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August 2016

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Joseph J. Penna

The IBEW regrets to report that Joseph J. Penna, former director of the Telecommunications Department, passed away on May 26. He was 72.

Born in Brooklyn in 1943, Brother Penna was initiated into the IBEW in 1966 with then-Newark, N.J. Local 827, now chartered in East Windsor, N.J. He worked for New Jersey Bell in Essex County. Penna served as a business agent from 1983-1998 and on the executive board, as well as the organizing, COPE and safety committees. He served in the U.S. Army from 1962-1965.

"It's like losing a brother," said Brian Brennan, Third District international representative, who knew Penna from his New Jersey Bell days.

In 1998, Penna was appointed international representative and in 2000 was assigned to the Telecommunications Department. A year later, he was appointed director.

During his tenure, Penna negotiated multiple contracts with many of the major telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Lucent and Avaya. In 1992, he was at the national table for negotiations with AT&T that affected local unions across the country.

"When he was negotiating, he thought of the rank and file first," Brennan said. "He was relentless for the members."

He was also a driving force in the creation of the T-3 System Council, which he chaired, and played a role in the aftermath of the breakup of the Bell system in the 1980s. The T-3 System Council is a coalition of local unions with members employed by AT&T.

"He helped with some hard negotiations," Brennan said. "He was there for a lot of change in the industry and his contributions to telecom are still being felt."

Even when he wasn't running the show, he made himself available to share his expertise. When Boston Local 2222 Business Manager Miles Calvey was dealing with Verizon, Penna was there to help.

"He was there every day with me," said Calvey, who is also a member of the International Executive Council. "He really took me under his wing. And he couldn't do enough for the membership."

Penna's success as a negotiator was due to his ability to read people, said Brennan and Calvey.

"He had a personality that you noticed right away. He was charismatic, a real people person," Brennan said.

"Nobody thought they knew Penna. You either knew him or you didn't," Calvey said.

In 2010 he retired, but continued to serve the IBEW. He was elected vice president of Local 827 that same year and remained in office until he retired in 2013.

In his spare time, he enjoyed golfing, hunting and fishing. He also volunteered with the New Jersey Heart Association, the United Way of Essex County and Operation Phone Home, a military service organization that helps deployed troops phone their loved ones in the U.S.

He is survived by his wife Katie; three children, Melissa Ann Penna, Joseph John Penna Jr. and Anthony Joseph Penna; a brother James Penna and four grandchildren.

On behalf of the IBEW membership and staff, the officers send our condolences to Brother Penna's family and friends.


Joseph J. Penna