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November 2021

From the Officers
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Brotherhood Keeps Us Strong

This month marks the 130th anniversary of the founding of the IBEW, and as we celebrate that milestone, I can't help but reflect on what those 10 founding brothers would think if they could be here to see us today.

Surely, they'd be mesmerized by the technology and by the complicated and important work IBEW members do. And I hope they'd be proud of the way generations of sisters and brothers who followed them into this great union have built it up and grown it into the powerhouse it is today.

But I also bet a lot of things would be familiar to Henry Miller, J.T. Kelly and the rest of those visionary leaders.

Back in the 1980s, a lot of people tried to tell us unions' time had passed. Things were better. We weren't needed anymore. Sure, workplace deaths were rarer than they'd been in 1891 when the IBEW was founded — they still are, thankfully, though one death on the job is still too many.

But safety wasn't the only reason to join a union, just as it isn't today.

I think if our founders were here today they'd look at CEO pay compared to average worker salaries and shake their heads at an all-too-familiar fact: Workers without strong unions will never get what they're worth as long as they don't harness their collective power and stand up for what they deserve.

The truth is, in 1978, before Ronald Reagan told us unions were a relic of the past, the average CEO made 31 times his employees' pay and 25% of Americans belonged to a union. By the end of the '80s, it was 61 times. Today, with unions representing just 11% of the American workforce, the average CEO takes home 351 times a typical worker's salary.

I think Henry Miller wouldn't have to look too hard to see the outrage in that or to figure out the reasons why things have gotten so out of whack. He'd recognize workers' weak position compared to the bosses, and he'd also have an answer to it — the same one he had back in 1891: Organize!

Back in his day, workers faced beatings or even death for standing up for their rights to join a union. Today, there are still obstacles like strong-arm tactics by employers and specialized union-busters designed to intimidate working people.

It takes courage to organize and to join a union, but standing up for your rights, standing together for all workers' rights, is worth the risk.

Henry Miller and the other founders of this great brotherhood showed us the way 130 years ago.

If we stand together now and realize that more unites us than divides us, and if we aggressively offer that brotherhood to even more working people, then the IBEW will be here long after we're gone.

So, let's get out there and organize. Let's stand together to fight for pro-worker legislation like the PRO Act. And let's prove every day that IBEW members are the absolute best in the business.

Here's to another 130 years of the greatest union in the world.


Also: Cooper: Thank You to our Veterans Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President