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September 2019

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IBEW Effort Helps Move 'Butch Lewis' Closer to Passage

Intensive lobbying by activists from the IBEW and other labor unions paid off on July 24 when a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pension Act by a vote of 264 to 169. The legislation, which would restore retirement security to hundreds of thousands of working people in troubled multiemployer pension plans, is one of labor's highest priorities.

"Nearly all of our own pension plans are in great financial shape," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "But a few plans for our brothers and sisters in the mining, trucking and other industries are in serious danger of going under, and that could drag healthy plans like ours down with it."

House Resolution 397, known informally as the Butch Lewis Act, calls for creating a Treasury agency to help keep troubled plans from insolvency through long-term, low-interest federal loans. Lewis was a Teamster whose death was blamed on the stress he experienced after his own local's pension plan went bankrupt.

"This win is a clear victory in our long battle to protect workers' pensions, but the fight is far from over," International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper said. "We can take a moment to congratulate ourselves, but we also need to gear up for the Senate fight that lies ahead."

There are about 1,400 multiemployer pension plans in the U.S. Most are financially stable, but if even a few of the larger at-risk ones went under, it could effectively destroy the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency covering pension plans that are no longer able to meet their obligations.

"Our plans are among the strongest in the nation and our members' retirement savings are secure," said Cooper, whose duties include oversight of the IBEW's National Electrical Benefit Fund. "But we stand as always in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other unions whose promised pensions are being threatened."

The PBGC is healthy at the moment, but within the next few years more than 20 underfunded pension plans are predicted to need the agency's help to survive. If enough of those plans need rescuing, it could wipe out the PBGC's cash reserves, spelling the end of a comfortable retirement for millions of American workers and retirees. That's why the IBEW and others have been urgently lobbying legislators in the House and Senate for years to come up with a fair fix.

There have been a number of obstacles along the way. Last fall, as a special congressional committee was considering a solution that would have unfairly penalized solvent plans, the IBEW's Political and Legislative Affairs Department called on leaders from locals representing nearly every state in the union to travel to Washington and meet with members of the House and Senate. Stephenson and Cooper recorded a special video in which they urged all members to call their representatives and demand a just solution.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts introduced HR 397 in January, and support for the act, from legislators and labor unions alike, gained momentum over the following months. On July 10, hundreds of activists representing the IBEW and other unions rallied on Capitol Hill in support of Neal's measure as a key committee was set to consider it.

When the measure was at last scheduled for consideration by the full House on July 24, Rep. Haley Stevens of Michigan spoke passionately in favor of it.

"The bill before us today is not a bailout," Stevens told her fellow members. "It is a backstop, and it is a solution to a boiling point that we ignore at the peril of more than a million workers who are now faced with financial catastrophe in retirement."

In floor remarks of his own, Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey noted his 37 years of experience with multiemployer plans as an IBEW member and former business agent for Folsom, N.J., Local 351.

"I understand how they work," he said. "These are deferred dreams, deferred wages that [workers] said they'll put aside during their active career so that they can live out the American dream."

Rather than being a handout, the Butch Lewis Act is "about doing the right thing," Norcross said.

"The people that earned these [pensions] … played by the rules," he said. "It's important for us to pass this because they did nothing wrong."

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced Senate Bill 2254, the Butch Lewis Act, in the upper chamber at the end of July. Members and their families are urged to contact their senators and demand they stand up for working people's retirement security.

Visit to find your senators and follow for more developments on the Butch Lewis Act.


Ahead of a U.S. House of Representatives committee's markup of the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pension Act, IBEW members joined other labor activists at the U.S. Capitol in July to rally for its approval. Lobbying by our members helped this crucial bill to help keep troubled plans from insolvency — also known as the Butch Lewis Act — pass the full House on July 24 with bipartisan support.

IBEW, Entergy 'Sticking' with Code of Excellence

A simple sticker on the side of a work truck could be easily overlooked, but for IBEW members at Entergy Arkansas, that bit of plastic represents something more: a sign of growing pride on the job and an improved relationship with management; a symbol of the values embodied in the IBEW's Code of Excellence.

