The Electrical Worker online
September 2016

Celebrating 125 Years, IBEW Returns Home
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

The IBEW's 39th International Convention convenes this month just a mile and a half from the St. Louis boardinghouse where 10 delegates met 125 years ago to form what would become the greatest union of electrical tradesmen and tradeswomen in the world.

We return to the banks of the Mississippi River at an important juncture for the United States, for the IBEW and for the state of Missouri.

"Coming back here to St. Louis, the birthplace of our union, is a reminder of the sacrifices our brothers and sisters have made over the years fighting for better working conditions, higher wages and secure retirements," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "We owe them so much, and it's a privilege to be here in this city celebrating their contributions to our way of life."

In 1890, when Henry Miller arrived in St. Louis, the booming Gateway City was a hotbed of labor activism. That year, Miller and other electricians working at the city's grand Exposition Hall formed Local 5221, affiliated with Samuel Gompers' American Federation of Labor. But Miller had bigger dreams, and just a year later, he and nine delegates from around the country came together at 2728 Franklin Ave. and drew up the constitution for what became the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

With that legacy in mind, and in the shadow of the city's famous Gateway Arch, more than 3,000 IBEW delegates, alternates and guests will gather this month to elect leaders, debate laws and resolutions and to celebrate the Brotherhood and its origins in St. Louis.

And this year, convention delegates plan to give back to the city, holding the IBEW's inaugural Day of Service on Sept. 15. Delegates and guests will fan out across St. Louis to volunteer at homeless shelters, food banks, local parks, ballfields and more. "It's a fitting way to head into our convention," Stephenson said, "to give back to a community that has given us so much."

St. Louis Local 1 and the Electrical Workers Historical Society will also cut the ribbon on the Henry Miller Museum, the boardinghouse restored during the past year to open in time for the convention. Hundreds of IBEW members and local unions have generously donated to its preservation, and they'll soon have the opportunity to visit the place they helped make a reality.

The convention also comes to Missouri — always a presidential battleground state — at a moment when the country is poised to make fundamental decisions about the future. In Jefferson City last year, Gov. Jay Nixon's veto was the only thing standing between the state's working people and a disastrous right-to-work law. Since IBEW delegates last convened in 2011, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia have passed right-to-work laws and IBEW members and working families have been forced to fight dozens of attacks on prevailing wage laws across the country.

"Between now and November, we've got the opportunity to choose leaders who will lift working people up instead of blaming them for wanting to earn a living wage or to come together to improve their lot in life," Stephenson said. "By working together to elect allies in November, we can help ensure the legacy of our founding fathers lives on for another 125 years."

Read on for the stories of the IBEW local unions following in the footsteps of Henry Miller and our founders in the Gateway City today.


The St. Louis Gateway Arch, lit by Local 1 members, dominates the city's skyline on the Mississippi River. Members of IBEW's flagship local have been wiring their city for over a century.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Wikimedia Commons user Daniel Schwen.

Local 1: Birthplace of the Brotherhood

That St. Louis Local 1 is the flagship local of the IBEW is not lost on its 5,600 members. It's a distinction the men and women proudly carry with them as they power the city.

"It's a tremendous honor," said Local 1 Business Manager Frank D. Jacobs, a fourth generation IBEW member. "We feel a great deal of responsibility to protect and build on what we have been given."

From the moment you land at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, you are benefiting from the craftsmanship of Local 1 members. In fact, many of the sites that attract visitors have been built and maintained by our brothers and sisters, including the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Art Museum, Union Station, Washington University, Peabody Opera House and all of the sports venues in the St. Louis area.

"We've wired them all," said retiree Jack Jacobs in a documentary about the local. He is also the father of the business manager and son of the 11th District's first international vice president, Frank W. Jacobs.

The documentary, "We Light This City," was produced in 2012 as part of a promotional campaign and is available on the Local 1 website,

From the first commercial use of electricity in the late 1800s to solar panels today, Local 1 has provided a skilled workforce. Members worked on the World's Fair in 1904 — the first time electrical lights were seen in St. Louis.

They also wired the Arch during its construction in the 1960s, and today a crew is working on a renovation of the grounds around the monument. It's a multi-year project that has crews installing lights on walking paths, working on the trams that take visitors to the top of the Arch and wiring new gift shops, restaurants and an auditorium. When it's completed in 2017, people will be able to walk from the Arch grounds into the city, all through connected walkways.

"It's a substantial renovation, and something I'm glad to be working on," said Local 1 Business Representative Tim Murray, whose father worked on the original Arch construction.

Local 1 also had the first federally registered electrical training program, established in 1941.

