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January 2023

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As 2023 begins, newly elected and reelected pro-worker leaders across the nation are being sworn in as members of Congress, state legislators, governors and local officials.

There's also a historic workers' rights law on the books in Illinois and the promise of similar, headway in Michigan and other states where union-friendly lawmakers gained seats in the 2022 midterm elections.

None of it would be happening without IBEW members and their brothers and sisters in America's union movement.

Turnout among union members and their allies, spurred by labor's get-out-the-vote efforts, was the difference between winning and losing on Nov. 8. The difference between building on the Biden administration's pro-worker agenda and watching it evaporate.

Pundits and pollsters may have underestimated the strength of the union vote when they predicted a red wave. Neither did the political party that is home to the anti-worker, rights-stripping caucuses in state capitals and Washington, D.C.

"Union turnout has too often been low in too many midterm elections, with devastating consequences for working people," retiring International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "This shows what is possible when union members exercise our power and vote in our best interests."

"In 2022, we turned that on its head. We didn't get everything we wanted, and we know the narrow GOP majority in the U.S. House will go out of its way to cause trouble for us," he said. "But we made tremendous strides that give us a bigger voice and more power to fight back."

Labor's ground game was something to behold. Under the AFL-CIO's umbrella, more than 100,000 volunteers hit the streets and the phones, including IBEW members in every state.

"Electricians and plumbers, grad students and service workers, entertainment workers and laborers, and so many others stood shoulder to shoulder day after day to ensure that every union voter in America knew how important this election was to our collective future," said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, a member of Portland, Ore., Local 125.

Collectively, Shuler said, union volunteers reached 7.7 million voters, contact that was critical to slender victories in many races:

  • In Michigan, union members accounted for an estimated 210,000 net votes for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, while electing enough pro-worker candidates to flip both houses of the legislature. With that trifecta, state leaders are poised to repeal "right-to-work." (See story below.)
  • Minnesota also gained a pro-worker trifecta. Union voters made up half the margin of victory for incumbent Gov. Tim Walz, of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, while holding on to the House and winning a majority in the Senate.
  • In Georgia, union voters twice over made the difference for U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, casting enough ballots to spur his run-off against Herschel Walker and electing him outright on Dec. 6.
  • In Nevada, a union army pushed Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto over the top, ensuring a pro-worker majority in the U.S. Senate once her race was called four days after Election Day.

Nationwide, not a single state legislature chamber held by Democrats flipped to the GOP — something no party in power has achieved in the midterm elections since 1934.

Candidates made frequent use of labor halls on the campaign trail, touting the ways the Biden administration's job-creating investments in infrastructure and manufacturing are helping their states already, with lots more to come — as long as voters stayed the course.

Another emphasis was the high stakes for workers' rights, which are at long last back at the forefront of the political conversation.

At a rally in Wisconsin supporting Gov. Tony Evers — another beneficiary of union turnout — an IBEW leader said it "scares the hell out of me" to hear the hostile rhetoric of anti-worker candidates like Evers' opponent.

"Those of you who know me are probably sick and tired of me telling you that every election is the most important of your lifetimes, but this one honestly is," said Jim Meyer, assistant business manager of Milwaukee Local 2150. "It's vital that we elect folks who will stand up for workers' rights, to elect the right folks to build and grow our movement."

Voters in neighboring Illinois took a giant step in that direction, passing the landmark Workers' Rights Amendment that adds language to the state constitution guaranteeing the right to organize and bargain collectively. (See below.)

Beyond the worker advocates elected Nov. 8, union voters sent many of their own to office, from local and state government all the way to Congress — in the IBEW's case, electing New Jersey Rep. Donald Norcross of Folsom Local 351 to a fifth term. Among scores of other IBEW victories around the country, two of the members elected to statehouses are featured on these pages.

Stephenson urged more members to think about throwing their hats into the ring for races coming up later this year and in the 2024 general election.

"You don't have to run for Congress or even your state legislature to make a difference. We need union voices at all levels of government, because every one of them is making decisions and setting policy that affect us," he said. "We're off to a great start in 2023. Let's keep the momentum going."

'Biggest Day in Illinois Labor History':
Voters Pass Massive Workers' Rights Law

In a resounding victory for workers' rights, Illinois voters enshrined the right to organize in the state's constitution in November 2022. A majority of voters approved adding language that guarantees the right to organize and collectively bargain, whether the person is in a union or not.

More than half the states have "right-to-work" laws, and nine have written it into in their constitutions. Illinois is the first to add a prohibition against right to work.

"This is the biggest day in Illinois labor history in my life. Ever, actually," said Chicago Local 134 Business Manager and Fifth District International Executive Council member Don Finn.

"If you have something better, let me know, but none of us can think of anything."

The amendment does more than simply outlaw right to work. First passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2021, it states that all employees have a fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively "for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work."

Starting Jan. 1, any individual in the state can file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor. Under current law, Finn said, at-will employees without a collective bargaining agreement cannot.

"I don't care if you are at Amazon, Starbucks or the cleaner down the street. You should have the rights to demand better safety, decent wages and a union," Finn said. "We have had people fired for speaking the word 'union.' Not anymore. Any person at any workplace has the right to explore joining a union."

