IBEW Local 280 offers $1,000 bounty for new members


Recruit a friend to become a union electrician like you, and you’ll both receive $1,000. That’s the deal IBEW Local 280 has offered its members since June 2021. So far the incentive program has paid out $198,000 to about 81 union members and the 116 new recruits they referred.

Local 280 organizer Steve Denton manages the referral incentive program. He says the program is in part a response to non-union contractors that offer sign-on bonuses. Wages tend to be pretty similar for union and non-union jobs, so any non-union sign-on bonuses might entice a worker who doesn’t know about the advantages of working union — like better health care plans and pension funds —  to stay non-union. The union’s incentive program levels out the upfront dollar amount workers see when they’re comparing choices. It also encourages current members to tell their friends or past co-workers about the union; some referrers have received $5,000 through the program by recruiting multiple people.

When a new member joins Local 280, they’re asked how they learned about the union. If it was through a current union member, Denton “links” those two together as recruit and referrer.

Once the new member logs 450 work hours, or about three months on the job, both the recruit and referrer receive a $1,000 check. He says the new members usually know the bonus is coming, but their referrer doesn’t always remember, so the money is a special surprise.

The program is set up to cause a big fanfare every time a check goes out. Instead of sending the bonus in the mail or by direct deposit, Denton or another union rep shows up to each worker’s job site with a physical check and a camera. Like a paparazzo, the rep snaps a photo for Facebook and makes sure the rest of the workers on the job site hear the news.

“Members will recruit people regardless of if there is an actual reward for it, but it does create a lot of buzz,” Denton said. “We make it a big deal, and everyone talks about it.”

Denton says it’s not a new idea for unions to have incentive programs like Local 280’s. In his office, he’s got a “wanted” poster from 1998, advertising bonuses for workers who recruit new members to the union. What makes Local 280’s program special is Denton’s meticulous spreadsheets.

“One of the big failures of these kinds of things is (unions) don’t track them well … so six months later when it comes back to the table to ask if you should allocate another 50 grand, it’s like, ‘Did it help?’ And no one knows,” said Denton, who uses his spreadsheets to quickly pull data showing how the checks have benefited Local 280. He knows how many people have received checks (198), how many still work with the union (86%), how many work hours the new members have contributed (242,439 hours).

Denton said those measures show the program has been successful. And it has earned buy-in from the Labor Management Cooperation Committee — the joint labor-management council composed of representatives from Local 280 and its signatory contractors — which helps fund the incentive program. The union’s international office has contributed money toward the project three times.

There are also intangible benefits not captured by Denton’s spreadsheets. Hand-delivering incentive checks means visiting job sites more often than he might otherwise, Denton said. That gives his members more chances to interact with their union rep and ask questions about the union.

Local 280 organizer Zac Bakke added that the $1,000 incentive motivates existing members to educate themselves about their union benefits and learn to explain them in layman’s terms. They become part-time union organizers — and more active in their union.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Read more