Charles Vaughn is a fourth year electrical apprentice and member of IBEW Local 716. He lives in Houston, Texas.
Why is being a union member important to you?
Non-union contractors often create an environment where everyone’s on their own. Here [in the union], if the person is willing to learn, we work with them and teach them. The relationships are vital. And there’s strength in numbers. We can come together and decide what we want and fight for that. We have the power to say, “If you don’t give us what we want and deserve, we don’t have to come to work.” There’s a huge difference between one guy saying he won’t work and 3,000. It’s worldstopping.
Why is the work you do necessary for your community?
Once, after a thunderstorm, a car rental place lost their power and were desperate to get it back on. Me and three other guys were dispatched and by the end of the day, they had power again. That was a major moment that showed why our work is so important. People need power. The world runs on energy.
Have you noticed any ways in which your job has become harder because of the climate crisis?
Definitely. Even though I haven’t been doing this work for a long time, there was a time when you could work inside of a building and not be super hot. You were fine for the most part. I can tell each summer is getting hotter. You feel that heat pressing down on you, hard. At my current jobsite, we have a rule that If it’s 100 degrees or hotter, you have to stop every 30 minutes and take a five minute water break. That’s the first time I’ve seen this kind of safety precaution in place and we get this protection because we’re union.
We know offshore wind has the potential to bring good, union jobs to the Gulf of Mexico. Can you talk about the excitement around the coming clean energy jobs to the Gulf region?
All the apprentices that sign up are excited for these jobs. As electricians, we work with energy and we need clean energy. Everyone is used to coal and oil, but now we’re trying to get wind energy going. It won’t just be one trade, it’ll be a lot of us, all working on this together. It’s a major step in a good way. Green energy should be something that we go after.
I spoke at the October 1 event [hosted by Texas Climate Jobs Action Fund] and it was great to see the turnout and interest. People want access to a good career path. Once people know about unions or become union members, they’ll know how much better things can be and they won’t go back.
If you get the chance to go work on a wind farm, would you take it?
Most definitely. That would be a great opportunity. I would push anyone to take that job. I hope that all the [union] halls come together and say, “Let’s build something together”.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.