ELEC: More Contracts, More Jobs

Major progress on initiatives & achievements

When the Engineer Labor-Employer Cooperative (ELEC) was established in 2012, its focus was to provide a common resource for members of Operating Engineers Local 825 and building contractor associations in New Jersey and New York. The goal: to win more contracts and create jobs.

Now just two years later, ELEC has grown in leaps and bounds—in its roster of members, lineup of professional alliances, outreach initiatives and overall presence in the industry.

“When we started out our main goal was to make sure members and contractors had opportunities to secure more jobs,” said Mark Longo, ELEC director. “An empty hiring hall has always been our chief objective.”

However, while the focus remains the same, Longo emphasized that ELEC’s agenda now has a farther reach.

“We want developers to know that we are a force in the industry and we want to make a difference in legislative issues that affect not only our members but the economic landscape of the region,” he said.

Setting new goals, expanding its reach

With an ever-increasing roster of operating engineers, the organization sets its sights on broadening its mission to stimulating the economy and advocating for issues that could make an impact on it.

“ELEC had a vision and strategic plan but needed to expand its reach,” said Kate Gibbs, who came on board last spring as its business developer. “The question was how can we continue to support that objective?”

Gibbs, whose background includes public affairs and organizational management, was instrumental in developing an aggressive marketing and communications plan, which included advertising and public relations, community outreach and social media initiatives.

“We knew we needed to reach business organizations, chambers of commerce and build relationships with municipal and county governments,” Gibbs said. “But we also knew that just joining organizations wouldn’t be enough. We needed to participate, meet as many key people as possible.”

By meeting people in other professional organizations, Gibbs added, it would increase ELEC’s visibility on several fronts as well as fulfill its original goal.

“Participation also means finding out about project opportunities more quickly and putting our members to work,” Gibbs said.

ELEC incorporated traditional advertising that targeted specific audiences in print and online publications. For instance, ads were scheduled to coincide with magazine issues that focused on real estate development, utilities, energy and a wide range of building programs of both commercial and public properties.

“This strategy increased our visibility in the market and positioned ELEC as a collaborative labor management organization,” said Greg Lalevee, business manager for Local 825 and ELEC chairman.

As a result, he said, news organizations frequently tapped ELEC officials and consultants for their expertise on a broad range of topics for use in feature stories.

“This further served to position ELEC as a leader in the industry,” Lalevee said.

Gibbs said the organization also ventured into the social media realm, also garnering tremendous success.

“We employed social media—specifically Twitter and Facebook–to our advantage,” she said. “For instance, we’re getting over a thousand clicks a day on Facebook in response to news about the Transportation Trust Fund and some days we get over 6,000 clicks. The results so far have been phenomenal. It’s really staggering how many people we have reached in a short period of time.”

ELEC reports that its Facebook posts have reached over one million politically active New Jerseyans since the campaign launched last fall, and on Twitter ELEC coined the hashtag #NJTTF that has been used by major news organizations, advocacy groups and prominent public officials like NJ Policy Perspective, Forward NJ, NJ Assemblyman Vincent Prieto and others.  ELEC is also revamping its website to be more mobile friendly, Gibbs added.

A pivotal year

2014 proved to be pivotal for ELEC on several fronts.

More than 300 construction professionals throughout the region attended in October the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s conference in Manhattan, at which ELEC was a key sponsor. The event was held to provide an overview of the Port Authority’s 2014-23 capital plan and review its construction program.

ELEC’s participation offered its representatives the ideal forum to reinforce its brand presence, provide information to attendees and make valuable contacts. They also gathered information on how firms can get involved with major Port Authority projects in the region, such as the new Goethels Bridge and the PATH restoration.

“The end game for ELEC is to promote the value of operating engineers and our signatory contractors,” said Lalevee.

ELEC also continued to work actively in Trenton, Albany and Washington D.C. to develop and promote legislation that benefits its members and communities. In 2014, ELEC tracked 40 bills and advocated for or against 20 bills that would impact the industry overall.

Among the key issues that ELEC lobbied for in 2014 are the Public-Private Partnership and Contractor Registration expansion.

The Public-Private Partnerships bill permits certain government entities to enter into agreements on building and highway infrastructure projects. “This is an excellent option for funding vital projects that might not otherwise receive financial support or would be very difficult to get approval for,” said Longo.

The Contractor Registration bill requires that contractors working on public utility projects obtain a New Jersey contractor registration. ELEC supported this bill to ensure that the standards of construction in New Jersey are met with the highest level of quality, skill and responsibility, Longo said.

“Our members receive extensive training at our facility, and they possess a unique skill set that makes them ideally qualified for work on any number of projects,” Lalevee said. “We want to make sure only the best trained, best qualified workers get the jobs.”

Local 825 maintains a 38-acre training facility in Dayton, New Jersey, and another in Middletown, New York, where workers received targeted training in heavy equipment operation for large construction projects, or specialized projects at sites at disaster situations or deep water projects at port locations.

“Our members have a lot to bring to the table,” said Lalevee. “They have a unique skill set, and have had specialized training that can suit any construction situation.”

Workforce investment

Staying true to its mission of obtaining jobs for its members, ELEC helps Local 825 by reimbursing costs for different credentials required to be on the job.

In 2014, ELEC reimbursed more than $51,000 to members for licensing and credentialing.

“We want our members to be ready to go as soon as a project gets approved,” said Longo. “This helps ensure that members have an advantage over non-licensed operators – they can work when called without any delay.”

Since its inception, ELEC has reimbursed more than $190,000 in licensing fees. ELEC also reimburses fees for security clearances that are being more and more in the industry. They include Transportation Worker Identification Clearance, Secure Worker Access Consortium and the South Jersey Chemical Card.

“This has helped us establish increased credibility in the industry as well as make a smoother transition for our members to work,” Lalevee said.

Looking ahead

As of this writing, Governor Chris Christie and lawmakers in Trenton have yet to make a deal on a new source of revenue for New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund. If the TTF is not approved, spending for the state roads, bridges and rail projects could be reduced to $600 million from $1 billion.

“This is so important that some agreement be put in place sooner rather than later,” said Longo, adding that ELEC has been lobbying furiously on the TTF’s behalf. “It’s no secret that our bridges need repair, our roadways need repair. Without the infrastructure, employers couldn’t receive goods, workers wouldn’t have access to get to work. It would create an enormous burden on communities and the economy would stagnate.

“We’re hoping for a quick resolution, and we’re doing everything we can to put the issue in the forefront of our outreach efforts,” Longo said.

Angela Daidone is a freelance writer, editor and public relations specialist. She can be reached at adaidone@aol.com.

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