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Strength Through Diversity
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EWMC Touts IBEW Strong, DEI Initiatives as
'Bridges' to the Middle Class

On May 7, hundreds of convention delegates gathered to support one another and a shared vision for a more diverse and equitable IBEW through the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus.

"Unions have long struggled with inclusion," said EWMC Vice President Grace Smith, a member of Tampa, Fla., Local 824. But because of the work of the EWMC, "the IBEW has a natural life link to grow the organization."

The EWMC was established in 1974, after a group of primarily Black members threatened to form an informational picket at the union's 30th International Convention in Kansas City, Mo., over the underrepresentation of minorities in the union and on staff at the International Office.

"Back in the day, we were exclusive, not inclusive," admitted Chicago Local 134 Business Manager Don Finn. "But change is coming. When we go out to the jobsite, we see the union of the future."

One of those protesters in Kansas City was EWMC President Emeritus Robbie Sparks, a retired Atlanta Local 2127 business manager. "It's so important that we recognize what we're up against," Sparks said. "Ask yourselves: 'What are you doing to organize?' We need to go organize and tell our story."

"Organizing is difficult enough without adding barriers," said EWMC President Keith Edwards, both a retired Ninth District international representative and the first Black business manager of a construction local: Portland, Ore., Local 48.

And when workers from all backgrounds can see their reflections in IBEW faces, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said, it makes us stronger.

"I don't think most of us intend to discriminate, but we all have biases," Stephenson said. "We need to keep that in mind when we're meeting new people. It's not easy; it takes a lot of work."

Senior Executive Assistant to the International President Sherilyn Wright, along with Director of Civic and Community Engagement Tarn Goelling and Education Department Director Amanda Pacheco, spoke in detail about the union's new IBEW Strong program, which was launched last year. Its guiding principles, Wright said, are organizing, education and training, membership activism, leadership advances and replicating best practices. It's now being implemented across North America.

IBEW Strong would not be the program it has become without the EWMC, said International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth Cooper. "EWMC is such a crucial organization to the IBEW and to the future of the union movement," he said. "It's exactly what we need to achieve what we want for the future."

"The labor movement got us to where we are, and the EWMC continues to move this organization forward," said International Executive Council Chairman Chris Erikson, business manager of New York Local 3.

Representatives of nearly a dozen of the EWMC's chapters delivered reports covering many of their activities since the last convention, and Goelling moderated a panel on diversity, equity and inclusion, where panelists shared personal stories about how the EWMC can help members deal with issues such as retention, mentorship and on-the-job training.


EWMC attendees raise their phone flashlights to remember lost leaders.



EWMC President Emeritus Robbie Sparks, above center, and President Keith Edwards, above, sent attendees back home inspired to continue the work of creating a more inclusive IBEW.

Women's Caucus Brings Women, Allies
Together to Increase Representation

More than 300 IBEW delegates and guests to the 40th International Convention came together for the Women's Caucus on May 6 to discuss topics ranging from maternity leave to mentoring to "mansplaining."

"The state of women and the state of women workers is not where it should be," said Director of Civic and Community Engagement Tarn Goelling as she kicked off the event that included discussions of the scarcity of women in construction and how family and care work still fall disproportionately on women.

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson noted that this convention would be the first one to elect a woman as an international officer, Vice President Gina Cooper from the Fourth District. He also spoke about IBEW Strong, the union's diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, and how with the skilled-trades shortage, there's a very real need to get more women and people of color into the trades.

"Women are going to play a significant role in the next chapter of the IBEW history and I look forward to continuing to work with all of you as we write that history together," he said.

Mentoring was a recurring topic throughout the caucus and one that Cooper talked about.

"Every single one of us should be a mentor to the new members that are coming into the IBEW every single day," she said.

Another recurring theme was maternity leave. Portland, Ore., Local 48 Business Manager Garth Bachman spoke on a panel where he shared how his local and others in Oregon were able to provide the benefit, which allows for six months off for women around the birth of a child.

"I know this doesn't solve all the problems that we have, but it's a start," Bachman said.

The caucus included two "Herstory" sessions, where members shared their personal stories. Melissa Reyes from Charlotte, N.C., Local 379 told the audience how she had a rough start in life but turned it around with help from the IBEW.

"I faced a lot of hardships growing up, but I wouldn't change one bit of it if it meant not being where I am today," Reyes said. "The IBEW gave me a sense of purpose. I've flourished into a responsible adult with a sense of economic independence I never thought I could achieve."

The other "Herstory" speaker was Sixth District International Representative Cheri Stewart. She said that attending the Sixth District Women's Conference many years ago was where she realized she belonged. From there she got involved in her union, Kalamazoo, Mich., Local 131, eventually becoming the first woman on staff. Now Stewart hosts the conference.

"Please be that journeyman who brings the new workers to their first union meeting," Stewart said. "She may one day run that meeting."

The women's caucus wasn't just attended by women. Many of the tables were filled with men, like Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 Business Manager Bob Dean.

"For us to thrive and get stronger, we have to be inclusive. It can't be a club," Dean said.


The IBEW's first woman international officer, Fourth District Vice President Gina Cooper, addressed attendees to the Convention's Women's Caucus.