His name is Ed Hill. He is not only the President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, he is among the most influential labor leaders in North America. To borrow a line from an old commercial, when Ed talks, people listen.
That’s because he isn’t afraid to give his own, unvarnished view of the electrical industry. And if it serves as a wake-up call or hurts a few feelings along the way, well, at least you know where he’s coming from. That’s a perception from both rank and file and contractors alike.
One of the many programs and initiatives that have begun on Hill’s watch is the IBEW Code of Excellence. Quite simply, it is a call for a return to personal responsibility. It applies to not only the craftsman or woman on the job, but also to NECA contractors charged with the work.
The Code of Excellence puts into writing some common sense values designed to produce the best product possible for the customer. Things like arriving to work on time and ready to go, obeying customer and employer work rules, zero tolerance for alcohol or substance abuse, eight hours work for eight hours pay, having the proper tools and materials on the job, having the right size work force for the job at hand.
There is a more extensive list, and we’ll tell you about that later. The Code of Excellence is actually a formal agreement entered into by both labor and management as it relates to a particular job. And before that job begins, everyone involved, from electrician to contractor, signs on the dotted line.
So far, its results have been impressive. Since its inception a couple of years ago, the NECA-IBEW team has performed hundreds of jobs under the Code of Excellence, and it has become a new way of doing business for many in the industry. Electric TV’s Bob Mizke recently sat down with Ed Hill to talk about a program that is turning heads and winning friends.
Bob Mizke, Electric TV: Thank you for taking a few minutes to speak with us, President Hill. If I am an owner or general contractor learning about the Code of Excellence for the first time, what can you tell me about it?
Ed Hill, International President, IBEW: Well, what happened, Bob, is that over a period of time we did an internal audit on how our people were behaving on the job. Sometimes I don’t think you’ll ever convince the customer that you’re doing all the things right, but we did this. And we kind of raised the bar, if you will. We found that some of our people were not doing exactly what they were supposed to do, so we raised the bar. We have a renewed focus on what the customer really wants, not necessarily how we feel it should be done, but we’ve taken a better look at the customer needs.
BM: President Hill says that the Code of Excellence is not just a pat on the back or some simple encouragement. There is a formal curriculum with ongoing classes at local unions across North America.
EH: We’ve taken a look, and we’ve decided that we can’t continue to stand still. We need to address the issues as they come. Sometimes it’s difficult – it’s not just a pep talk. We have classes, we have a program, they have to sign a document once they’re finished with it. We give them a new membership card, a Code of Excellence car. It’s not just a flash in the pan kind of thing, it’s a continuous motivational thing. Can we make it better, can we do something different? Can you come to the job on time, is there a reason why it takes longer to do something else? We’ve found that we’re really doing better. Our people are doing better on the job.
BM: Is there a contractor’s role in the Code of Excellence? Obviously, when you report to a job site, it’s the contractor and the craftsmen working together. What are you asking of the contractor?
EH: Well first off, the contractor has to have the proper foreman’s supervision on the job. He has to be prepared to do the job when we get there. He can’t have our people standing around waiting for him to bring the tools and proper equipment, the drawings and things like that. So his is to manage the job, not necessarily do the work. Manage the job. We’ll take care of the work.
BM: You rolled out the Code of Excellence some time ago. What are you hearing back from the front lines?
EH: Positive. At first we thought we were going to have some problems with our membership accepting it. We’ve pointed out to them that it’s certainly not a management issue. It’s us. And it’s us saying to them that we’ve agreed to certain things that we’ve negotiated in the contract, and we’ll live by that contract. It’s more or less doing what we said we’d do in the first place. Our membership, during the first part of backing up on us, we pointed out the fact that they’ve already agreed to do this. We’re just suggesting that you do what you said you’d do.
BM: Mr. Hill says that while it’s true that the skill of an IBEW work force comes with a higher wage, it’s not really the issue. Anyone taking an unbiased and accurate look at a job realizes that the true cost is determined by wages time hours, and it’s the hours that can kill you. He says that the IBEW calling card, combined with the Code of Excellence, is productivity and value. That’s the bang for the buck the NECA-IBEW team delivers to the customer.