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February 16, 2007 Volume 108 Number 4

Myers elected business agent at Sheet Metal 16

Union organizer Willy Myers was elected business agent at Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 in votes counted Feb. 2. Myers outpolled three other candidates to replace Steve Kowats, who left to take a job with the training department of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Myers will be one of four business agents of the 2,200-member local, and will be responsible for dispatch, contract negotiations and member grievances in the construction side of the industry. The local’s top elected office — business manager/financial secretary — is held by Len Phillips.

Myers said he hopes to continue what he began as organizer — an energetic effort to unionize workers in the local sheet metal industry.

Myers got his start with the union in 1994. As a shop superintendent at a nonunion HVAC installer, he was driving a service department van back to the shop when the brakes went out. The van tumbled down a 50-foot embankment outside Salem, hitting trees on the way down. Coughing up blood, he called the company owner, who had his son drop him off at the hospital. But Myers came away from the experience feeling like he was valued less than the equipment. After two weeks recovery, Myers asked to be returned to a job he had earlier held at the company, but had his pay cut 25 cents. He decided to take action.

The owner had promised employees a job review and a raise after six months of work, but hadn’t followed through. Myers got two dozen co-workers to sign a petition, and marched into the office with the demand, which the owner refused.

Myers went back to his co-workers and said, “They can’t fire all of us; let’s walk.” Employees called in sick the following day, and instead of going to work, met in a park with Local 16 representative Mike Anderson, whom Myers had invited.

Three days later Myers was fired.

“I was right,” Myers recalled. “They couldn’t fire all of us; they just fired me.”

A charge was filed with the National Labor Relations Board, but the government agency, charged with protecting workers’ union rights, ruled that Myers was a supervisor and therefore didn’t have rights.

But Myers’ termination lit the fire under him. He volunteered his time to help Local 16 unionize the company. It took a year, but eventually the owner signed a union contract, and has been a good union employer since, Myers said.

Meanwhile Myers became a union member and kept busy with jobs through the Local 16 hiring hall. He volunteered to help organizing campaigns, and in 1999 was hired as the Local’s staff organizer.

His new post brings a pay raise and a new set of charges, including responsibility for the well-being of hundreds of members.

“I’ve seen both sides of the fence,” Myers said. “There are so many people out there that don’t know what unions stand for. I want to take that message to every member of my craft, and tell them ‘You deserve more respect from your employer, and you can win more respect with a union.’”