Jesse Newman believes in the Code of Excellence and that it’s a win-win situation for both IBEW members and employers.
But the Las Vegas Local 396 business manager happily admits he didn’t have to do any convincing when it came to NV Energy and Paul Caudill, its president and chief operating officer.
“He said many times, ‘I value this relationship,’ “Newman said. “We have to work together.”
Local 396 and NV Energy, which provides electrical power to most of Nevada, adopted a Commitment to Excellence proclamation earlier this year to “project a positive attitude about who we are and the work we perform, on or off the job, while maintaining a relationship of respect and accountability.”
“If someone from the outside looked at this, they would say, ‘Holy cow, that’s some dedication,’ “ said Local 396 President Shannon Skinner, a lead journeyman lineman for NV Energy.
The company also agreed to use IBEW members for all future contracted work, Ninth District Vice President John O’Rourke said. That likely means more work for Local 357, a construction local in Las Vegas.
“This is huge,” O’Rourke said. “They see the value of the IBEW’s professionalism, our expertise and the quality of our training. They know we’re going to get the work done on time and on budget.”
The proclamation sets standards for Local 396 members working at NV Energy and for company managers in the areas of customer service, commitment and excellence on the job, along with environmental, regulatory and financial matters. Workers are now wearing hard hats with stickers commemorating the partnership. Stickers also are affixed to NV Energy service trucks.
“NV Energy sees it as part of their business model,” Newman said. “Why fight with the union when we can work with them on the challenges we face?”
Added Skinner: “This company recognizes what the IBEW is about. They like our core values, they like our standards and they like our work ethic.”
Caudill said that “we all want to create a work environment that we can be proud of and allows all of my colleagues to feel good about working for the power company.”
“Local 396 leadership, including Jesse Newman and Shannon Skinner, should get most of the credit for creating this opportunity to continue this collaboration,” he added. “The Commitment to Excellence will result in continued positive efforts in the community and being able to best serve our customers. This is not the end --- but just another step along the way. We can only get better together.”
The Code of Excellence was rolled out on a national level in the construction branch in 2007 and it’s received positive reviews from members and signatory contractors ever since.
It has spread to other sectors in recent years. The agreement between Local 396 and NV Energy covers about 610 utility sector workers. It will be called the Commitment of Excellence as requested by NV Energy officials, who believe it better signifies the depth of the relationship.
“This is wonderful news not just for our members in Nevada, but throughout the country,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “The Code of Excellence is a reminder the IBEW has the best workforce anywhere and we back that up. To see an industry leader like NV Energy wholeheartedly embrace it is extremely gratifying and we hope convinces other utility companies to do the same.”
NV Energy is known to most customers around Las Vegas as Nevada Power, the name of its subsidiary in the southern part of the state. The company was purchased in 2013 by Berkshire Hathaway, the multinational conglomerate made famous by Chairman Warren Buffett.
Local 396 had a difficult time developing a relationship with company management before that, said Ninth District International Representative Charlie Randall, Newman’s predecessor as business manager.
“It’s funny,” Newman said. “When Berkshire took over, we were pretty nervous. Obviously with Paul, it’s been a positive thing for us.”
Caudill was hired in late 2013. He took an interest in the Code of Excellence after hearing about an agreement the IBEW reached with Florida Power & Light to institute the code there, Newman said. Caudill also has visited Alabama Power, where the IBEW has had a particularly strong relationship with management for the last several years.
“He told us, ‘I want to be the gold standard,’“ Randall said.
Skinner has worked for the company for 22 years and has been part of the Local 396 contract negotiating team several times. She’s noticed a change for the better during the last two years.
“I think it’s mutual respect,” she said. “We work together and we have a common goal, to serve our customers here in Nevada in a productive manner. We’re professionals, they’re professionals. When we work together, it just doesn’t get any better.”
Last December, Randall and Tracy Prezeau, an international representative from the Education Department based in the Ninth District, led training sessions for both IBEW members and NV Energy management.
Prezeau said an executive from NV Energy approached asked during the training about steward training conducted by the IBEW. She inquired about instituting some of those techniques into NV Energy’s training for its managers.
“In my seven years of doing this, I’ve never heard an employer suggest that’s something they would even consider,” she said. “I was amazed and I told them that.”
Newman said the agreement makes it easier for both sides to work together on important legislative issues, particularly ways to deal with the solar industry and the role public utilities might play in it.
“The most important work we’re doing together removes barriers to more effective communication and teamwork, which is helping us in a time of unprecedented change in the energy markets, including competition for our services,” Caudill said.