In January 2020, a new Maternity Benefit Plan went into effect that was made available by IBEW Local 48 in partnership with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the Harrison Electrical Workers Trust Fund.
Designed with a goal to retain women in the workforce, the plan offers 13 weeks of paid leave before a doctor-certified due date and 13 weeks after, doubling the previous maternity leave offering. Members receive $800 a week in time loss benefits in addition to Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits. The trust also pays health insurance premiums for the entire family.
Apprentice Samantha Juarez has experience with a few locals as her husband followed new opportunities – the couple moved from Michigan to Kennewick, Wash., and finally resettled in Portland.
“When I got into (the trades), I was so adamant about not having a child until after my apprenticeship,” Juarez said. She points out the difficulty of staying afloat without dual incomes as her main reason for wanting to delay starting a family. The previous two locals she belonged to did not offer the same benefit plan.
“I liked the other locals, too, I just hope that our local sets an example for all of the IBEWs and even more employers across the country, because it’s not fair to make a woman choose when she should have kids,” Juarez said.
Caitlin Williams, a seventh-term apprentice with Cherry City Electric, graduated college with a theatrical lighting and sound engineering degree. Wanting to stay in the electrical field but not necessarily work in theater anymore, she switched course and pursued her commercial license.
Williams had a baby in May 2021 and has about half a year left in her program. She originally intended to take two weeks off prior to her due date and then a full 13 weeks after giving birth, but she became hypertensive and delivered early.
She cites the 13 weeks of post-delivery leave as the most beneficial part of the program for her as she’s been able to bond with her baby. “It’s been really priceless to be able to be home and not have to worry so much about the financial side of things,” Williams said.
For another apprentice, Micialia Rea-Branch, having 13 weeks off prior to giving birth was a boon. “At a certain point in the pregnancy, you just get really tired,” she said.
The Maternity Benefit Plan, the first of its kind in the nation, has thus far proven successful in retaining women in the electrical trades. The plan also sets a standard nationwide as an invaluable tool for family planning in the construction trades.
For over a century, NECA/IBEW Local 48’s electricians have helped build Oregon and southwest Washington. NECA and IBEW Local 48 have partnered in labor-management relations to lead the region’s electrical industry, working on such high profile projects as the Rose Garden Arena, Portland International Airport and MAX Light Rail stations. Learn more about a career in the electrical industry at www.necaibew48.com.