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After 41 Years As A Member & 31 Years As Its President, Michael J. Franey - Who Was Also Responsible For Captaining The Union’s $200 Million Benefits/Funds Office - Retires From Orchard Park-Headquartered IBEW Local 41

International President Hill Says Franey: “Exemplified Responsibility And Integrity. Like Many Who Dedicated Their Lives To The Trade Union Movement, You Touched Many Lives. Working Families Are Fortunate To Have You As Their Champion.”

Published Friday, September 17, 2010 11:00 am
by Tom Campbell
After 41 Years As A Member & 31 Years As Its President, Michael J. Franey - Who Was Also Responsible For Captaining The Union’s $200 Million Benefits/Funds Office - Retires From Orchard Park-Headquartered IBEW Local 41

(ORCHARD PARK) – While Michael J. Franey (pictured above) just might be the longest serving president of any IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local across the U.S., there’s no doubt he’s left an indelible mark on not only Orchard Park-headquartered Local 41 that represents 1,000 active members – but the entire Western New York Labor Movement.

This evening (Friday, September 17th), more than 300 individuals will gather at the Hearthstone Manor in suburban Cheektowaga to honor Franey at a retirement dinner that will be held for a multitude of reasons and successes - from his dutiful captaining and overall efforts to continually stabilize Local 41’s more than $200 million Benefits/Funds Office during stock market crashes through the mid-80s and the recent scandal of financial advisor Bernard Madoff to his personal involvement in moving forward on and creating an Apprenticeship Recruitment DVD that is currently being used in the Buffalo Public School System to educate young people on the many career opportunities that exist in the Unionized Building Trades.

As testament to what Franey has accomplished over the years, IBEW International President Edwin Hill has sent a letter to commemorate his service to Local 41.  Hill wrote: “The responsible stewardship of benefit funds is one of the hallmarks of an effective local Union and is absolutely essential to retaining the trust of current and future members.  As Local 41’s president and funds administrator, you’ve exemplified the responsibility and integrity up on which this organization depends.  Like many who dedicated their lives to the Trade Union Movement, you’ve touched many lives.  Working Families throughout Upstate New York are fortunate to have you as their champion.  Many voices will be raised in your honor on September 17th.  I am truly proud to add mine.  You are and always will be an honored member of the IBEW Family.”

Recognized for a tough exterior and his dapper suits, Franey became a member of Local 41 after returning from military service in Vietnam in August 1969 – going to work for Industrial Power and Lighting Corp. in Buffalo.  He was elected the Union’s vice-president in 1978 before being appointed its president in 1979.  In addition to his duties as president, Franey served as a Trustee to Local 41’s Health, Pension, Annuity, Unit Pension and Electrical Industry Education Funds - positions he held since his appointment in 1979.  He also served as Local 41’s Funds Administrator of the Union’s Health, Pension, Annuity and Unit Pension Funds – which involves the responsibility of overseeing more than $200 million in member benefits, funds and investments - from 1979 until his retirement this year. 

Over the years, Franey worked hard to keep his Union’s Funds Office and its members’ money and investments stable and strong while weathering tough financial times in the 80s and as other Labor Unions dealt with major hits to their funds as a result of being stung by the recent Ponzi scheme that was carried out by jailed financial advisor Madoff.  At the same time, Franey was always in the forefront of taking advantage of new technology that would streamline Local 41’s Health, Pension, Annuity, Unit Pension and Electrical Industry Education Funds’ Office – including the use of an electronic transfer system that the International IBEW would later adopt.

Over the years, Franey’s keen business sense and knowledge allowed him to participate in numerous projects at the International IBEW Level over the years, as well as attending and playing a role in the Union’s International Conventions in 1982, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006.  On another front, Franey also volunteered his services to the members of the Local 41’s Credit Union - serving as a Credit Committee Member until his appointment to the Board of Directors in February 1981.  He served as Secretary of the Board of Directors (1984-1987) and as Treasurer - a position he has held since his appointment in February 1987.  In addition, Franey also served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Western New York Pension Foundation, an investment group comprised of Buffalo-Area Construction Unions that invest in Western New York building projects. 

Long-time and now-retired Local 41 Business Manager James Voye said of Franey: “I knew a guy who’s done so much for the membership and their well-being, who flew under the radar with our membership.  They didn’t see him in the same light as I did.  (Franey) wore many hats and the majority of his successes went unnoticed.  What you saw on the outside was not necessarily what was on the inside.  But while he had a tough exterior, inside he had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone who needed help.”

