COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TOM LEMMON

The IBEW has San Diego wired

We've all heard the compliment: Someone who does something effectively "has it wired."

Both literally and figuratively, the members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have their work wired, and have for more than 90 years. As one of the 23 unions that make up the Building Trades, IBEW 569 puts its values of energy efficiency, quality workmanship and unmatched safety on display every day. Simply stated, they have San Diego wired.

Known to most as "the Electricians' Union," San Diego County's IBEW Local 569 was chartered way back in 1920 as a construction industry local of those who do "inside" electrical work, distinct from their skilled brethren who work on outside power lines and other infrastructure wiring. Like the outside specialists and linemen, the professionals of Local 569 are still actively at work today, playing a key role in the building of our county and its economy.

Their work literally traces the improvements of our region since then. Founded when the total San Diego County population was 112,000, the Electricians have played an integral part in the development, construction and maintenance of major buildings and attractions, iconic landmarks, manufacturing and retail centers, schools, hospitals and homes.

Now, nine decades later, San Diego County enjoys a robust lifestyle and is home to 3.1 million of us. It would be hard to imagine the region we know today without the skilled professionals who "have us wired."

In the 1930s, all of San Diego was abuzz with the construction of the California Pacific Expo in the new Balboa Park. Much of the amazing construction is still evident today. One of the iconic structures was the Ford Pavilion, which today is the Aerospace Museum. In 1935, 63 members of IBEW Local 569 wired the Ford building, with two shifts a day working steadily to meet deadlines. The resulting electrical system was a marvel of its time, providing 2,490,000 watts of power to light the state-of-the-art structure.

Water has always been an issue for San Diegans. Local electricians helped with initial efforts to solve our water supply problems when they worked on the Imperial Dam and the All American Canal. The civilian war effort prior to and during World War II was enhanced by Local 569 members, who worked on the initial Convair-General Dynamics test facility and toiled in the shipyards of NASSCO throughout the 1940s.

Toward the end of the war, members of the union started the first formal training classes for electricians here in San Diego, to provide continuing training for working electricians and to train apprentices who sought to join the profession. Sixty workers completed the first class on April 21, 1945, just in time to be a part of the post-war resurgence of our local economy.

Training has continued to be a big part of why Local 569 maintains its strength and unity. In partnership with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), the first formal apprenticeship program was formed in San Diego just after the war. This landmark cooperative has operated continuously and effectively ever since.

Everywhere you look, the work of the professionals from IBEW Local 569 stands as testimony to the professionalism and vision of the construction trades. Members helped build the landmark Sears and Montgomery Wards stores in central San Diego. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, they built and maintained R&D and manufacturing facilities like the SONY plant in Rancho Bernardo. Kaiser, Sharp and UCSD hospitals are among those that were wired by union electricians. IBEW Local 569 members also wired the San Diego Zoo, Wild Animal Park, Legoland and Petco Park -- attractions enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. They continue today, constructing and wiring electrical systems from electronics to photovoltaics, and modern solar power facilities to electric car charging stations.

As you visit downtown, you can see IBEW members at work on the new Downtown Library -- creating a state-of-the-art facility. And at the Convention Center, IBEW members, along with other Building Trades craftsmen and women, work on every tradeshow that comes to town.

As you drive up the coast, you will find IBEW members working at SeaWorld and farther north, at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, where they and other Building Trades unions have been involved since the power plant was built. To the east, at Lake Hodges, IBEW members are wiring, configuring and installing pumps and generators that will create low-cost electricity by transferring water to the Olivenhain Dam in the evening when rates are low and releasing it back into the lake during daytime peak demand. Soon, you will see IBEW members installing solar farms in the desert of Imperial County.

The training facilities built with NECA set the bar for others to follow. The center was one of the first "smart" buildings in the region, with each room monitored for activity before power is sent there -- saving power and money. The solar panels at the union hall and training center generate 90 percent of the power needed for the buildings, and were installed by skilled union members.

Like all Building Trades apprenticeship programs, the IBEW apprentice program is going strong, providing solid careers and ensuring that workers' skills meet the highest standards -- at no cost to the apprentices besides books. Apprentices participate in on-the-job training, with classes two nights per week. Last week, 95 apprentices completed either the five-year inside wireman or four-year sound program. The current "Apprentice of the Year" is a veteran who entered the program through the innovative "Helmets to Hardhats" program that gives returning veterans a start on a solid career.

The Building Trades have a long history of giving back to our community -- through fundraising for charities and volunteering our skills when needed. Volunteerism is a way of life for the members of Local 569, dating back to the 70 members who volunteered their time and skills for the first local Boy Scouts headquarters in 1927. The men and women of the local still actively participate in charitable work, including discussing careers at local high schools and job fairs. Every April over 100 electricians volunteer for "Rebuilding Together," rewiring housing, community centers, non-profit offices and more.

On the job, in the community and for those in need, the members of IBEW Local 569 have San Diego County wired.


Lemmon is the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO overseeing 23 trades affiliates and 14 joint labor-management apprenticeships.

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1 UserComments
mark thompson 11:55pm July 22, 2011

Are there any developements on expanding IBEW to include low voltage like field service techs for cable companies like Time Warner or Cox? I've heard people talk about someone at my company trying to get other techs to join a Union and its like a scene from invasion of the body snatchers. Everyone turns on the person trying to start a union. It's very discouraging. I'm looking for something to look forward to having been non-union for so long. Unfair wages and general mistreatment is getting real old. Thank you for listening. -Mark