The Electrical Worker Online (2024)

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RETIRED
Brian K. Thompson

Fifth District International Vice President Brian Thompson earns people's trust.

From doing steward work as a utility worker in Punta Gorda, Fla., Local 641 before he had finished probation to five years as Fifth District international vice president, when a job needed doing, Brother Thompson was always the one you knew wouldn't give up.

"I held every position in the IBEW except recording secretary, international president and international secretary-treasurer, and I got the shoulder tap for every job," he said. "I am extremely proud of that. And I never lost an election."

On July 1, Thompson finally took himself out of consideration for the next shoulder tap. After more than 40 years, Brother Thompson is retiring.

Thompson joined Local 641 when he had a young family and no benefits. Growing up, his uncle Steven Leffers was a telephone lineman at Fort Myers, Fla., Local 199, and Thompson saw what that union card did for him and his family. When he thought about applying to the IBEW in 1983, he went to the utility because the benefits were better.

Many people just starting a career with the primary goal of building a foundation for their family would keep their head down. That was not and never has been Thompson's way.

Even before his six-month probation was up and he was allowed to join the IBEW, he was an insistent voice for the other workers.

"I saw some things that weren't consistent with the contract, and my dad and grandfather had always told me as a young boy that you don't have the right to complain unless you get involved," he said.

He was made a steward before the ink was dry on his membership card.

Within a year, he was asked to serve on the executive board of the local, then later as vice president and financial secretary.

By 1990, when he was asked to replace the business manager, who was moving into a new position at the utility.

Thompson worked with tools during the day as a power plant mechanic, certified welder and machinist. Then, at night, he started his second job as business manager.

"That was the hardest part. It was a part-time job, but it needed to be full time," he said.

Thompson again credits lessons learned from his father and grandfather for his success.

"From my dad, a navy man, I got attention to detail. I hear him in my head: 'Dress, right, left!' Details matter; he drilled that into me," he said. "And from my grandfather, I got the ability to talk the chrome off a bumper hitch."

FP&L was in a decade-long binge of layoffs. Between 1991, his first year as business manager, and 1999 — his first year as business manager of System Council 4, which represents all 11 locals with FP&L workers — more than 45% of FP&L's IBEW workforce was laid off.

"Being with a member who just got a pink slip was horrible, and I did it hundreds of times," Thompson said. "And when you couldn't help them, just being with them in one of the toughest moments in their lives was all you could do. "It was heartbreaking. I spent a lot of time asking the company, 'Why?'"

That experience toughened Thompson's view of management.

"We will work with employers, and that makes them think we are friends. They are all like that to a degree. They are not our friends. I know what the CEO across the table is making!" Thompson said. "I'll shake hands and make agreements that work best for our members, but I wonder, 'How do you look at yourself in the mirror?'"

Thompson was business manager until 2005. In those years, FP&L expanded from a local utility to a 26-state behemoth swallowed up by its former subsidiary NextEra.

Thompson said the achievement he is most proud of is the implementation of the Code of Excellence, a program created by then-International President Edwin D. Hill that Thompson called "brilliant."

"We kept getting hammered by companies for the worst 10% of the people they hired and we had to represent. What Ed knew was that 90% of the people were doing their job with pride and wanted to be recognized as the true face of labor," he said. "Some people thought we were bowing to the company, but it had nothing to do with that. Finally, we were going on the offensive."

The first few classes were nerve-wracking, he said. After years of layoffs and a nasty relationship with the company, how would the members hear a demand to raise our own standards?

"We were sweating bullets. To my surprise, early in the class, we heard cross-talk and the overwhelming majority was 'It's about time they started recognizing us,'" he said. "Our message to the ones causing problems was either straighten up or get the [expletive] out."

By 2005, Thompson was ready for a break from dealing with one company. Then-Fifth District International Vice President Jon Shantzen passed his name up to Hill to fill an international representative vacancy.

Thompson also took on the task of political chief for the district, leading the IBEW's effort to elect pro-worker candidates in the decidedly infertile ground of the Deep South. His biggest achievement as international representative, he said, was Barack Obama's two victories in Florida.