The post-World War II era saw a lot of growth under the administration of business manager Paul Nolte. The local's hall was built around the late 1950s, and in 1962 the leadership invited New York Local 3's Harry Van Arsdale Jr. to speak. He suggested investing in the pension benefit trust fund and health care coverage for retirees, which were instituted.

Local 1 members work in electrical and telecommunications construction as well as maintenance in industrial, commercial and residential settings. They do sign erection, manufacturing, lightning suppression and cellular communications. Large local employers include Pfizer, Monsanto, General Motors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of Budweiser beer.

Also keeping Local 1 members busy this year is the Henry Miller Museum, named after the IBEW's founder. In 2015, Local 1 purchased the house that served as the birthplace of the Brotherhood. Now operated by the Electrical Workers Historical Society, donations are being sought to help fund the effort. Local unions and individual members from nearly 40 states and several provinces have contributed more than $2 million. A planned grand opening is set for Sept. 15.

Once completed, the museum will house memorabilia from the Brotherhood's early days and serve as a space to educate visitors on the history and present-day role of the IBEW and other unions in the fight to secure rights for working people.

Local 1's community involvement isn't limited to construction work. It has had representation in the Missouri Legislature since 1944, said Local 1 Business Representative John Kahrhoff. In a state that is constantly fighting off right-to-work and other anti-union legislation, having union members in office is invaluable.

"The IBEW has clearly put me on this path," said House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, an 18-year member, in the documentary. "I wanted to give something back. This is my way of being able to help those members."

Through its labor-management partnership, Local 1 also retains the services of Tim Green, a member and former state representative and senator, to lobby for and educate its membership. The local works with the area labor clubs, grassroots political organizations that conduct candidate interviews and advise their central labor councils.

Local 1 also participates in a number of charities, including the United Way, Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together, a charity that helps low-income people with home repairs. Members offer their services — skills other volunteers often don't have — to rehabilitate these homes, ensuring they are up to code.

"It's a very generous gift that Local 1 gives to the city of St. Louis," said Dave Ervin, executive director of Rebuilding Together-St. Louis, in the documentary.


Local 1 communication journeyman technicians Richard D. Fisher, foreground, and Michael L. Wetherell at Chaifetz Arena on the St. Louis University campus.

Local 2: 'It all Comes Back to Us'

Henry Miller, the first president of the IBEW, was an outside lineman from St. Louis. If he were working today, he'd be a member of Local 2.

"We bring it up all the time," said Local 2 Business Manager Dave Desmond. "Our members are incredibly proud that it all comes back home to us."

Local 2 is rooted in St. Louis and its jurisdiction covers nearly the entire eastern half of the state, from the northern farmlands along the Iowa border to the Ozarks at the border with Arkansas.

There are more than 1,800 members, and about half are construction and line maintenance workers, still doing the demanding work of building and maintaining the transmission and distribution system like their brothers and sisters before them.

For the last five years, Local 2 has been rebuilding the underground electrical distribution system in St. Louis, raising transmission towers to meet new regulations and building an expanded grid as demand grows and new power sources come on line.

"We've been growing since I was initiated in 1985," said Assistant Business Manager David Heidbreder, who will take over as business manager from Desmond after the convention. "Work is pretty good. We have a lot of transmission work and are organizing a new municipality and stripping quite a few nonunion linemen."

Nearly 1,000 members work for telephone and cable TV companies. Local 2 represents workers at more than a dozen rural electrical cooperatives, water utilities and the statewide electric utility Ameren since its purchase of longtime Local 2 signatory Missouri Power and Light. In recent decades, municipal and clerical workers have also organized with Local 2.

Local 2 is much like the IBEW that is returning home this month. Much of the work the linemen do would be familiar to any member from any era, though the tools have changed and safety is vastly improved. But as the country has changed, so has the IBEW. In another 125 years, however, when the people of St. Louis get the power they need in their lives, Local 2 will be there.


Some of the founders of the IBEW were linemen from St. Louis and these members of Local 2 are continuing the tradition.

Local 4 Meets Broadcast Challenges, Remains Strong

St. Louis Local 4 once drew most of its membership from people working behind the scenes at the city's television stations. Those workers remain valued members — but there are fewer of them because of automation in the video and television industry.

The broadcast local has stayed strong, however, thanks to outreach to non-traditional groups of workers, longtime Business Manager Michael J. Pendergast said.

"We try to stay very active in organizing," said Pendergast, who has served as Local 4 business manager for nearly a quarter-century. "That's one thing we've been successful with over the years, not just recently. We've been aggressive in reaching out to new groups and that's what we continue to do."

