by Eileen Purcell, IBEW 1245 Staff Organizer
Photos by John Storey
About 18 months ago, Vicki Bunag, a member of the IBEW 1245 Veterans Group and Senior Customer Service Representative at PG&E’s Fresno Call Center, came up with the idea to expand the company’s “Power Pathways” training program for vets to include clerical lines of progression. When she had the chance to chat with PG&E CEO Tony Earley — a veteran himself – at a Veterans Group meeting at the Union Hall in Vacaville, she took the opportunity to mention it to him.
Now, Bunag’s idea is becoming reality, as eighteen male and female veterans have been selected to participate in the first ever “Power Pathways” Customer Service Representative (CSR) training class at PG&E. On Sept. 30, leaders from Local 1245 and Veterans Group members met with the inaugural Power Pathways CSR class in Fresno as they prepared to embark on their seven-week training.
IBEW 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell welcomed the class and said, “This is the start of your career. Call Centers are the gateway into PG&E. After you get settled, you’ll find lots of opportunities at work and lots of opportunities to get involved in your union.”
IBEW 1245 Senior Assistant Business Manager Bob Dean – a veteran of the US Navy – encouraged trainees to focus on learning the job, and invited them to use the 1245 Veterans Group website (www.IBEW1245VETS.com) and the Local 1245 website (www.IBEW1245.com) as valuable resources. IBEW 1245 Senior Assistant Manager Jenny Marston introduced the class to the clerical contract.
“Coming from a military background makes us uniquely qualified. We are punctual, responsible, and superb in crisis,” Bunag told the group. “This is a great job. Come to work regularly, and you’ll thrive here.”
“This is a great place to work, and one of the few places you are paid to be nice,” added Joe Sanchez, a founding member of the IBEW 1245 Veterans Group and Customer Service Rep at PG&E’s Fresno Call Center. “These are highly sought-after jobs. On a regular day, 1,800 applicants will compete for one of the seats at this table where you eighteen find yourselves!”
The veterans in the training program – whose military experience ranged from 4 to 22 years of service — were excited and thrilled to meet the union leaders and the veterans who advocated for the program.
“It was a great day,” said Dalzell. “Seeing the pride and sense of accomplishment on the faces of veterans who have served their country and made the transition into civilian life … it’s a reminder of what we can accomplish when we come together as a union.”
Support at the local level
Dalzell founded the IBEW 1245 Veterans Group two years ago in an effort to create a vehicle for members to build support for fellow veterans at the local level. The group quickly defined their top priorities:
- Provide a personal point of contact for co-workers and veterans as they transition from military service to civilian life
- Support local veterans’ organizations
- Link vets to support services, job training and employment opportunities
- Set up a website with links to union employers, resources and support services
The members of the Veterans Group published their personal contact information on flyers and created unique content that now lives on the IBEW 1245 Vets website. The website contains many elements that have become valuable reference points for veterans, including the Local 1245 veterans’ personal stories, as well as the list of union employers and phone numbers of HR staff dedicated to supporting veterans.
Veterans’ Group members have partnered with local veterans’ organizations, raised funds to support vets, built monuments, and shared their stories of transitioning to civilian life. They have accompanied vets as they go through job application processes. They have organized IBEW 1245 contingents in Veterans’ Parades in the city of Shasta Lake, Fresno, and Sacramento. Over the summer, Vets Group members Jaime Tinoco and John Grandmain mobilized vets to raise money for a co-worker at the City of Lompoc who donated his kidney to his son. This fall, Eureka-based member Erick Varela spearheaded a “Boots for Vets” drive in support of the annual “Stand Down” gathering at the Eureka Fair Grounds which supports vets.
Jobs remain the top priority of most vets. Vallejo-based member Pam Pendleton has been providing hands-on job training for a couple of veterans applying for work at PG&E, while Redding-based member Mike Grandmain is working with Veteran Resource Centers of America in Redding to reach out to homeless veterans. In April, Dalzell met with Vice President Joe Biden to lobby for more resources for support services and job training for veterans.
But the Power Pathways breakthrough is the biggest accomplishment to date – institutionalizing a way to recruit and train veterans and place them into hard-sought, middle-class union jobs.