In a state with about 900,000 union members, more than 2 million people voted for Amendment 1, otherwise known as the Workers' Rights Amendment.

It is the first and most important step by organized labor to transform unions' increasing popularity into permanent change, he said. And he urged every IBEW state conference to take a good hard look at the playbook built by Illinois organized labor to get Amendment 1 passed.

"We are at 79% in the city of Chicago — that is a high number for free-throws," Finn said. "It tells me there is desire for us, and we need to act on it right now."

Finn said Local 134 focused its own efforts in two directions — first to other trades, and then within the IBEW to align the state's many locals. The primary outreach tool was member-to-member canvassing that targeted thousands of doors and tens of thousands of phones.

"We have been on this for eight months. Every local played a part: manufacturing, telecom, railroad, utility, all of us, everyone — I mean everyone — stepped up. It's not one local did more, one local gave more. We collectively put this thing to bed," he said.

The message to his members was this was beyond party and wasn't about just passing a few new laws.

"This takes the power away from whoever is in power in the Capitol. We don't want legislators to poke their nose in when we negotiate for safety, tell us when, whether and how we have a right to organize. It's not their business," Finn said. "This is about us, working people, and we are sick of states around the country putting their thumbs on the scale for billionaires and corporations. If you aren't going to help us, at least stay out of our way."

Obviously, opposition was well-funded, but Finn said its message simply did not get traction. Not in a post-pandemic world where profits are skyrocketing, unemployment is low, inflation is high and workers know who was "essential" and who just pretended.

"They spent millions, but we way outworked them," Finn said. "In the last 30 years, we have been the punching bag for every type of legislator. Now we are on the offensive. We are getting things passed. It is a new day for labor in Illinois."



Workers in Illinois won an extraordinary victory on Election Day, writing the right to organize in the state constitution, a win Gov. J.B. Pritzker celebrated with the IBEW.

Wins in Michigan Could Mean Farewell to
State's Right-to-Work Law

The political adage "Elections have consequences" is about to be put on display in Michigan in ways that could benefit IBEW members and all working families, including a potential repeal of the state's so-called right-to-work law.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was reelected and Democrats won control of both the state House and Senate, giving the party total control of the governor's mansion and the legislature for the first time since 1984. They also held on to the attorney general and secretary of state positions.

"It's like asking Santa for a pony, and instead you get a Dodge Barracuda,'' said Michigan Political Director Joe Davis, a member of Lansing Local 352. "You wake up and it's there, and it's an amazing feeling. Everything came together for us."

The election puts Michigan in position to repeal the right-to-work law that went into effect in 2013. Right-to-work laws allow employees to enjoy the benefits and protections of a collectively bargained agreement by a union without paying fees.

"Right-to-work, the union-busting law, we'll repeal that," Dayna Polehanki, a state senator from Livonia, told Detroit television station WXYZ.

No one is sure how fast it may happen. The legislative session begins Jan. 12. But law makers have realistic chance to tackle right-to-work, as well as several other initiatives that would benefit the state's workers, such as making prevailing wage a permanent part of state law again.

"We have an opportunity to help all the residents of the state, whether they are organized and represented or not, and fix what has basically gone wrong for the last 40 years," Detroit Local 58 registrar Jeannette Bradshaw said.

Michigan wouldn't be the first state to repeal a right-to-work law, but it hasn't happened in generations. New Hampshire repealed its law in 1949, two years after it was passed, and attempts to reinstitute it have failed since.

Indiana passed and signed into law a right-to-work bill in 1957 that was repealed in 1965. The GOP-dominated legislature and governor's office passed and signed a new right-to-work law in 2012 that remains in effect.

Right-to-work advocates have made no secret that the laws are used to undermine the influence of unions and their ability to advocate on behalf of their members.

"The first thing I would like to see, in my opinion, would be a right-to-work repeal," said Geoff Yonkers, a business representative for Muskegon Local 275 who was one of the IBEW's leaders in the Michigan campaign.

Other issues the legislature is expected to address include:

  • The re-institution of project labor agreements, which ensure that highly skilled construction workers are paid a fair wage on the state's public projects. It also makes it harder for less-scrupulous employers to exploit workers by classifying them as subcontractors as opposed to full-time employees.

    "Economically, they really are beneficial to labor, and they don't hurt nonunion contractors unless you're a contractor who doesn't follow the rules in the first place," Davis said.
  • The elimination of the so-called pension tax, part of a GOP tax overhaul in 2011 that scaled back or eliminated most exemptions taxpayers could take on their pensions.
  • Changing a law that requires public-sector union members in Michigan to fill out membership fees paperwork annually, another effort from the state's GOP-controlled era to weaken unions.

"We need to look out for everyone, not just ourselves," Bradshaw said. "If we do that, we can show the state we're not just in it for us and really leverage our political power."

The victories in Michigan took a lot of work by union members, including those in the IBEW. That included getting out a vote for a successful ballot initiative in 2018 that created more balanced legislative districts and took away some of the advantages that anti-union legislators had gerrymandered into the process.

