Electricians represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 112 are in the second year of a three-year contract.
The latest raise for that contract kicked in back in June. Journeyman electricians represented by the union now are paid a minimum wage of $46.05 an hour, a robust increase from $43.50. Over the course of the contract, hourly wages will increase by just under $9 an hour total.
“This is probably the best contract that we’ve had since 2008,” said Rylan Grimes, an organizer for IBEW LU 112.
With demand for electricians and other workers in the trades continuing to increase, especially with the mass retirement of baby boomer workers, wages have increased considerably for workers across the board, especially those who earn credentials as journeymen, which requires the completion of at least 8,000 hours of work under the supervision of a certified electrician and various education requirements.
Not only are journeymen valuable for experience, but contractors are also required to have journeyman electricians work alongside trainee workers.
“Everyone is starting to compete against each other (for workers) locally,” said Rod Cassel, principal of Core Northwest LLC, a Yakima-based electrical contractor who has 22 employees.
By the numbers
According to Glassdoor.com" target="_blank">Glassdoor.com, a job-listing website, the average base pay for an electrician in Washington state is $53,794 a year, based on nearly 3,500 salaries provided to the website by those who work in the field.
Those figures are in line with the ones from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which states that the average annual wage for electricians in the Yakima metropolitan area was $53,890 as of May 2018. The average hourly wage was $25.91 an hour.
Wages dropped slightly in Yakima from May 2017, when average annual wages and hourly wages were $55,900 and $26.87 an hour, respectively. But it’s above the average annual and hourly wages of $49,060 and $23.58, respectively.
However, wages can vary greatly based on the worker’s job experience, credentials and union representation as well as the type of job. The estimates submitted to Glassdoor.com ranged from $36,000 to $77,000 a year.
Union or not, wages are going up
The lower end reflects the pay for those starting out in trainee positions.
An electrical trainee in IBEW LU 112’s apprentice program gets 40 percent of the journeyman wages, or $18.42 an hour, and it increases over time as the trainee completes work hours.
Knobel’s Electric in Yakima is a union shop, which means the company is paying the wages under the contract with IBEW LU 112, said general manager Steve Soderstrom.
While costs are rising, to have a set contract means the company can better anticipate costs, Soderstrom said.
It’s also key in retaining workers.
“We’ve had very good luck getting good, qualified, solid people,” he said. “The turnover rate isn’t that high.”
Being a union shop means having to secure commercial and industrial work that tends to pay more, he said.
The company doesn’t try to do residential jobs, where it has to compete with nonunion companies that may pay workers less.
“We have to find our niche where we can fit in,” he said. “We do prevailing wage work — government, city, county — those (companies) who are bidding against me have to pay the prevailing wage. It brings us up to that playing field.”
Grimes, the IBEW LU 112 organizer, said the union publicizes wages to encourage electricians to ask for a higher wage.
In the past, nonunion workers seemed uncomfortable asking for wages because they didn’t want to put their job in jeopardy, Grimes said. That’s changed somewhat now that electricians are in high demand.
“It makes our contractors more competitive (with pay),” Grimes said.
Cassel, the Core Northwest principal, isn’t a union employer but has found that his wages end up being in line in order to retain more experienced workers, including those with the journeyman credentials.
A new trainee at Core Northwest starts out around $18 an hour and can see wages increase quickly based on progress in obtaining experience and skill.
“One guy we hired jumped up $10 an hour in one year,” said Cassel.
He’s paying experienced workers around $46 an hour. And some workers are getting paid more if they agree to travel for jobs in other states, such as Alaska.
Those workers will get a $20 an hour extra. In addition, the job tends to require long days, which results in those workers accumulating overtime wages.
Cassel said he has opted for those faraway jobs to ensure he has enough jobs to cover costs, including increasing wages.
Cassel knows raising his wages doesn’t guarantee that he’ll always retain workers. He’s seen pay go well over $100 an hour or more in other parts of the state for certain jobs, such as new data centers in various rural areas of the Pacific Northwest.
When those data centers are completed, it could impact wages throughout the Pacific Northwest, he said.
“They have almost 700 electricians at one of the data centers,” he said. “When those 700 electricians are going to hit the market, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”