Among the employers Local 4 has bargaining agreements with are Barlow Productions, a St. Louis-based company that produces video for business and nonprofits; Kaufmann Broadcast Services, which provides programming from both studio and from on-site events to cable news and sports networks; and Klance Staging, which provides crews for sports events being televised in other markets, such as a Cardinals-Cubs baseball game back to Chicago.

Local 4 also represents technicians and technical assistants at Fox Sports Midwest, which televises St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues games; and Missouri-based workers represented by the national Fox Sports contract.

It still represents camera operators, engineers, technicians and editors at St. Louis' NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS and Fox affiliates, as well as news department producers and assignment editors at the CBS and Fox affiliates. Additionally, it also represents workers at KMOX, the legendary CBS Radio affiliate and longtime broadcast home of the Cardinals. Overall, it has 30 agreements with employers.

Local 4 now has 305 members, down from the nearly 400 during the early 2000s, Pendergast said. But it is in good financial shape, allowing it to provide extra benefits for members and push back against anti-working family proposals from some companies.

In 2014, Local 4 put up billboards around the St. Louis area and produced television as well as radio commercials encouraging viewers not to watch KSDK-TV, the local NBC affiliate, because then-owner Gannett was asking for another round of cuts after employees agreed to concessions during previous contract negotiations.

It paid off. It took nearly a year, but Gannett officials backed down from their most draconian proposals and the parties agreed to a deal that gave 40 Local 4 employees at the station guaranteed employment for the life of the contract.

Just as important for its members, Local 4's response to KSDK's ultimatums served to protect the interests of all Local 4 bargaining units, Pendergast said. Other employers approaching negotiations were aware of the response they will receive if they insist on unreasonable demands, he said.

Outside of negotiations, Local 4 has developed a program that supports members, such as providing them with $200 on each of their first five days of a hospitalization, Pendergast said. It holds an annual drawing to award five $1,000 scholarships to members or their dependents in college or a trade program.

"Over the years, we've built that treasury up to where we can do some things to support our members," he said.

Local 4 was called Local 1217 when it was chartered by the IBEW on Dec. 18, 1940. It was re-chartered Local 4 in 1959.

Pendergast said it has benefited from being in the same city as St. Louis Local 1, the legendary construction local. The IBEW has a high level of respect in the area because of Local 1, and that benefits every other local, no matter the sector.

"I think we all ride their coattails," he said. "They're proactive in the community. People recognize that brand and we all benefit from that. When Local 1 supports somebody, we feel like we're a part of that."

Pendergast said he grew up around family members in the stagehands and pipefitters union. They had a philosophy of supporting their members from "your birth to your death," he said. He's tried to use the same philosophy in his stewardship of Local 4.

"Unions are there to support working families," he said.


St. Louis Local 4 Business Manager Michael J. Pendergast, left, and steward Rob Glessner, right, discuss an upcoming show of "This Week in Missouri Politics" with host Scott Faughn. Local 4 members are in charge of the show's production.

St. Louis Utility Locals Adapt to Change,
Remain Voice for Working Families

It's only appropriate that the lineman members in St. Louis are making a meaningful contribution to the new museum dedicated to its lineworker founders.

The boardinghouse where 10 linemen met to form what would become the IBEW will be dedicated in September. And the St. Louis utility members of Local 1439 are planting the poles in the adjacent Founders' Park and installing the transformers.

"I'm very proud and fortunate that I'm a business manager when this is happening," said Business Manager Michael D. Walter, who is also a member of the International Executive Council.

Local 1439 was founded in 1945. So was St. Louis Local 1455, which represents office and technical employees at some of the same companies that employ Local 1439's linemen, building service, meter department, meter reading, overhead, underground, stores, substations, transmission, distribution, gas, trouble and installation, utility shop and salvage and motor transportation employees.

Local 1455 members have adapted well to the automation that eliminated some positions, but made many of the remaining ones more demanding, Business Manager Michael A. Datillo said.

"You have to accept change," said Datillo, who has served as business manager since 1983. "You have to accept technology. You have to have people that have a commitment to quality in what they do.

"The majority of our people have an associate degree, at a minimum. We have accountants who are CPAs. Some of our members have degrees in engineering. We have a highly educated workforce."

For decades, Local 1439 represented workers at Union Electric, the dominant electric utility company in the St. Louis area. It had about 1,600 members in the early 1990s.

But like many utility locals, it has seen its membership fall due to consolidation in the industry and increased automation on the job. It has about 735 members today, Walter said. The majority of Local 1439's members work for Ameren Missouri, but the local also has agreements with Liberty Utilities in Missouri, Alliant Energy in Iowa and Entergy in Arkansas.

