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October/November 2016

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Writing the Next Chapter

The 39th International Convention of the IBEW is now another chapter in our long 125-year history.

It's fitting that our pre-convention activities kicked off where it all started for the IBEW: Henry Miller's boardinghouse located just a couple miles from downtown St. Louis.

It was on the top floor back in 1891 where 10 linemen gathered in Miller's room to form the first-ever national electrical workers union. Only a few years later the union went north into Canada to become the international union we are today.

Thanks to the efforts of our St. Louis locals, and the financial support of members and locals across North America, that boardinghouse is now the Henry Miller Museum, commemorating our first president and the first chapter of IBEW's history.

The museum's opening reminded us of our founding, those core principles that built the IBEW into what it is today.

And the most important of those is organizing. Our constitution makes it clear that our top objective as a union is to organize every electrical worker in the United States and Canada.

We're still very far from reaching that goal, but since our last convention in 2011, we have made important progress. In the last five years we've added 133,000 new "A" members and more than 120,000 "BA" new members.

That is good news, but the truth is that growth barely kept up with the loss of members due to death, retirement, or in the case of "BA" membership, plant shutdowns and outsourcing.

If it was not for the decision made at the 2011 convention to double-down on membership development and organizing, that growth would have instead been a big drop, so we are happy that delegates once again gave their support to this effort in St. Louis.

Delegates also recommitted themselves to something else that is absolutely vital for the IBEW's future: the Code of Excellence.

Since starting in construction more than a decade ago, the Code has spread to every branch and has been enthusiastically adopted at worksites across the United States and Canada. The Code is not just words on paper. It is a reminder to business and community leaders alike that we are the best trained, most professional workers in our field and we take our jobs very seriously.

The motion to recommit to the Code was overwhelmingly approved. The reason is simple: Because it works. It has opened doors for the IBEW, not only by making the workplaces we represent better for both labor and management, but by attracting new customers and companies.

And now we are taking it to the next level by instituting a core training program launched by our branch departments and our Education Department. The foundation of the program is what we call our SPARQ values: safety, professionalism, accountability, relationships and quality. This is standardizing our Code training across the IBEW. Right now being code-certified in one local might mean something different in another.

We want to make sure that every member shares the same values of excellence and the same commitment to SPARQ.

You will soon be hearing more from us in the months ahead about SPARQ and how to put it into practice, so watch for it.

Delegates adopted these goals for one reason: to guarantee that the IBEW will be there for subsequent generations of electrical workers. Because the decisions we made in St. Louis, and the actions we take in the next five years will decide whether that is the case.

Our founders took on an awesome and unprecedented task. Despite the many challenges we face today, they pale in comparison with the obstacles Henry Miller and the first IBEW members had to overcome.

By organizing with every means at our disposal, by building positive relationships with our neighbors and management, and by reaching out to new communities and new workforces, we are following in their footsteps and giving hope and opportunity to young workers today and those to come in the future.

We stand on 125 years of pride and accomplishment. It is now up to all of us to write that next chapter of IBEW history.

Edwin D. Hill

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President

Salvatore J. Chilia

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer