50 Years Later: Local 3 Delegation Returns to Puerto Rico

Union World edition: 
Jan 2008
page: 
6

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Business Manager Christopher Erikson (extreme right) and President John E. Marchell, (extreme left) are pictured with IBEW Local 950 Business Manager Juan Pagan (2nd from right) and his fellow officers.

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Pictured with the Local 3 delegation visiting Puerto Rico are the Local 3 members employed at the El Commandante Race Track.

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Local 3’s delegation are pictured with the officials of the Puerto Rican AFL-CIO with whom they met and discussed the issues being confronted by Puerto Rican workers.

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(L to r): Business Manager Christopher Erikson, NECA NY Chapter Executive Secretary Edwin Lopez, Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 41 Business Manager Ruben Rodriguez, Local 41 Organizer Alfredo Mari, President John E. Marchell and IBEW Local 950 Business Manager Juan Pagan, discuss the importance of training and organizing the next generation of trade unionists in their respective trades.

In 1958, Harry Van Arsdale Jr., along with a delegation from the NYC Central Labor Council and Local 3 rank and file members, took a study tour trip to Puerto Rico to better understand the reasons behind the large migration of Puerto Ricans to New York City. This delegation wanted to gain insight into the economic and social factors facing these immigrants homeland and how labor in NYC could better organize them and represent their needs. Upon returning from Puerto Rico, Harry Van Arsdale Jr. saw the need and merit to found a club within Local 3 to offer Hispanic members a venue to assimilate into Local 3 and the trade union movement, as well as a club where their rich cultural history could endure. The Santiago Iglesias Educational Society (S.I.E.S) of Local 3 was established as a result of the 1958 trip. The club was named after Santiago Iglesias Pantin, a carpenter from La Coruna, Spain, born in 1870. He is recognized by many as the father of the Puerto Rican Labor Movement.
In 1916, Mr. Pantin organized and became President of the Socialist Party of Puerto Rico and served as Senator of Puerto Rico from 1917 to 1933. Beginning in 1925, he served as Secretary of the Pan American Federation of Labor and in 1932 was elected the Island’s Resident Commissioner in Washington and held that post until his death in 1939.
Under the recommendation of Business Manager Christopher Erikson and the approval of Local 3’s rank and file at the general membership meeting, a suitable ­delegation was sent to Puerto Rico from November 27 to December 1. The delegation comprised of Business Manager ­Christopher Erikson, President John E. Marchell, Business Representative Luis Restrepo (past S.I.E.S. president), Business Representative Anthony Esponda, Examining Board member Benjamin Arana (past s.i.e.s. president), Humberto Restrepo (past S.I.E.S .president) and Antonio Abreu, current president of Santiago Iglesias Educational Society. Former Local 3 business representative and current executive secretary of NECA Edwin Lopez (past S.I.E.S. president) also joined the delegates. The delegates met with distinguished leaders within the Puerto Rican AFL-CIO, the business manager of Local 950 IBEW, Local 3 members employed at the El Commandante Race Track, Business ­Manager Ruben Rodriguez of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, Local Union 41, and the director of the Santiago Iglesias Pantin Labor Library, ­Professor Mario Roche of The ­University of Puerto Rico.
The delegates met with Local 950, IBEW Business Manager Juan Pagan and his ­executive board at their union headquarters, which is also the location of their training center. The delegates were given a tour of the hands-on training center and a description of the programs that will be available in the near future to make this training center the most state-of-the-art electrical training center of its kind in Puerto Rico. After the tour, a lengthy discussion ensued regarding the challenges facing Local 950 and the building trades on the Island. In 2005, our International Union recognized the need to organize non-union electricians in Puerto Rico and hence chartered Local 950 of the IBEW. During the last two years, Local 950 has been working hard to obtain the proper permits and approvals from the government of Puerto Rico to operate its training center. Although they have faced many obstacles and some setbacks, they have prevailed and were scheduled to inaugurate their training center on ­December 7, 2007.
Business Manager Pagan and his executive board made clear the challenges facing the IBEW in Puerto Rico, however, they remain committed and determined to ­succeed in organizing electrical workers on the ­Island. Business Manager Christopher Erikson ­applauded their accomplishments thus far and pledged his support to the important work that lies ahead for Business Manager Pagan and Local 950.