John Pavlovic, who succeeded Voye as business manager at Local 41, added: “Mike was one of the top Funds Administrators across the United States and people would always be calling him for advice.  His biggest attribute was he made the right decisions, even though they might have not been popular with the members.  His decisions were always based on what was right, not what (the members) wanted.  And over the years, no member was ever sent a letter that said their benefits were being cut.”

Franey took some time earlier in the week to sit down with WNYLaborToday.com and talk about his 41-year career as an IBEW Member and his 31-year career as Local 41’s president – while joking that he’s “sure” what may be the longest term ever served by a Local IBEW president “isn’t going to happen again.”

“You don’t realize (time going by) after you win a couple of elections,” said the 63-year-old Franey, who began his career with IBEW Local 41 at the age of 22.  “I’m most proud that we were able to maintain the most financially-stable pension fund – bar none – for our members.  It was combination of efforts from myself, our trustees and plan professionals who did our best for our membership.  I’m also proud of our development of the portability of benefits for our members, so no matter wherever they worked in the U.S. their health and pension benefits were perpetuated – they came back to them at Local 41, which provided a continuity of benefit.”

Admittedly, the one Union Leader that had the most impact on Franey over the years was the late IBEW Local 41 Business Manager Gene Adams.  Asked what he learned most from Adams, a legendary Western New York Labor Leader, Franey replied: “Integrity, foresight and compassion for our members.  He had it all.  There will never be another Gene Adams.  He was my mentor from 1975 to 1990.”

Franey also said he is proud of the continuing training his Union has provided to its membership over the years, which has allowed each to “excel in so many areas, from solar to fiber optics to the administering of CPR.”  Involving the membership in both the community where they worked, lived and raised their families and the political/election process, has worked to benefit each and every IBEW Local 41 member, he said.

Franey – who added that a day did not go by where he didn’t learn something from former Local 41 Business Manager Voye - said he would most like to be remembered for “doing the best job I could for our members and their families.” 

“It was a job that you had to be there no matter the situation if your membership needed you, whether there a death in the family, an illness or injury,” he said.

Retired Local 41 Business Manager Pavlovic – who described Franey as “one of my best friends and a good dresser” – agreed, remembering the retiring IBEW president as “always being there” for any member who needed help. 

“The ‘real’ Mike Franey was the guy sitting in a hospital with a member on a Saturday night, taking care of them, making sure they had the coverage they needed.  I actually saw a couple of our members turned down for procedures and Mike used his connections in the medical community to open doors to get it done.  Very few people could have done what he did.  He touched people personally,” Pavlovic said. 

Franey’s “tough exterior” hid a “heart of gold,” the Union’s former business managers said, noting Franey was involved in numerous community projects, including upgrades at Cradle Beach Camp (a camp which provides summer programs for children with disabilities and children from low-income families), installing Christmas lights in Orchard Park, and donating his efforts to Habitat for Humanity, the local United Way and Mercy Flight - to name a few.  In addition, Franey headed the committee to illuminate the turrets and battlements of the City of Buffalo’s West Side Landmark – The Connecticut Street Armory. 

Franey also served as a Trustee on the Buffalo Building & Construction Trades Council’s Pre-Apprentice Education and Training Trust Fund, which was established to provide training and retraining programs to employees and prospective employees of the Unionized Building Trades. 

He was also a champion of the movement to attract and organize women and minorities into the Building Trades and made a number of important efforts to get the job done. 

For example, a couple of years back, Franey - who served on the committee that awards scholarships to provide financial support to graduating Buffalo Public School seniors for post-secondary education in construction-related fields - was instrumental in the development of a recruitment DVD for the Buffalo Building Trades, which was created to help in the recruitment of young people and minorities.  That DVD was eventually distributed to area high school counseling offices and is currently being used as a means of educating students on the many careers and benefits of joining a Union Apprenticeship Program after graduation.

“If anyone had told me back in September 1969 that education was the name of the game, I would have told them to ‘take a hike.’  But what I found over the years that there was no where else I would have gotten the education I received and I never got a bill for it,” Franey said.

In retirement, Franey plans to spend much of his time boating the area’s waterways and taking advantage of his recent certification in scuba diving. 

However, he tells WNYLaborToday.com he would like to continue to be involved in the Western New York Labor Movement, which he said, “is in a fight for its very existence.”

“People need to know about (the Labor Movement) and what it’s done for people,” Franey said.  “It’s all about education, education and education.”

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