Little Rock, Ark., Local 647 Business Manager Shannon Walters has been working with Entergy officials and local unions throughout the state to get special decals explaining the Code and its values attached to the company's fleet of vehicles, which it uses to deliver power to more than 700,000 customers in 63 of Arkansas' 75 counties.

"We want these stickers to be a reminder to each of us of the behaviors we hope to exhibit every day," said Walters, an IBEW member for 35 years and Local 647's business manager for the last six. "This is the culture we want to create. We want to be the best in our business."

The Code of Excellence is the IBEW's five fundamental values of safety, professionalism, accountability, relationships and quality — better known as SPARQ. One of the Code's most dramatic success stories is at Entergy's Nuclear One facility in Russellville, a carbon-free baseload energy plant that employs hundreds of members in a variety of capacities.

Nuclear One's embrace of the Code in 2016, at Local 647's suggestion, was instrumental in the plant's flip from failing to thriving within just two years.

The IBEW's contributions to this dramatic turnaround have been appreciated not just by Entergy executives and employees, Walters said, but also by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and by INPO, an independent international nuclear plant consulting firm.

"We continue to have respectful dealings with management," the business manager said. "Everyone appreciates the work we're doing."

IBEW members and locals throughout Arkansas have since helped take the Code company-wide; its logo and the SPARQ acronym are easily spotted on posters, bulletin boards and information monitors in many of Entergy's facilities — not to mention on the first-ever Code of Excellence flag that flies outside Nuclear One.

Walters' sticker idea came to him after delivering a speech about the Code during the union's annual nuclear conference last December.

Walters' good friend Ross Galbraith, business manager of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 and a member of the International Executive Council, sent Walters a Local 37 challenge coin after returning home from the conference. And he included with it an index card outlining Local 37's commitment to the Code.

"It sparked — pun intended — this idea of making something of our own like that card," Walters said. "I wanted something that, every time we get into a vehicle or go to our toolbox, is a reminder saying, 'Here's what we stand for; here's how we roll.'"

Because IBEW locals in Arkansas have a variety of agreements with Entergy covering nuclear and fossil-fuel generation along with transmission and distribution operations, Walters collaborated on his sticker idea with leaders from El Dorado Local 1703 and Pine Bluff Local 750 in Arkansas and St. Louis Local 1439, which represents Entergy workers in the northern part of the state.

Together, officers and stewards brainstormed some descriptive bullet points to explain the five SPARQ values. They also settled on the design: bold text and the Code's logo overlaid on a patch of red in the shape of Arkansas.

Next, Walters approached an Entergy vice president with oversight of the company's lineworker and distribution crews about placing 10-square-inch versions of the SPARQ stickers on the driver's side toolbox of the company's bucket trucks.

Entergy surprised Walters with a counter-suggestion: How about adhering the decals instead on the driver- and passenger-side doors of those trucks? And why stop there: Could a 5-inch-square version go on the company's cars, vans and pickups?

"So, all employees getting in and out of their vehicles will soon get a daily Code of Excellence reminder," Walters said. "It'll also be a reinforcement tool, reminding our members to be on their 'A' game all the time."

All told, 863 vehicles, at last count, are set to receive SPARQ stickers, with an option to place even more decals on Entergy's trailers and other equipment.

"The public is going to see what we stand for when they pull up next to one of these vehicles at a stoplight," Walters said. "Hopefully it'll educate people that we're the good guys."

It's an admirable goal, considering Arkansas was one of the first to become a right-to-work state in 1947, almost immediately after Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act. The act allows states to pass laws permitting workers who benefit from collective bargaining agreements to opt out of paying their share to help negotiate and enforce those agreements.

For now, the SPARQ stickers are slowly being distributed and placed statewide. More will continue to get installed as Entergy's mechanics gather for their monthly safety meetings.

"It's been kind of a neat little journey," Walters said. "It shows how our Code of Excellence resonates with both labor and management."


Leaders from Entergy Arkansas and the IBEW locals representing the company's employees pose with a truck emblazoned with the IBEW's Code of Excellence.