Membership started to tail off by the middle of the 1990s following utility deregulation and then increased after Union Electric merged with Central Illinois Public Service Company in 1997 to form Ameren. The industry has changed rapidly since then, but Walter said those changes will be incremental compared to what's ahead.

Consolidation is expected to increase as companies look for greater access to alternative sources of energy, due in part to government mandates and increasing consumer demand. Industry experts also have cited cybersecurity concerns as driving recent mergers, noting that a larger corporation has resources to combat a cyberattack.

"I think this is a very pivotal time for us," Walter said. "Going forward in three, five or 10 years, I'm not sure what we're going to look like. ...It's really hard to determine where we're going to end up because, quite honestly, the utilities aren't sure where they're going to end up."

One of Local 1439's success stories in recent years came in Potosi, Mo., a town with a population of slightly less than 3,000 people located about 90 miles southwest of St. Louis. It organized the city workers at their request, but the story didn't end there. Local 1439 has become a visible part of the community, hosting an annual golf tournament to raise money for a Potosi senior citizens center. Local 1439 members also regularly volunteer at the center.

Walter said city leaders initially weren't too happy to see the IBEW, but that attitude has been reversed. Local 1439 members built goodwill with their work in the community and also saved the city money with the IBEW medical plan.

"From the time we got down there and started doing things in that community, we've totally changed things," Walter said.

It's also stayed active in its hometown. Local 1439 has hosted a golf tournament for more than 20 years that has raised more than $100,000 for the St. Louis chapter of the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge, which provides housing for families staying in St. Louis while a loved one is undergoing treatment.

It also has kept a strong presence in Jefferson City, the state capital. Walter says Local 1439 has helped Missouri resist a right-to-work law and the repeal of prevailing wage laws despite far-right groups' attempts to do so. He said its work in Jefferson City helped 1439's relationship with Ameren, too. Business representative Mark Staffne has organized 1439's recent legislative efforts, Walter said.

"When you have a presence in your state capital, your utility must recognize that fact," Walter said. "They have to work with you. Every time the utility goes to the [Missouri Public Service Commission], we always intervene. Whether we take a position or not, we always have a seat at the table."

Walter has been business manager since 2007 and has served on the IEC since being appointed by then-President Edwin D. Hill in 2011.

"It's a tremendous honor and I take it very seriously," he said. "It's a balancing act when you're on the IEC because you're also a business manager and you have to serve your members. But I've never really had any complaints and I get a lot of support."

Local 1455 represents the office personnel and white collar jobs in both Missouri and Illinois at Ameren, a subsidiary of Ameren UE. It also represents those same employees at Alliant Energy in Iowa. It now has 800 members, Datillo said. Its high water mark came in 1986, when it had 1,500. Like 1439, it has had to deal with deregulation and mergers in the industry.

"A lot of our work hasn't been eliminated," Datillo said. "We're just using a lot of new equipment to do it. That takes a highly educated worker."

Local 1455 traces its roots to 1913 and the beginning of the Employee Mutual Benefit Association, which represented Union Electric workers. The EMBA led labor actions that culminated in an eight-hour work day, a five-day work week and overtime pay. It also helped set up health insurance and pension plans.

But it lost its right to represent Union Electric workers in 1941 after the National Labor Relations Board ruled it had violated sections of the National Labor Relations Act, according to the Local 1455 website. Union Electric workers were represented by the Tri-State Utility Electrical Workers Union for the next five years before voting for IBEW representation in 1946. Local 1455 was chartered on May 24 of that year.

Today, Local 1455 represents workers in about 120 job classifications, ranging from mail clerks and customer service agents to information technology programmers and operators to accountants.

"Most of these people I represent I've known and worked with," Datillo said. "To be a good business manager, you've got to be a good listener. Sometimes, people just want to be heard. But when I lead a negotiating committee, I don't want just a bunch of bobble heads nodding in agreement. If you disagree, tell me. I might change my mind."

Datillo estimates he's been a co-chairman of Union Electric's and later Ameren's United Way campaign in the St. Louis area 10 times. He considers it important because he knows of some Local 1439 members who have used United Way services over the years. Members also take part in a program that repairs used bikes for children in low-income areas.

Like Walter, Datillo said the changing nature of the electrical industry guarantees that many challenges lie ahead for him and 1455 members. But he's confident they're in a position to handle them.

"We're holding our own," he said.


Jeremy Pour, St. Louis Local 1439 vice president, gets a pole ready for installation at Founders' Park.


St. Louis Local 1455 members gather before a Labor Day parade in Jefferson City, Mo.