LEAP first-timers speak out on Capitol Hill

Ykalo Abraha reads about the Boilermakers’ legislative positions during the LEAP conference.

Conference spurs members to action

LOBBYING ON CAPITOL Hill can be an eye-opener for LEAP first-timers interested in becoming more politically involved. This was the case for Ykalo “Nicco” Abraha, a member of Local 104, (Portland, Ore.), who attended his very first LEAP conference in April. Abraha is chief steward for the Boilermakers at Integrated Power Services (IPS), where he works as an electric motor/generator mechanic in Portland. He also doubles as a field technician outside the shop, visiting paper mills, power plants, and steel mills. A nationalized U.S. citizen from the east African nation of Eritrea, Abraha is fluent in multiple languages and had previously worked for the United States Refugee Resettlement Office (USSRO) as an interpreter/translator in Khartoum, Sudan, before immigrating to the United States.

He was urged to attend the LEAP conference because of his enthusiasm for political issues and his regular attendance at union meetings, said L-104 Business Agent Lance Hickey.

A highlight for Abraha was meeting with Republican Senator Mary Capwell and speaking about coal-fired power plant closures and their impact on the U.S. power generation industry and the economy. Abraha said of Capwell, “She was interested in working with us on matters of concern not only to the Boilermakers but workers in general, and took great care to accommodate us.”

Abraha also discussed issues of local concern, including the closures of paper mills and mines in Washington State. “I was able to bring my own concerns to the table, as well as discuss the larger issues,” he said.

Abraha is active with the Democratic Party in Vancouver, Wash., on a volunteer basis, visiting different locales in the area, and going door-to-door encouraging people to register to vote.

Lobbying not “rocket science,” says L-687’s Davis

“IT’S NOT ROCKET science” is the way Mike Davis of Local 687 (Charleston Heights, S.C.) described his first experience as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. Thanks to a list of top union issues prepared by the Department of Government Affairs, Boilermakers going into these sessions for the first time always have something to bring to the table.

“First and foremost, it’s important to find common ground,” said Davis.

Keeping to a schedule of half-hour afternoon meetings, he spoke with Travis O’Cooke, legislative assistant for North Carolina’s Democratic Senator Kay Hagan; Gaston Mooney for South Carolina’s Republican Senator Jim DeMint; and Matthew Dockham for North Carolina’s Republican Senator Richard Burr.

Issues discussed included the Trans-Pacific trade agreement, China’s currency manipulation, and carbon capture and storage. Davis stressed that the phasing out of coal-fired power plants has wider industrial ramifications; it could potentially hurt the cement industry, which makes use of coal byproducts gypsum and sulphur, produced at low cost by wet scrubber technology.

“It felt good to advocate,” recalls L-29’s Fearon

TWO OTHER FIRST-TIMERS to Capitol Hill were Local 29 (Boston) members Brandon Fearon and Alfred Corey III. They accompanied L-29 BM-ST Tom Saccoach and lodge president Charles Hancock, both of whom are experienced participants at LEAP conferences.

Fearon said of his first meeting in legislative offices, “I didn’t know what to expect the first day, but two days in I got the hang of things. It felt good to advocate on behalf of my local and Boilermakers all across the country.” He said one of his main concerns is the need for job creation in his home state of Maine, and he was able to join in the discussions on that topic.

Corey’s observations were similar to Fearon’s. “I was a little nervous on the first day; it can be intimidating meeting congressmen. It’s important to do your research and stick to the issues you are comfortable with. I came away with a better perspective on Boilermaker issues, which I can bring back to the guys on the job. I’m looking forward to going back next year.”

According to Fearon, the Boston local has what his lodge leaders call an “easy relationship” with their U.S. senators, developed through years of LEAP conferences and other dealings. These relationships are important in maintaining a political presence on local and national levels, as well as familiarizing legislators with Boilermaker-specific and other labor issues.

For Abraha, Davis, Fearon, and Corey, as well as for other first-timers at the 2012 LEAP conference, engaging politicians at the national level is valuable leadership experience and a necessary step in becoming a political activist.

An important goal of veteran delegates and the Government Affairs Department is to provide “newbies” with the tools, techniques, and knowledge they will need to be a voice for Boilermaker issues and concerns.