Every weekday IBEW 40 Journeyman Electrician Edgar Figueroa drives more than 260 miles to work as a wireman, shop steward and mentor. The commute, which can creep close to three hours on the way home, doesn’t faze him. It would take a lot more to deter Figueroa from a mission that has defined his union career for the last two decades.
“Even though I live far away, it’s not a huge commitment for me,” Figueroa said of his role as mentor and steward. “I like working and teaching, and I can be in with the younger guys and be a role model. We need that.”
In His Own Words: Edgar Figueroa on Being Named 2023 Journeyman Mentor of the Year
At the IBEW Construction and Maintenance Conference last month in Washington, D.C., union representatives from around the country recognized Figueroa’s commitment, naming him the 2023 Journeyman Mentor of the Year.
“It was pretty special being recognized for all the work I’ve done, the mentoring and all the apprentices I’ve had under my belt for the last 20-some years,” Figueroa said.
The IBEW has 750,000 members in the U.S. and Canada and is projected to grow to over 1 million. Each year, IBEW issues three awards: Apprentice, Instructor and Journeyman Mentor. “One for each out of 750,000 – to get that one is pretty monumental,” said Local 40 Business Manager Stephan Davis.
With 150,000 members, the 9th District is IBEW’s biggest, but this is the first time one of its members has been recognized as Journeyman Mentor of the Year.
“It is a huge honor. Honestly, it’s still sinking in,” Figueroa said. He recalled his delayed reaction when he got off the phone after being notified by IBEW Executive Board member Pete Diamond. “I actually cried. But I didn’t know how huge it was until I got to Washington, D.C. and saw how many people – all the reps from all the locals, International President Kenneth Cooper and (retired President) Lonnie Stephenson.”
After becoming shop steward in 2019, Figueroa spent more than four years working on major jobs at Universal: Jurassic World, The Secret Life of Pets, and Nintendo’s Super Mario Land – where he garnered a “super recognition” award. The experience afforded him an opportunity to lead by example and demonstrate his union values – a relentless work ethic, humility, and solidarity.
“We had some really rough days,” Figueroa said of the Jurassic World remodel. “A lot of guys didn’t want to stay and work the overtime. The weather was terrible, it was raining a lot, and we were working outside. I was able to tell the guys, “’Look, we’ve got to get through this.’”
Figueroa told members they just need a good pair of work boots and a raincoat (he got management to provide the latter). He also served on the negotiations committee for Local 40’s collective bargaining agreement for two years during that time, helping ensure members’ voices were heard in shaping their next contract.
Many stewards don’t work in the field, but Figueroa draws pride from working alongside members.
“I’m able to be out there with the guys, setting an example, being a good role model, encouraging them. And if they have issues, they come to me,” Figueroa said.
Davis took note of Figueroa’s engagement and skills, recommending him for steward.
“These last five years he’s been one of our best stewards,” Davis said. “He’s taken the role to the next level. It’s important to him to represent the Local with pride.”
Figueroa joined IBEW Local 76 in Washington in 1999 before moving to California in 2016 and finding a home with Local 40. He credits mentors in both Locals for inspiring him to pay it forward.
“I was trained by some really great journeymen so I’m happy to continue the tradition,” Figueroa said, noting several have been women. “They’re some of the best ones I’ve ever worked with. They’re badass – they don’t mess around.”
Watching apprentices grow has been its own reward. “When I see an apprentice learn something, and I come back later and see them doing their thing, I think, ‘Wow, this person has come a long way, and I had a part in it.’”
Seeing glimpses of himself in younger members, he encourages them to keep going through the inevitable obstacles.
“Just to know that people have seen the work I’ve put in and all the good years and bad years, the ups and downs, good jobs and bad jobs, to be able to go there and be on that level, to have the 23 years come to a head here – it’s like my crowning achievement,” Figueroa said. “It makes you want to do more. I’m going to be paying it forward for the next generation – it makes me want to mentor even more.”