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IBEW Convention’s Pin Brigade

September 23, 2011

It’s a swap meet that gathers every five years, a kind of Antiques Roadshow, eBay and labor history association all in one. Several members—with hundreds of years in the Brotherhood—began networking before the word was even used. Kim Craft, Los Angeles Local 11 assistant business manager, says they came together to trade local union pins, but the focus was always about people and history.

“The neatest thing is the opportunity to interact with fellow delegates,” says Craft, who began collecting pins in 1991 and has a collection of thousands that he plans to contribute to his local’s museum. “The pins are an ice-breaker,” says Craft, who has been swapping the shiny trinkets with retired Ninth District International Representative Cecil Wynn and Tom Alexander, retired Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547 training director, and Joe Hisler, San Diego Local 569. When he scores a pin, says Craft, he asks for two to have another to trade.  The cardinal rule, he, says, “If someone asks you for a pin, always get back to them.”

Wynn began collecting pins in 1978. Before that, he says, delegates wore paper patches identifying their locals. “Pin collecting is a good hobby,” says Wynn.

“Every convention has a favorite pin,” says Craft. Alaska is usually one of the hottest commodities, featuring different combinations of black and white bears and cubs each year. Then there’s the Liberty Bell pin from Philadelphia, the Twin Towers from New York, the state map from Texas and the Native American themes from Oklahoma. And one of the favorites from days past, two interlocking pins from Springfield, Ill., Local 193, the home of President Abraham Lincoln; one featured Lincoln, the other a log cabin.

A second-generation IBEW member attending his fifth convention, Craft says his collection is a window into the recent history of the IBEW. One local in the midst of a factional dispute, for instance, had members trading different pins.

Many people at conventions just say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ but [the pin guys] introduce ourselves and make lasting relationships.” 

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