October/November 2011

38th IBEW Convention Lights Course for
Change, Progress
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From the opening gavel to closing, "Brotherhood Beyond Borders," the theme of Vancouver's IBEW 38th International Convention, gained greater prominence and meaning with each day's gathering of delegates.

Speakers, from International President Edwin D. Hill to leaders of labor and industry, didn't simply note the common aspirations and challenges of U.S. and Canadian members, however significant or vividly represented in a young and progressive city harboring the Pacific Ocean.

"Borders" was even more broadly defined. President Hill led the way, calling upon delegates to restore labor's standing in our communities, taking on those powerful interests who seek to "isolate us from each other."

In his keynote address, President Hill who, along with Secretary-Treasurer Sam Chilia and International Executive Council Chairman Robert Pierson, was unanimously re-elected, spoke to the solemn duty facing each delegate:

"This is the time to stand up against all odds and reclaim our birthright, a society where those who labor for a living have dignity and opportunity and justice because those things are not guaranteed—they have never been given freely and they have never been won cheaply. They are the things we hold most dear and we will hold on to them and fight for them, and pass them along to those who follow us."

Building Diversity

Meetings of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and the IBEW Women's Caucus outlined the progress made in building a more inclusive union. But they went further—hosting practical summations of exemplary work to help local unions better reflect the best qualities of a diverse, democratic society.

And, for the first time in convention history, the dual boundaries of experience and age were bridged as states and provinces sponsored a group of young IBEW activists to attend, observe and offer their unique perspective to the convention.

Per Capita Tax for Growth

Numerous speakers and delegates on the floor remarked upon the growing chasm between citizens who enjoy the protections of a collective bargaining agreement and workers in open shops. This divide, so fiercely debated in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, hurts all unions' bargaining leverage with employers. But it has, more importantly, resulted in a growing disparity of wealth that is threatening our nations' democratic traditions. Organizing is an ever-present imperative.

Delegates voted to provide more resources to organize new members by passing two per capita tax increases in 2012 and 2014 and a third, in 2016, if membership growth projections fall short.

The IBEW Pension Benefit Fund was strengthened by delegates approving an increase in payments of $1 per month in 2013, and an additional $1 beginning in January 2015.

Taking the microphone in favor of a per capita tax increase, Donald Hoak, business manager, Johnstown, Pa., Local 459 said, "There's no more important business to be conducted at this convention than to protect this brotherhood, the greatest trade union in the world…. I will not return home and tell my children that when the IBEW needed additional money to accomplish our objectives and uphold our ideals, that I refused to support my union."

Constructive Debate

Lengthy, but constructive and respectful, discussions centered on resolutions and proposals to change sections of the IBEW Constitution.

One debate considered whether to adopt a national Book II standard to overcome the confusion caused for out-of-work electricians who sign books at several local unions, but often face differing rules and deadlines to keep their requests active. Delegates voted in favor of national standards.

Constructive discussion also focused on a resolution submitted by International President Hill and Secretary-Treasurer Sam Chilia on immigration.

While recognizing the important contributions immigrants have made to the United States, the officers called for the convention to go on record for stronger measures to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

E-verify, an online program used to check employees' legal status, became a topic of debate. An amendment to the officers' resolution was passed that supports safeguards to help ensure that immigrants who are legally in the U.S. are not falsely accused or have their privacy invaded without just cause.

Productive Partnership

Industry speakers praised IBEW local and International leaders for upholding a model of constructive collective bargaining. But they also brought compelling stories of changes taking place in their sectors that demand joint employer-union attention—like the growing use of prefab construction techniques that today present the alarming specter of outsourcing substantial elements in the construction of buildings to China and other nations.

Deepening fellowship flowed through the Vancouver gathering. Delegates voted on the winners of the first "IBEW Has Talent" contest. They traded local union pins and stories. But, more importantly, they built relationships that will benefit their members after they return home and need a helping hand, an objective opinion or a morale boost.

Fight the Right

The convention's political conference and speakers, including talk show host Ed Schultz and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, focused on the upcoming battle for the presidency in 2012 and the well-funded right-wing offensive against progressive traditions in the U.S. and Canada alike.

General Counsel Larry Cohen, who is retiring after a distinguished 48-year career with the IBEW, revisited the progress that has been made in enforcing workers' rights since the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, rights that were ignored or marginalized by the Bush administration.

Cohen advised delegates, "Urge [your members] to work for Obama's reelection next year. If, for some reason they're not enthused about Obama, make them enthused. Labor would not do well under a president named Perry or Romney or Mad Michele from Minnesota."

A Place in History

After the close of the convention, on a Saturday morning, nearly two thousand delegates and hundreds of guests crowded into Vancouver International Airport. IBEW jackets, T-shirts and caps were everywhere. But, more important than the labels, was the pride of brothers and sisters, convention delegates, who had taken their place in the union's history, not for themselves, but for the future of their members back home.

2011 Convention Logo

IBEW delegates convened in Vancouver, British Columbia, site of the 2010 Winter Olympic games.

New York's Local 3 Sword of Light pipe and drum band performed on the first day of the convention.

A delegate at work on the convention floor

IBEW General Counsel Laurence Cohen

About This Issue

The thousands of delegates each brought their ideas and aspirations to Vancouver, making the convention the perfect opportunity to gather vision from across the spectrum.

The various caucuses, conferences, proceedings and discussions gave members a collective focus. Throughout this special issue, readers will see how that focus was honed in areas of partnership, youth, politics, community, diversity and growth. Read on to learn how these many themes forged a clear picture of what members contributed to—and took from—the 38th International Convention.