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Delegates Endorse Funding for Ambitious Growth

September 22, 2011

Delegates at the 38th International Convention approved continued support for the IBEW’s aggressive organizing efforts with an overwhelming voice vote in favor of a per capita tax increase to provide resources for the program. International President Edwin D. Hill spoke to the challenges facing the IBEW:

Our choice is between the promise of future growth or the serenity of continued decline. The future of the IBEW, our local unions, our membership, and each of us, will depend on the leadership demonstrated today.

Using a visual presentation projected on big screens throughout the Vancouver Convention Center, Hill went through slides of targeted states and provinces, noting the number of wins, losses and ongoing campaigns.

From 2006 through July 2011, the IBEW has organized more than 129,000 new “BA” members – mostly as a result of professional and industrial organizing efforts. Dozens of active campaigns are in the works and organizers are keeping contact with volunteers on other campaign that are not ripe for NLRB elections.

Pension Benefit Fund Strengthened

The IBEW Pension Benefit Fund is currently funded by contributions of “A” members amounting to $14 per month. A finance subcommittee was established by President Hill in February 2011 to provide recommendations for the future protection and sustainability of the fund.

The Finance Subcommittee recommended an increase in payments to the PBF of $1 per month beginning January 1, 2013, and an additional $1 beginning January 1, 2015. To provide the stability to maintain those payments, the Law Committee recommended the amendment to Article IX, Section 6 of the IBEW Constitution. The subcommittee’s recommendation was supported by the Law Committee and by the convention.

While the allocation of organizers at the state and district level has been effective, Hill pointed to areas where additional resources are required. 

The number of new members took a sharp fall after the global economic meltdown of 2008, but without the organizing program, total BA membership would be 40 percent smaller than it is now, Hill said:

Because of the per capita increase giving us the finances to go forward, you see the difference.

Moving on to construction, Hill flashed a slide that showed the dire situation faced by the IBEW, telling delegates to look carefully at a map of the United States covered with a sea of red spots representing nonunion contractors. Said Hill:

With union construction market share continuing to dip, Hill said that organizing and a renewed effort to engage contractors is vital to the future survival of the IBEW:

Get back to telling customers we're here, and we want to do your work.

The newly unveiled Project Tracker system will help business managers better follow all construction projects in their area. “We did not just take the money that you gave us in 2006 and squander it. We used it to build the IBEW, and we'll use whatever you approve today to build it further,” Hill said.   International Secretary-Treasurer Sam Chilia recapped the financial highlights of the past five years and the outlook as the IBEW moves forward from the 38th International Convention.

While 2007 and 2008 saw increases in total membership, significant losses in “BA” numbers have offset those gains. The last convention’s projections of total membership fell short by 60,000, leading to a reduction of revenue that, if it continues, would hamper the organization’s ability to organize and mobilize for future growth, Chilia said.

While the IBEW has implemented cost-cutting measures throughout the operation of the International Office, without an increase in revenue to offset membership losses, the organization would have to continue to rely upon investment income to cover operating expenses.
The Secretary-Treasurer’s report states:

Investment income generates reserves for the Brotherhood; our goal has always been to live within the means provided by our operating income. To be clear, the per capita taxes generated from the membership should cover our operating costs to keep the Brotherhood on strong financial footing well into the future.

The International Secretary-Treasurer and the Law Committee proposed:

  • A per capita tax increase of $2 on January 1, 2012
  • A second increase of $2 on January 1, 2014
  • A third per capita tax increase of $1 effective January 1, 2016, if such an increase is necessary due to failure to meet membership growth projections prepared by accountants for the 38th International Convention.

The Law Committee, chaired by John O’Rourke, business manager of San Francisco, Calif., Local 6, and Secretary Ross Galbraith, business manager, Frederiction, New Brunswick, Local 37, recommended the per capita tax increase.

New York 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson spoke in support of the proposed amendment, cautioning delegates against adopting the tax-cutting approach of right-wing politicians which sacrifices essential programs needed to grow the middle-class by turning down a per capita increase and undercutting the Brotherhood’s organizing and marketing efforts.

Damien Kim, business manager of Honolulu Local 1186, said:  

“We are one of the furthest locals from the International Office, but we get some of the best support.” For the sake of the IBEW’s growth and continuing a high level of representation, said Kim, the per capita tax should be increased. Hawaii also is one of the most expensive states to live in, he said, but for our members, being able to sacrifice a cup of coffee or half a pack of cigarettes a month is “well worth keeping this brotherhood moving forward and leading the way for all of our labor organizations.


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