The Electrical Worker online
April 2020

From the Officers
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An Organizing Call to Arms

About 45 years ago, the IBEW hit its peak membership. We had nearly 1.1 million members, more than half of them in electrical manufacturing and telecommunications. It was the peak of the post-war economy that created good, stable jobs that launched millions of families into the American Dream.

We had no idea what was coming. Working families were decimated by the rise of banks and global corporations and government support for attacks on unions and organizing.

By the time my predecessor J.J. Barry was elected International President in 1986, membership had fallen by nearly a third. Jack knew he would preside over the death of the IBEW if he didn't radically change it.

He created the Construction Organizing Membership Education Training — still known as COMET — and with it he launched a 30-year process of returning to our roots as an organizing union. That mantle was carried forward by Barry's successor, Ed Hill, who oversaw the creation of the Membership and Business Development departments and the extension of the Florida Initiative — raising the profile of the IBEW though job fairs and ad blitzes — to the entire nation.

When I was elected International President, I saw my job was to take those pieces and expand them, but also to develop a strategy that brought it all together and put organizing at the center of everything we do.

Last month's story in the Electrical Worker showed that one of the final pieces — outside construction organizing — is taking its place in our strategic effort to transform the IBEW.

We have nearly 100 international organizers at the regional, district and state levels. Every part of the International Office knows its core mission is organizing.

We are still in the early stages of this evolution, but the results are worth crowing about. Our membership has grown every year for the last seven years and, by next year's international convention, we will surpass 700,000 active members, exceeding our membership before the Great Recession. We also have 400,000 "A" members, more than at any time in our history.

We've never had the sophisticated tools or coordination to meet our constitution's demand that we organize every worker in the entire electrical industry. Now we do. There is more to be done, but we have all the major components that Jack, Ed and all the other leaders, doers and thinkers in the IBEW had in mind when we began our journey 30 years ago.

We have moved mountains to get where we are. If you are in the leadership of a local union, there are no excuses left not to grow. It's time to get on with it, and I can promise you'll have all the support you need. We're in this together.


Also: Cooper: The PRO Act and Our Future Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President