In 2019, Thompson was tapped again, this time to replace Joe Davis as Fifth District international vice president. He moved to Georgia and oversaw an operation that helped John Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock win both of Georgia's Senate seats.

His greatest pride as international vice president is signing the charters of two new locals, Atlanta Local 1997 and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Local 787. His greatest pride as a second-generation member is that his two nephews and his great nephew are now also members.

"Don't tell me the South can't organize. We are outperforming every closed-shop district," he said. "We are losing some high-profile elections on the first go-round, but I think the lesson is that we will never give up. By the second, third time, the workers are seeing through the companies' [lies] and realizing that they are the ones with the power."

The officers, staff and members thank Brother Thompson for his long service and wish him a long, healthy and happy retirement.


Brian K. Thompson



RETIRED
Charles W. Tippie

Charles W. Tippie, a Fourth District international representative whose top-notch negotiation skills honed over a 45-year IBEW career helped bring hundreds of working people into the union, retired May 1.

A lifelong Ohio resident, Brother Tippie joined Columbus Local 1466 in 1979, shortly after graduating from Tri-Valley High School in Dresden, when he was hired for the first of several positions for American Electric Power's Ohio unit.

He took to union membership quickly, serving his fellow members as a shop steward and as a Bureau of Workers' Compensation representative. By the mid-1980s, though, Tippie had grown dissatisfied with the direction he felt his local was headed.

"I decided I could either become an officer or just step back," he said.

Choosing the former, Tippie ran successfully for a spot on Local 1466's executive board in 1989. Six years later, he was elected recording secretary, a position he held until his election as business manager in 2007.

In 2012, International President Edwin D. Hill appointed Tippie as an international representative for the Fourth District.

Steve Crum, one of Tippie's fellow Fourth District international representatives, said that Tippie naturally became one of the district's "go-to guys" when it came to electrical utilities because of his years of experience with AEP.

"He's extremely knowledgeable about them," said Crum, who has known Tippie for about 15 years. "A real expert. We relied on Chuck quite a bit."

Tippie's skills and knowledge eventually helped him develop a knack for assisting newly organized bargaining units to successfully negotiate first contracts, Crum said.

"Chuck is a no-B.S. kind of guy. He tells you the way it is, and you know where you stand," Crum said. "Everybody respects that."

All those qualities proved quite beneficial when it came time for Tippie to help negotiate a first contract for workers at Baltimore Gas and Electric.

Four times over 20 years, the IBEW had unsuccessfully tried to organize BGE workers into the union. Success was at last achieved in March 2017 when, after a massive 18-month effort, a majority of the more than 1,400 BGE workers voted to join the IBEW and form Baltimore Local 410.

"That election victory was the biggest thing that happened in the district in years," Crum said. "But victory only matters when you get a contract."

It then took Tippie — partnered with then-Fourth District International Representative Gina Cooper, who is now the district's international vice president — another two years of tireless work to hammer out a ratifiable collective bargaining agreement.

"Being part of the BGE negotiations team was one of my proudest moments," Tippie said.

Tippie carries that and many other fond IBEW memories into retirement. "I worked with a bunch of good business managers and local unions," he said. "It was just a real good time. I'm going to miss them."

"Chuck leaves a legacy of leadership," Cooper said. "He worked hard to ensure that the local unions he serviced understood their roles and provided them with the tools they needed for success. His dedication to the IBEW and the locals will continue to help for years to come."

At least for the near term, Tippie intends to stick close to his Ohio home and spend time with his wife, Mary Beth, and their two adult children.

"I plan on working around the house, do some yard work," he said. "I traveled for the last 12 years to locals all across the Fourth District. We'll travel later."

The officers and staff thank Brother Tippie for his many years of service and wish him a long, happy and healthy retirement.


Charles W. Tippie



APPOINTED
Glenn Brannen

Glenn Brannen, whose long IBEW career includes more than 20 years as an international representative in the Deep South, has been appointed the Fifth District's international vice president.

