It is no coincidence that as Vice President Kamala Harris launched a national college tour, one of her first stops included an IBEW training center and a roundtable with nine apprentices.
After all, the debt-free apprenticeship model of education is among the best-kept secrets of the labor movement, particularly as Americans come to terms with the trillions of dollars in college loans dragging down families and interfering with their ability to build a secure financial future even decades after college.
On Sept. 19, Harris visited Reading, Pa., Local 743, where she discussed the importance of unions and apprenticeships with the leaders of several unions in the area, said Business Manager Mark Pinkasavage.
During the whirlwind walk-through, Pinkasavage presented her with a laminated membership dues ticket, a symbolic thank you for all that the Biden-Harris administration has accomplished for IBEW members, including the emphasis on substantial collective bargaining rights, for making good union energy jobs the centerpiece of their climate agenda, and their focus on uplifting underrepresented communities.
“I said I can’t think of a better person to organize as an honorary member,” Pinkasavage said. “She was astonished and very appreciative.”
Then the vice president headed to an hour-long roundtable set up with Local 743 apprentices at the training center, where she heard concerns typical of the cohort aged between 18 and 25: affordable childcare, whether they would be able to purchase a house, and the security of an in-demand technical career.
“The young leaders I met today in the IBEW Local 743 apprenticeship program are developing skills that will lead to good-paying jobs — jobs that will provide the freedom to live their best life,” Harris said on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
Local 743 has been busy expanding its ranks of members to reflect the Reading area and doubling down on building a solid pipeline of students into a new pre-apprenticeship program, Pinkasavage said. “We have set goals for minority outreach, which we have set and surpassed,” adding that in January, the local union is launching a new 14-week pre-apprenticeship program from which they aim to recruit a majority into the apprenticeship.
Local 743’s jurisdiction covers Berks, Lancaster and Schuylkill counties northwest of Philadelphia. Pinkasavage said in a swing district of a battleground state. He expects political outreach to be important in his communications with rank-and-file members in the coming year. Although he did not get to elaborate with the vice president about the importance of the union ticket they presented to her, he plans to follow up with the membership. “It might not mean to her what it means to us. It’s almost like our ticket to the middle class and a better life.”
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