The delegates met with the Vice President of the Puerto Rican AFL-CIO and other union leaders at the AFL-CIO headquarters. During this meeting, an informal discussion took place regarding the many challenges facing the Puerto Rican labor movement. It was discussed how the split within the AFL-CIO at the national level has adversely ­affected the unity and strength of the entire labor movement. Many issues, such as escalating medical costs, organizing, an unsympathetic National Labor Relations Board and the failed policies for working men and women emanating from the current Bush administration in Washington D.C. are shared by both Puerto Rican and American workers. The productive exchange of ideas was beneficial to all in attendance and the warm welcome was much appreciated.
Business Manager Erikson arranged to meet with the workers at El Commandante Race Track employed by Scientific Game Racing, a group represented by Local 3. Business Manager Erikson invited the delegates to a private meeting with these workers to gauge their satisfaction with Local 3’s representation and to discuss their concerns. These members expressed their satisfaction with Local 3 as well as their concerns regarding the rising costs of medical coverage. They were very excited to meet with Business Manager Erikson, President John E. Marchell and the delegates. It was an important and welcomed opportunity for this group to have their concerns addressed.
The delegation also met with Business ­Manager Ruben Rodriguez of the Sheet Metal Workers Union 41 at their headquarter/training center. Business Manager Rodriguez gave a tour of their training facility and explained how they promote membership into their union via educational ­opportunities and training certification ­benefits. He, too, noted the challenges present in organizing nonunion construction workers, but remained hopeful that the ­future can be brighter with a larger share of the building trades market worked by union tradesmen. The road will be difficult, but the results can be promising if labor perseveres and allocates the resources and effort to prevail. After this meeting, the delegates took time from their busy schedule to visit the Santiago Iglesias Pantin ­Memorial ­located in San Juan. It was a proud moment to visit this important labor leader’s memorial and to reflect on the many accomplishments of Santiago Iglesias ­Educational ­Society since the first study tour to Puerto Rico in 1958.
On the last day of the trip, the delegates visited the Santiago Iglesias Pantin Labor Library housed at the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao. The director of the ­library, professor Mario Roche gave a thorough account of the life and works of Santiago Iglesias Pantin, which was followed by an open discussion of how Mr. Pantin is viewed today in Puerto Rico and the important work that Santiago Iglesias Educational Society performs in Local 3 and in the Latino communities. Through these discussions, the professor gained a better understanding of the results of the first study tour to Puerto Rico in 1958, led by the late Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Professor Roche was very grateful to have met with Business Manager ­Christopher Erikson, President John E. Marchell and the delegation. He presented them with a package containing literature about the life and accomplishments of Santiago Iglesias Pantin. In return, Business Manager Erikson presented Professor Roche with two signed copies of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. book, Labor’s Champion, by Gene Ruffini. These books will be displayed in the Santiago Iglesias Pantin Labor ­Library at the University of Puerto Rico for the benefit of current and future students of labor studies in Puerto Rico. In retrospect, this is a fitting tribute to the memory of Brother Harry Van Arsdale Jr. who saw a need to conduct a study tour of Puerto Rico half a century ago, and who decided to recognize the important contributions of Santiago Iglesias Pantin by being the catalyst for the formation of Santiago Iglesias Educational Society, which bears his name. Today, fifty years later the Santiago Iglesias Labor Library has in its archives the important work and life of Harry Van Arsdale Jr. as written in Labor’s ­Champion.
The second study tour trip provided insight into the events and developments over the last fifty years in Puerto Rico and provided an important opportunity to establish relationships with Local 3 and the new leaders of the labor movement in Puerto Rico. Additionally, it provided inspiration and solidarity to the leaders of Local 950, IBEW in their quest to organize electrical workers on their beautiful and friendly island. Fifty years after the first study tour of Puerto Rico, the needs of new immigrant workers remain the same: better wages, better health care, better ­opportunities, better education, workplace justice and equality. While the lives of those earlier migrant workers from Puerto Rico improved, the need still exists to provide the same opportunities and conditions to succeed to new immigrants arriving to our city from all parts of the world.
Humberto J. Restrepo