Brannen replaces Brian K. Thompson, who is retiring. The Fifth District includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Puerto Rico.

"The best way I can describe Glenn is that he's one of the most honest people I've ever met, and he's very, very analytical," said retired Shreveport, La., Local 194 Business Manager and Fifth District International Representative Herbert Prestidge, a mentor early in Brannen's career and still a close friend.

"He's what I call face to face," Prestidge added. "If you have a problem, he'll be talking to you and there will be nothing on his mind other than what he can do to help you with it."

Thompson said his successor "will do a phenomenal job." He added: "I can't wait to see him spread his wings and fly."

"I've known Glenn for more than 22 years," Thompson said. "He's a very close friend, but more importantly, he's well qualified for the position. He's very attention-oriented and detailed."

Born and raised in Shreveport, Brother Brannen figured while growing up that he would pursue a career in the trades. He just wasn't sure which one.

His father was a union carpenter, but he knew several people who were either IBEW members or related to one, so he was familiar with the benefits of being a union electrician. Those people included his girlfriend at the time, Dianne, whose father was a Local 194 member, and her two brothers.

Thus, he ended up part of the Brotherhood. Brannen began his apprenticeship in 1981 and became a member of Local 194 the following year, topping out as a journeyman inside wireman in 1985.

By then, Prestidge was convinced that Brannen had the makings of a leader. Brannen was selected the top apprentice in his graduating class. He never missed a Local 194 meeting and usually was an active participant.

"It didn't take much for me to look at him and say, 'This guy is going places,'" Prestidge said.

Brannen said the variety of work he was able to do, along with the benefits of union membership, convinced him that he made the right decision.

"I really enjoyed the challenge of seeing a job going from a field to a completed facility," he said.

A leadership position within Local 194 was on the horizon. Brannen was elected to the executive board in 1990 and appointed business manager in 1993 after Prestidge left for the district office. He was reelected three times before accepting a Fifth District international representative position himself in 2002.

Prestidge noted that Local 194, which includes members in inside, outside and utility, doubled its membership when Brannen served as business manager. It also organized what had been a nonunion electrical co-op in the Shreveport area.

After joining the district office, Brannen originally was a service rep for locals in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, but his area has been Mississippi and Louisiana in recent years.

He often accompanied then-International Representative Jimmy Russ on visits to local unions during his first few months as he transitioned to the district office. Russ said it was striking how well prepared he was.

"We worked very well together," said Russ, now retired and living in Alabama. "He was smart and still is very smart. You couldn't tell he was new to the job."

Even though Brannen's background is in construction, he quickly learned how much he enjoyed working with locals from all the branches.

"The most interesting thing is seeing how other local unions do things and assisting in contract negotiations," he said. "I really enjoyed that, trying to get the best contract for the members. We had organized that pretty sizable electrical cooperative while I was business manager, so it was not new to me."

Brannen praised the work of Thompson, who he served under for the last 5 ½ years. He noted that construction is booming across the South, much of it spurred by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other legislation passed in recent years by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.

"We have several megaprojects going up around the district," Brannen said. "We want to make sure our construction and then our [professional and industrial] locals can take advantage of that. I'm also looking forward to working with our locals on the other side of the district, in Georgia and Florida, which I haven't dealt with as much, and seeing what their needs are."

Brannen and Dianne are still together. They've been married for 40 years, and she's had a long career as an oncology nurse. They still live in Shreveport near his 99-year-old mother, Lola. Dianne's two brothers became brothers-in-law and are Local 194 members themselves.

"We were born here, grew up here and made our friends here," he said. "It's home for us."

Among those friends is Prestidge, who is thrilled to see a former star apprentice ascend in the IBEW.

"I really am proud of him," Prestidge said. "He really does respect people and their opinions. The members in the Fifth District will see that when they have a problem, he will do the best thing for them in that moment."

The officers and staff congratulate Brother Brannen on his appointment and wish him much success in his new role.


Glenn Brannen


The Electrical Worker Online (2024)

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