving these opportunities can and do open doors for returning vets.

Personal Touch

The group realizes there are already numerous established organizations to help veterans, but members of the IBEW 1245 Veterans Group want to add that personal touch. They don’t want to just hand out lists of numbers and websites for returning vets to contact. They want to be there for veterans with one-on-one contact and support to help guide them through what can be a difficult time.

“There were a lot of people that helped me when I was in the military and that helped me when I got out,” said Walter Carmier, a Frontier employee in Elk Grove.

Not all vets are lucky enough to receive the support Carmier did and are left to fend for themselves when they return. It can be a daunting task trying to assimilate back into the workforce when the skills you have learned in the military don’t necessarily translate into a career.

Jeremy Carlin, who served in the U.S. Army and now works for SMUD, said the group wants “to help guide people through the process of getting into what I consider a great line of work.”

More than 200 employers and contractors have labor agreements with IBEW 1245. These employers have many different classifications of work and many have apprenticeship programs. This makes the union a good resource for job seekers.

With their marching orders in hand, committee members will continue to finalize some of the ideas that came out of the brainstorming session, such as a website dedicated to veterans and setting up area meetings.

Anyone interested in participating in the IBEW 1245 Veteran’s Group should contact one of the members.

Elizabeth McInnis is an organizer and field rep for IBEW 1245.

 

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