Let’s congratulate our Sister on her recent promotion as she is carrying on the tradition for local 304 leadership. Here is the article from the November 2014 Edition of The Electrical Worker.
IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill has appointed Carmella Thomas Director of Professional and Industrial Organizing for the Membership Development Department, effective Sept. 1.
A Kansas native, Thomas was initiated into Topeka Local 304 in 1994 while working as a customer service representative for utility Westar Energy. Quickly getting active in the local, she served as steward and chief steward before helping organize nonmembers at the company in a right-to-work state.
“We were 98 percent strong” with the workforce, said Thomas, who took an active role in bringing new employees into the union.
Thomas said that the sense of solidarity and equality that she enjoyed with the union tempered many of the life experiences she’d faced growing up in the Midwest.
“Organizing is something that I love, because being an African-American female, everything is about not having that voice,” she said. “Society and employers can take your voice away. But with the union, we’re all equal. We’re all on the same page. It doesn’t matter who you are. As a union, you stand for one thing — working people. And that is what moved me from day one.”
After five years at Westar, Thomas was tapped to become a full time organizer for Local 304. One of her biggest successes from that period was a 2003 campaign with fellow organizer Tim Bowden, now the regional organizing coordinator for the Seventh District, to organize more than 200 call center and meter readers at El Paso Electric.
“It was a huge win,” said Thomas, as the largely Hispanic workforce experienced significant mistreatment from management. “When they came out of the election, they were in tears. They were so excited.”
After that victory, President Hill appointed Thomas as a lead organizer for the International Office in 2004, then as regional organizing coordinator for 10 Southern states in 2006. She became a field representative for the Education Department in 2009.
In 2013, Thomas moved back into the Membership Development fold as the regional organizing coordinator for the Fifth District. Based in Atlanta, Thomas said organizing in the Deep South — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida — presented significant challenges but offered rewards.
“You can never even begin to get into campaigns if you don’t understand, learn and feel the people’s struggles,” she said. “Everybody’s taken their voice away, but once you get them to talk, they’ll keep talking” about the improvements they need in their lives, she said.
“It’s not just the P&I side that’s going to be doing internal organizing. It’s going to be the IBEW, period. Our goal is to touch those nonmembers, because that makes our contracts stronger, our union density better and helps out our economy and our communities,” she said.
The entire staff of the IBEW wishes Sister Thomas great success in her new position.