“‘We Believe In Diversity’” - Indiana IBEW Local & Signatory Contractor Partner With NAACP To Expand Solar Training Program
(EVANSVILLE, INDIANA) - Evansville, Indiana International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 16 has a long, proud history. The city sent one of the 10 delegates to the IBEW’s first convention in 1891 and Local 16 has been a major part of the Southwestern Indiana Community for more than 100 years.
Now, Business Manager Brandon Wongngamnit and others are trying to build on that history.
Wongngamnit wants traditionally underrepresented parts of the community to better enjoy the benefits of IBEW Membership and a new partnership with Signatory Contractor Morton Solar and the NAACP is a step in that direction.
The NAACP funded the installation of solar panels on the Greater St. James Community Center, a historically Black Church in Evansville.
As part of the program, Morton Solar and owner Brad Morton, along with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, provided early-stage instruction on solar-panel installation to three Black Men and one Latino.
Wongngamnit hopes the program and others like it provide a path for as many new Trainees as possible into Local 16’s Apprenticeship Program.
Only licensed Electricians are permitted to install solar panels in Vanderburgh County, where Evansville is located.
Although commercial solar installation in the area has slowed during the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is expected to pick back up when Vectren, the area’s Electric Utility Provider, begins work on a solar farm about 30 miles east of Evansville.
“It’s ‘baby steps,’” he said. “If we can get some of these guys to be Journeyman Wireman and part of Local 16, ‘it will all be worth it.’”
Wongngamnit, who is of Asian descent, noted that only 27 of Local 16’s 1,015 Members are considered People of Color - just over 2%.
One of his goals since being elected Business Manager earlier this year is to “offer more opportunities to People of Color ‘by making sure they know what we have to offer,’” he said. “A lot of them ‘don’t know about us and that is something we want to correct.’ ‘We want to be as diversified as possible.’”
He credits Brad Morton for Local 16’s involvement.
His company is a member of B Corps, an international program that includes nearly 3,600 companies that work toward reducing income inequality, lowering poverty, building stronger communities, a healthier environment and “the creation of ‘more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose,’” he said.
“We ‘want to create the type of jobs the old mining companies did in this area, that are high paying and help the economy,’” Morton said. “We want to create jobs ‘across the spectrum.’ ‘We believe in diversity.’”
It’s why Morton was receptive when approached by NAACP Officials.
The training program is part of the legendary Civil Rights Organization’s “Power Up” initiative, which trains People of Color to work in emerging energy technologies with the goal of closing the unemployment gap between Black Americans and the rest of the population.
“We are ‘very happy to have this relationship with the IBEW,’” said Robin Williams, the retired Associate Director of Civil Rights for the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Labor Chair of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors. “Since it started a few months again, ‘it has really been going well.’”
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