Every month, we highlight a member of IBEW 665 to share the stories of how they came to the electrical trade and the union. This month, we're excited to highlight IBEW 665 President Mike Smith.
What is involved in your role as president of IBEW 665? As president of IBEW 665, I appoint people to committees, serve on committees, represent IBEW to the public, and represent our members in the field.
How long have you been a member of IBEW 665?
I joined IBEW 665 in May of 1999, so 22 years now.
What led you to your career as a union electrician? When I was in high school, I was in a band. My senior year, I got a D+ on a report card, and my dad asked me what I planned to do, because D pluses don’t get you very far in life. And I said, “Dad, I’m gonna be a rock star.” So he took me on a drive through a rough part of town, and impressed upon me how important education is.
My brother, Steve Dreese, was already in IBEW 665. I’m pretty sure my dad told my brother I needed help, so Steve called me up and said: “Go down to the hall and ask for a job, but do not tell them you know me.” I can’t blame him; I had green hair and earrings at the time. So I showed up to the union hall, and I got a summer job as a helper. I liked it. Then I went to work for my neighbors, who owned Superior Electric, in their shop, and I applied to be an electrician. I started my career as an apprentice in 2006.
What does your average day look like? My day-to-day is like any other electrician. My role as president is a non-paying position, so unless I have a labor management meeting or another type of meeting during the day, I’m doing my usual work as an electrician. That means I go to the job site, we go over safety, we wash our hands, we get our temperature checked, and we do great work for our customers. Like today, I was climbing a 40-foot ladder all day through the cyclotron at the MSU FRIB, doing electrical work while trying to avoid these awesome machines that are splitting atoms into pieces.
What is your favorite part of your job? Helping people. It’s nice to be able to help people and promote the union. When I was in a band, I learned a lot of things about promoting a little band in a community and trying to get people to come to your shows. Things like scrounging up as much money as you can and going to Kinko’s to print off a thousand copies of your flyers and then rollerblading around town to promote yourself on a small budget.
You know, our IBEW 665 Business Manager Aaron Pangborn was in a rival band at the same time, so he had those same experiences. It’s kind of amazing. So I’m really careful with how we spend our members’ funds, and I try to promote us with more heart than green. Once we’re all vaccinated and we can get out in the public again, I think some of our ideas are going to rock out a little bit.
What do you wish people knew about IBEW 665? One thing is that the money people pay for dues goes to benefit them directly. We’re really serious about equality in a workforce, we’re really serious about safety in a workforce, and we’re really serious about having strong values that made the middle class. When workers don’t have union representation, they can’t challenge unsafe conditions. They can’t challenge unfair practices.
The great education you receive through the IBEW apprenticeship is paid for in part by member dues. The dues also go towards rigorous safety training and code updates and learning how not to get hurt on the job so we can all go home safely to our families every day. I’ve worked nonunion, and although the owners of the business were nice, there wasn’t any safety training. It was the Wild Wild West. IBEW is just a better way to live.
Who have been your strongest influences in life? My parents. I don’t think anyone could ask for a better set of parents. In my IBEW career, I have a few. My brother, Steve, is one. But there’s another one, and this ties in to one of my favorite memories working in the IBEW.
When I was a first year apprentice, I was asked to participate in a volunteer gig for IBEW. So I show up one Saturday morning at an old butcher shop that’s being converted into a church. I had very little experience, so they teamed me up with this older guy, and we worked together for the day. And the end of the day he says, “Thanks for your help. See you next Saturday.” And I thought wow, this is becoming a second job. But I’m not going to talk back to this guy with a mustache, so I showed up the next Saturday.
At lunchtime, the pastor of the church comes in with his arms full of hot and ready pizzas and breadsticks. He was so grateful for the work we were doing, and being a Christian, working on God’s house is not a bad thing to do. To see how thankful he was — I don’t even like hot and ready pizzas, but that was the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.
It turns out the guy with the mustache who kept telling me to keep coming back was our IBEW 665 president at the time, Pat Webert. At our initiation a few months later, Pat told me he was going to nominate me someday for executive board so I could learn the ropes to be president. And he was a man of his word.
Describe IBEW 665 in three words or less. The right choice.