June 6, 2010

Posted on June 06, 2010 at 19:48 PM

I’m not the one who should be doing this – writing this… I’ve known Marc for only 9 years and, really, not all that well. But I owe Marc a lot, just for giving me the opportunity to serve Local 113, in this capacity, for the last 5 ½ years (with all but the first two articles even proofed for content.) He trusted me, as he has since, on many other occasions, with various other tasks, for no better reason than I was willing to show up or do the job. He has also defended me (probably more than the one time I witnessed) when other people thought I had crossed lines I thought were only there to be crossed. A few years ago, I received a notice about a workshop, on Labor and the Media that was being held in Denver. I emailed Marc to see what he thought about me going. Because I would be doing so as a representative of IBEW Local 113, and not just as a curious individual, I thought it was appropriate to ask for his blessing. I said, “I know this thing is addressed to Labor Leaders, but, unless we’re already sending someone, I would like to go…” His response, as usual, was quick and to the point. He said something like, “You may not be a Labor Leader – yet. I’m sure it will be worth the trip and I’m also sure we’d like to hear a report about it at the next meeting…” I believe Marc Johnson is a great Labor Leader and probably one of the foremost Labor authorities in the entire state. Great leaders inspire. In his career with the IBEW, he has served on more boards, commissions and trusteeships than there is room to mention here. In addition, he has presided over the Colorado Springs Area Labor Council and received, amongst other awards, the Anton Zafereo Award (for excellence in Labor Leadership.) He stood on the shoulders of giants, is leaving some pretty big shoes to fill, etc., etc…

Thank You, Marc, And Good Luck!

I didn’t get much interviewing done over lunch. I knew I wouldn’t, mostly because writing while eating is just plain silly and rude. Instead, we just talked – about politics, current affairs, gardening… What was funny, and something I couldn’t help thinking about, was how I had recently told him, in the company of others, that I didn’t think people (our members) thought he was very smart. He had just finished giving a detailed and fairly brainy explanation for something, complete with a history lesson.

I just looked at him and said, “See, that’s the problem – what you just did. I don’t think people have any idea that you know all this stuff. They don’t know that there’s a copy of the latest Newsweek and Mother Jones on your coffee table, and that you read them both…”

Later, one of the guys who was there told me he thought I might’ve hurt his feelings.

I told him I didn’t think that was possible. After all, Marshall Johnson was a Lineman and (before that) a Marine. Once you’re either, he says, you always are…

Marshall Johnson has also been the Business Manager, at IBEW Local 113, for the last 28 years but that career was never meant to be a forever thing. He just kept getting elected. If he had not decided to retire, effective at the end of this month, he most certainly would have been re-elected for another 3-year term in that position.

When I started attending meetings, as a first-year apprentice, nine years ago, my BA was someone I thought I was supposed to hate and fear. It seemed pretty reasonable, considering that he almost always seemed to be angry. Later, after I’d gotten to know him a little better, I realized that this persona was a lot like the one I assumed as a father, when trying to discipline my own boys – not necessarily a complete bluff but good enough to make them think you were capable of terrible things if they didn’t get their shit together in a hurry… In reality (or perhaps even just due to the mellowing of time) Marc Johnson is a quiet guy. While he loves to tell stories, he didn’t seem very comfortable when the subject turned exclusively to him. Instead of focusing on the achievements in his career, he seemed more concerned with areas where he thought he fell short.

“My first day as BA, the work just stopped,” he recalled. “Out of about 450 members, with around 350 Inside Wireman, one third was suddenly on the books and many of the contactors were even talking about jumping ship… Our vision, my vision, back in 1982, was less than perfect,” he added. We all knew the nonunion electrical work force was getting bigger and more powerful, that they were coming, but we thought we were too good for them to replace us and that was a huge mistake. I should’ve pushed harder to get the membership to understand what was coming. And now we find ourselves chasing them, trying to recover what used to be ours…”

Marc remains confident that all is not lost, however, and insists that adaptability is the key to the IBEW’s success and will continue to be in the future.

“We can’t continue to work with an Agreement that was crafted in the 60s,” he said. “Like everything else, that too must continue to change and adapt to the times for us to remain competitive. But that’s not the BA’s decision. Because this is a true democracy, the membership needs to seek and approve change…”

The work situation is pretty bad right now, and even though this seems to be national phenomena, it’s not the note Marc wanted to go out on, as the leader of IBEW Local 113 (which currently has over 1,200 members.)

“There is still some Brotherhood left but not like it used to be,” he said, with a frown. “I think this idea of I’ve got mine, screw every one else was made popular by a president (Reagan) who said it’s OK to be greedy. Well, it’s not OK – not in the Union – not for the Local – not for the country! The new generation’s attitude worries me,” he continued. “50% don’t give a rat’s ass about Brotherhood, about lifting not just themselves but others up, and this is very disappointing to me…”

I reassured him he was wrong, that feeling like that is just part of growing up and old – every generation’s curse, to believe the next generation is going to hell in a tool box…

Even retired, he will continue to worry – about the health plan, double-dip recession and the over balance of power in corporate America… But Marc has confidence that his replacement (whoever that might be) and the next generation of leaders will be up for the challenges ahead. Though he has publicly threatened to drop in on the occasional meeting, I think it will probably be a while before that happens. He plans on a real and long retirement, “…relaxing, having fun, drawing his pension and doing a fair amount of beer drinking.”

After a career in the IBEW that began 38 years ago, Marc is now ready for the challenge of doing nothing (or, at least, doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Who’s being greedy now?) And we, at IBEW Local 113, would like to recognize and thank him for the job he’s done – wish him well in what he plans not to do…

Anybody else got a BA who’s been quoted in a book by a national best seller? I didn’t think so. Thanks, so much (for that and other things.)

We’ll miss you, Brother Marshall Johnson. Good luck!

And can you believe I did this without one reference to not letting the door hit your—

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