AnnMarie Candow and Laura Kieley enjoy performing community service in their hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland. But until the last three years, they didn’t think about doing so with their local unions.
That changed when they were introduced to the Women’s Committee — Candow with her local union and Kieley at the international level. The two are now leaders in promoting the IBEW along Atlantic Canada’s coast and recently helped raise nearly $2,000 for Stella’s Circle, a St. John’s nonprofit that aids at-risk adults facing barriers to entering the workforce.
“I had little or no involvement, and to be honest, interest in the union until the women’s committee came about,” said Candow, who is a clerical employee of Newfoundland Power and a 31-year member of St. John’s Local 1620. “When that happened, it felt to me like, ‘Oh, this union really does care and wants to move forward.'”
The women’s committee came out of a resolution passed at the 2016 International Convention calling for the IBEW to identify, support and mentor women in the workplace. The International Women’s Committee was formed not long after and encourages each local union to form a committee among its membership.
Local 1620 did just that in February 2018. Candow now admits she was skeptical it would amount to much. But she said it quickly became clear that Business Manager Don Murphy took it seriously and wanted it to succeed.
Now, she’s regularly looking for ways to not only support her sisters at Local 1620 but also important causes around St. John’s. Stella’s Circle was a good choice because it “focuses on people who might fall through the cracks of society, particularly women,” Candow said. The nonprofit assists individuals dealing with mental-health issues, substance abuse, homelessness, illiteracy and re-entering society after serving time in prison.
She found an ally in Kieley, a Red Seal electrician and a member of St. John’s Local 2330, which does not yet have a women’s committee. Kieley didn’t see herself as an activist, even though she served as Local 2330’s recording secretary at one point.
In 2018, she was able to attend the International Women’s Conference in St. Paul, Minn.
“That’s kind of where my mind was changed,” Kieley said. “I thought it was going to be something where everyone talked about hating men but it wasn’t like that at all. It was all about supporting women in the trades and making sure the IBEW was stronger.
“After that, I decided I wanted to have more of those opportunities, to go to these conferences, to learn how we can show people what the IBEW is all about.”
Kieley is in the process of working with others to form a NextGen Committee at Local 2330. NextGen is an initiative for members under 35 that helps identify and foster the IBEW’s future leaders.
Even though they live in the same city, Candow and Kieley had never met until 2019, when they took part in a project that provided feminine hygiene products to women in need.
This year, the two joined forces with Local 1620 member Frances Rideout to take part in a run to raise money for Stella’s Circle that raised $1,935. The run was held individually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kieley enjoys running but Candow and Rideout are hikers and chose to walk.
Kieley and Candow said they receive substantial support from Cheryl Paron, an international representative in charge of diversity and inclusion for the IBEW in Canada.
“I didn’t really feel part of the union for whatever reasons,” Candow said. “I’m trying this woman’s committee so that is hopefully not the case for other women and fellow clerical workers. We’re bridging that gap and trying to make it more interesting for others to be part of.”
First District International Vice President Thomas Reid saluted all the women for their service.
“Seeing members who might have been overlooked in the past use their talents to make the IBEW stronger in Canada is one of the most satisfying parts of my position,” Reid said. “These women exemplify that and I’m looking forward to them doing more of this work in the future.”