Interview with Summer Zachary

Working Californians focuses not only on its seasoned union members, but also its hardworking apprentices, who work tirelessly to learn the trade and craft well. Summer Zachary, an Journeyman Sounding Installer with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 11 epitomizes an industrious woman in labor, who represents working women across the nation in the fight for equal pay between men and women. The Apprenticeship program at IBEW Local 11 is an “earn while you learn” five-year training program, which requires its apprentices to work full time hours while completing classroom related study.  We received the wonderful opportunity to briefly discuss Summer’s accomplishments as a devoted and passionate member of IBEW Local 11.

What is your title and what do you do for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11?

I am Journeyman Sounding Installer and I serve on the Executive board of the Electrical Minority Caucus, within Local 11.

When did you get involved with IBEW Local 11?

I began in February 2013 in the apprenticeship program. I started attending meetings with union empowerment and leading mentoring programs that offered resources to women in the workforce, and it was then that I started seeking services from the Electrical Training Institute (ETI) mentoring program.

What are the objectives of IBEW Local 11?

We handle assignments of all locals, men and women involved with data, fire alarms, and emergency response services.  This division is one of the classifications of the union. Most of the members of Local 11 are in one of these types of electrical classifications.

What specific aspects of the Union attracted you to become a committed member of IBEW Local 11?

I think the main aspect was the huge gap between men and women and the middle-class and low-income groups in the industry. All my life I had performed administrative work and so when I joined this organization and started going to these empowerment meetings I started realizing that there was a giant gap in the blue collar working class and it’s getting worse.  And the trades and the trades unions are kind of the last bastion of the middle class as they are actively working against the 1% to reduce this income disparity and make the gap disappear. 

I also realized as I got more involved there were no women!  That impacted me to get involved because being an African American female and having a shared interest with other members I thought this was awesome. 

 I felt like I couldn’t just be in the union and have other people not know about the jobs and opportunities they were providing and the benefits they are actively fighting for.  So I wanted to learn more and that is what made me start attending the general meetings. One day I googled “Apprenticeship program,” and IBEW Local 11 popped up. I soon found out that I had the opportunity to work and go to school.

 I graduated early from the Apprenticeship program—it was great, and I loved it! I worked in fire alarms at my previous job and when I started taking the Apprenticeship classes, I learned about what fire alarms are about. I had a context to understand better what I was learning and things were really coming together. It made the workmanship much more interesting.

How has IBEW Local 11 supported you and your family?

I was living with my mom and with no money. The first day I showed up for boot camp, I was told that our company Work Source would provide me with a voucher for a free pair of boots and tools. I was blown away by that! I took the test, passed, and was sent to boot camp in August. When I went into boot camp, I was blown away by the fact that I received free books—a free education was unheard of to me. Free tools, boots, and books. That was such an amazing opportunity that most people don’t have. It’s like: We [IBEW Local 11] are going to give you this huge chance. All you have to do is show up, be eager to learn, do well and represent IBEW Local 11 with integrity. From that day forward, I was devoted to this organization and everything it stands for.

Aside from your work with IBEW Local 11, how have you contributed to the greater community?

IBEW has helped me take care of people who have taken care of me. For example, once I started working, I started participating in other community groups. I help wire up electrical outlets at a center for children in need.

I am also an instructor at ETI. If I am not busy with the Electrical Minority Caucus meetings, I am either teaching or learning in my apprenticeship class. It’s giving me a little bit of purpose. I am always happy to help anyone who is interested in the program. I get to talk about my experience, and let people know that there is Health insurance and a strong brotherhood behind you.

What issues are you most passionate about it?

The situation of the working class and how they are being paid for their value and the time that they work is something I am very passionate about. I went to Columbia school for my undergraduate work. Being on that track, you don’t think about this issue and you don’t think about the impact of that. At a certain age, I felt strongly that the building trades is not only a craft—it is an artwork. It is not something that anyone can just do; it is something that you have to work at. You can’t just know it; you have to be trained. And, there is an extreme amount of time and money that is put into your training and education.

In addition, I am very passionate when it comes to conversations regarding the trades, especially when people pass judgment on their professions. It is like: “You don’t know the time and energy that is required for the apprenticeship program and what apprentices have to go through. I am dedicated to the cause of the unions and I love to let everyone know that I am in the union.

Why is it important for people to know about the work that you do with IBEW Local 11?

If you’re looking to be involved with something that is more than a job, IBEW Local 11 is the place to go. If you’re not sure where to go, then there is no harm to join. They will teach you and you’ll find out really fast whether or not this is something that you want to do. If you decide that it works for you, there is no better way to get into a career than IBEW Local 11’s Apprenticeship program. There is a positive reinforcement and the people you are working with create a genuine, lasting and strong connection with you.