The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) was organized in St. Louis in November, 1891. In June, 1911, Local Union 697 was instituted and charter granted by the International Office of Electrical Workers. The first meeting was held in the basement of the Gary Hotel and the first group consisted of 14 members. They worked to increase the wage earned for workers and by 1918 they had raised the wage scale from $5.50 per day to $6 per day for journeymen and $7 a day for foremen. The Local Union 697 also stood by members when they followed the call of duty to serve during WWI, keeping them in good standing and providing jobs when they returned home.
IBEW Local 697 has always had a strong relationship with employers and they do not overlook the part they have played in building up the electrical industry in the region. They established an apprentice program in 1927 at Hammond Tech with 15 apprentices. At times, due to market demand, there have been up to 200 apprentices in the program. In 1939 the Joint Apprentice Training Committee was formed. Then, as well as now, the committee was comprised of three contractors and three journeymen.
Today, IBEW Local 697 has approximately 1,000 members, 500 retirees, and 150 apprentices from Lake and Porter Counties. They do work in Lake County, Porter County, as well as Newton County. They continue to grow and embrace change. Carol Link was their first woman apprentice in the late 1970s and there are currently 10 female apprentices/electricians. Training has changed over the years, as one would expect. Much is done by computers today, whereas in the past, control circuits were hard wired with large boards on walls equipped with relays. Apprentices were trained to run conduit, pull circuits, and terminate the motor controls. Now control wiring is mostly done with software and programmable logic controllers. “We have moved from the light bulb in the middle of the room, to fiber optics, computers, and space-age camera systems. It’s unbelievable!” says Raymond Kasmark, business manager for IBEW Local 697.
Throughout its history, IBEW Local 697 has also taken an active role in community and civic affairs. Pirates Inc. is an organization started in the 1960’s by a group of Calumet Region businessmen, construction contractors, and building trades local union leaders. The two main benefactors are Down Syndrome of NWI, and TradeWinds Services. Local 697 has supported Pirates through membership dues, sponsorships for golf outings, and the annual “Voyage” event for as long as the entity has existed. In addition most of the business managers, including Kasmark, have served a term as “admiral.” Local 697’s financial contribution for 2012 alone was over $4,700.
TradeWinds Services is currently located in Gary and was constructed in the 1960’s and 70’s largely with donated labor and materials from Northwest Indiana’s union construction industry, contractors and unions. TradeWinds serves the special needs of preschool and adult clients of the Calumet Region. Local 697 has been an annual donor, giving $9,000 in 2012, and they have continuously held a seat on the board of directors for over 20 years. TradeWinds is in the process of renovating a facility in Hobart and Local 697 will be heavily invested in helping with this initiative as well.
“Lake Area United Way is probably the organization which has received the most financial support from our organization over the decades,” says Kasmark. “Our annual support has gone from $20,000 some thirty years ago to around $50,000 currently. We have also held a board seat representing labor more years than not since its inception. Indiana Ballet Theater is a recent addition to our portfolio of community support. Last year we donated $10,000 towards their capital campaign for the renovation of the old Paramore hospital building in Crown Point.
Operation Shoebox sends personal hygiene items to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and is spearheaded by Local 697 member Andre Bribiesca. We are also a perennial sponsor of trophies for the electrical project portion of the annual fair competition for the Lake County 4H Club. And we participate in Rebuilding Together, an annual event where 10 to 20 of our members donate their services to help fix up homes for those in need in north and south Lake County. We do this twice a year. We host two blood drives each year for the Red Cross and have been active on their board of directors. The March of Dimes Walk is another annual event drawing the active participation of close to 75 of our members and their families. We always are among the leading teams for dollars raised. We’re also involved in the Early Learning Partnership, which was formerly called Parents as Teachers of Lake County. We are heavy financial supporters and active on the board of directors. Both the Merrillville War Memorial on 73rd Avenue and the Merrillville VFW Memorial drew our financial and technical assistance, and the Jefferson Elementary Robotics Team (Hammond) was supported financially and technically by our local and two of our Apprentices last year,” Kasmark says.
Local 697 has supported such additional groups as The American Heart Association, Save the Dunes, Operation Shoebox, Helping Hands, Meals on Wheels, Lake County FOP, St. Joseph’s Carmelite Home, Saint Jude House, Franciscan Sisters, Merrillville Police Department, Sherri’s Warriors, Hammond Optimist Club, ABATE-MDA, Alzheimer’s Association, Lake County Police K-9 Association, Griffith Knights of Columbus, Merrillville Pop Warner Football, Hobart Brickyard Run, Hobart Police FOP, Visiting Nurses Association, Down Syndrome Association, ORAK Shrine Circus, Crown Point Police Department, Crown Point Junior Bulldogs, and Challenger Learning Center.
“We continue our long legacy of giving back to the community and know that it is the right thing to do,” Kasmark says. The IBEW prides itself on being the Union of Hearts and Minds, and we continue to innovate to keep the region progressing. If you continue to do what you have always done, you will go out of business. In our business, you are either growing or you are dying. The infrastructure utilized today is exponentially different than it was 100 years ago. Our electrical trade forces us to be innovative. Our members are part of the community and we are looking to the next 100 years! We are here today because people before us made sure there would be a local after them. Our job is to continue this for generations to come.”
For More Info:
IBEW Local 697
7200 Mississippi St., Suite 200