The Electrical Worker online
October/November 2016

FOCUS: Diversity

Stephenson: A Diverse Membership
Key to IBEW's Future

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In the days leading up to the IBEW's 39th Convention in St. Louis, thousands of delegates, alternates and guests gathered to discuss, celebrate and reflect on the union's diversity.

At Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, Women's Caucus and RENEW/NextGen meetings, attendees learned from the experience of their peers and shared lessons of their own, all while highlighting the diversity of IBEW brothers and sisters across the U.S. and Canada.

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who spoke at each of the three caucus meetings, thanked attendees for doing their part to make the IBEW a more inclusive union. "For too long," he said, "we were sending a not-so-subtle signal to women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos that they weren't welcome in this union. … Many of you fought hard to gain acceptance, to become leaders in the IBEW. By doing so, you opened doors not just for yourselves. You became role models for young workers from communities with little connection to the IBEW. You became mentors."

That kind of leadership, Stephenson said, is what it takes to grow the next generation of leaders who will continue the effort to make the IBEW an even more inclusive place, more reflective of the great diversity of the U.S. and Canada — the kind of leadership that will keep the Brotherhood strong for generations to come.

Diversity Action

During the week-long convention, delegates took advantage of the resolutions process to highlight a number of issues important to minority members and young people within the Brotherhood. Resolutions committing the IBEW to harassment-free workplaces and discrimination-free collective bargaining were passed alongside others recognizing the importance of young members and membership programs.

One of the most notable was a combined resolution calling for the appointment of a standing committee on "Diversity and Full Inclusion" with representatives from each district to continue the work of the original committee first convened by then-President Edwin Hill in 2008.

Michael Yee, a delegate from New York Local 3, was a member of the first Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which he called "a bold step forward for the IBEW" speaking in favor of the resolution. "The IBEW, by definition, is a diverse organization," he said. "We must make sure that it continues to be inclusive and continually practices respect for and appreciation of differences with ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation and religion."

The resolution passed on a unanimous voice vote with a number of delegates rising to speak in support. Read more about these resolutions (Nos. 27, 28, 32, 33, 34, 42 and 51) in Summary of Convention Action: On All Amendments to the IBEW Constitution and Resolutions at the 39th International Convention of this issue.


New York Local 3 treasurer, delegate Michael Yee, spoke from the convention floor in favor of a resolution on diversity.

EWMC Meeting Honors the Past,
Sets High Goals for the Future

The Electrical Workers Minority Caucus brought together hundreds of IBEW members and guests on Sept. 17 to hear the experiences of minorities within the Brotherhood.

"The Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and the work you do is absolutely vital for the IBEW because the reality of today's and tomorrow's workforce is that it is more diverse than ever," Stephenson said. "We need more women and more people of color, especially in the industries we represent."

EWMC President Keith Edwards opened the day's proceedings by honoring the men and women who formed the EWMC and for the progress minority workers have made in the intervening 40 years.

Stephenson echoed the sentiment in his remarks. "Talkers didn't build this union," he said. "Critics didn't build it either. It was the people who put their butts on the line, who did the work, who sacrificed lots of blood, sweat and tears to make the IBEW everything it is. It was built by people who, when they saw injustice, they fought to change it. When they saw opportunity, they worked to seize it."

One of those people was Robbie Sparks, an original member and longtime president of the EWMC, who addressed caucus attendees. The civil rights pioneer, who retired in 2012, received a huge ovation from the crowd for her lifetime of work fighting for representation for minority members at all levels of IBEW and AFL-CIO leadership.

As it did under Sparks' leadership, Stephenson said, the EWMC must continue to lead when it comes to mentoring the next generation of IBEW activists and leaders. "If we don't look like the generation coming into the workforce today, that generation will be lost to us."



Electrical Workers Minority Caucus attendees heard from a number of the IBEW's trailblazers, including former EWMC president Robbie Sparks.

Inclusion and Political Action Are Top Themes at
Women's Caucus

Some 400 delegates and guests attended the pre-convention Women's Caucus on Sept. 16.

"We want to honor our history, but most of all, we're here to make it. And that's something the women's caucus — and all our IBEW sisters — do every day," Stephenson told the assembled crowd. "We're going to be writing the next chapter of IBEW history starting next week. And you're a vital part of it. We've made a lot of progress. But we still have a long way to go."

Carolyn J. Williams, director of IBEW's Civic and Community Engagement Department, led the program, which included panel discussions on inclusion and organizing and personal stories of IBEW women, or "HerStories."

Ashley Keith, who works at DirectTV in Idaho, was approached last year by two unions interested in organizing her and her co-workers. But she said only one showed her respect as a transgender woman.

"IBEW never, ever treated me badly," said Keith, a member of Boise, Idaho, Local 291, and one of more than 3,000 DirecTV employees organized into the IBEW who ratified their first contract this summer. "When I met President Stephenson, he said he looked forward to the day when he could call me sister," she said.



The Women's Caucus brought together hundreds of IBEW women and allies to discuss the future of the union and ways they could help shape it.

RENEW/NextGen Caucus:
Encouraging Younger Members to Think Big

Attendees to the RENEW/NextGen caucus heard from active young members from across North America, all of whom are poised to become future leaders of the IBEW.

A panel included Kennitha Wade from Portland, Ore., Local 48; Aaron-Zboch Alves from Toronto Local 353; and Meaghan Olmstead from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2228. "Having the opportunity to help out in my local has been awesome," said Wade, a first-generation IBEW member. RENEW — Reach Out and Engage Next-Gen Electrical Workers — was formed in 2011 to inspire new IBEW leaders by focusing on issues important to younger workers and providing education about the labor movement. It merged with its Canadian counterpart NextGen this year.

In his remarks, Stephenson emphasized the role of young workers in building a Brotherhood that will stand the test of time. "All of our energy must be directed towards winning the next generation of workers to the IBEW," he said. "Not just those entering the workforce today, but those entering for years to come. And we must make sure they are ready to take the reins of the IBEW when it comes time."


Los Angeles Local 11's Alton Wilkerson speaks during the pre-convention RENEW/NextGen conference.