Those new districts were in play for the first time in 2022.

"Having the ability to have competitive districts throughout the state allowed us to have the success we did," Davis said.

Yonkers noted that the five campaigns the IBEW prioritized and put additional resources behind all won. Those were four statehouse races and the U.S. congressional race to reelect Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who has been a labor advocate while in Washington.

"We obviously backed them with our money, but more importantly with our membership," Yonkers said.

Yonkers noted that polls showed that at least two-thirds of Michigan's union members voted for Whitmer.

"Voters here understand we need a government similar to what we have with President Biden, who doesn't have a problem talking about unions," he said. "I think we have that."


IBEW and other union members rally for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.


Volunteers campaign for pro-worker candidates in the state.


IBEW members gather to knock on doors for state House and Senate candidates.


IBEW members in Michigan knocked on union doors to turn out the vote for Whitmer and other pro-worker candidates.

In Iowa, Local 405 President Cruises to House Seat

Not every election is a nailbiter.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 405 President Jeff Cooling didn't have to face an opponent in his Democratic primary or the general election for the District 77 Iowa State House of Representatives seat.

It is a sign of the respect Cooling has won since he topped out of his apprenticeship a decade ago. In addition to being president of Local 405, he is vice president of the Hawkeye Area Labor Council, which represents 26 counties in east-central Iowa, and the 11th District member of the RENEW Advisory Council.

When it came time to find a replacement for state Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, who was retiring after 12 years, Cooling cleared the field clean.

"It has a lot to do with strength and solidarity of the labor movement in the area and the respect the IBEW has in Iowa politics," Cooling said.

The seat representing this area, even with a redistricting in 2022, has been held by union members for as far back as Cooling could remember. Running-Marquardt came from the SEIU, and before her it was held by a retired 405 member. Before him, it was an organizer from the meatpackers.

Because his election was so anticlimactic, Cooling spent much of the campaign season door-knocking for other people.

The recipe for winning in a red-leaning state isn't complicated, he said. "You have to outperform what is at the top of the ticket. It is not so difficult to knock on a few thousand doors. But it is what swings elections. Meeting people at their front door is the only place minds change," he said.

One candidate he walked with, Elizabeth Wilson, was running against an anti-labor Republican in the next district over. He canvassed for her, and she won by fewer than 500 votes.

The Iowa state House session only runs from January to April, and Cooling expects to return to the tools when the session ends. He said he is eager to push for legislation that will help working people, but most of his work will be stopping the Republican caucus's worst ideas for workers.

"We have been successful in the past, though last year we weren't as successful. We stopped some of the really bad language, but we only do that by working with the majority. What I learned throughout the campaign is if I didn't reach out to a group, someone else did. They will learn about us from [Republican Gov.] Kim Reynolds or from us. We have to go to them and give them our story."


Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 405 President Jeff Cooling was one of many IBEW members who won elections this fall.

IBEW Member Elected to Idaho State House

Nate Roberts, a Pocatello Local 449 journeyman inside wireman and a first-time candidate, won his election to the Idaho state House of Representatives in a narrow vote.

Roberts will join a resolute, but small, opposition, determined to find ways to protect the working people of Idaho.

"We need to connect with those who will listen to us. And we need to support them to moderate the bills that come out of the House," Roberts said. "We will have some successes, but that comes through working with anyone who will work with us."

Roberts won his election by 112 votes out of more than 14,500 ballots cast.

"Those votes came from our get-out-the-vote operation, I'm convinced," he said about the door-knocking and canvassing operation he ran with huge help from his brothers and sisters in Local 449, the Firefighters Local 187, and the Idaho state labor federation.

Roberts said his opponent called him within a week and admitted he lost but wouldn't concede.

"There was no concession, no real congratulations from him, but that comes as no surprise, sadly, these days," he said.

Idaho is a glowing coal of red — Republicans have controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor's mansion for 28 years.

But Roberts, a Democrat, had a simple message at every door he knocked on: There should be more than just lawyers representing us.

Roberts topped out of the Los Angeles Local 11 inside apprenticeship in 1997 and has been a member of Local 449 since he moved to town in 2017.

He had never been much involved in politics until he was elected registrar of Local 449 in 2018, he said. As part of that position, he started attending Bannock County Democratic Party meetings.

"The party was run by a retired steelworker, and he just pulled me in deeper and deeper," Roberts said.

Roberts was appointed District 29 party chair in 2019 and started attending union days in the state capital, Boise, and meeting and connecting with the relatively small group of state Democratic leaders.

After the state House seat was lost in the tidal wave of Trump support, the Democratic caucus began to push Roberts to consider running.

What convinced him to say yes was three days he spent in the Capitol sitting in for his predecessor, a lawyer with a seat on the judiciary committee. Roberts was there during a debate about state executions.

"That was heavy. To sit in that room making decisions on how someone lives or dies — an electrician in a room of lawyers — was an amazing weight of a decision. Working people need to have a voice in that room," he said.

Roberts will have few allies when he gets to office. The Idaho Senate will have 28 Republicans and seven Democrats, while the House will have 58 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Because of redistricting, though, there will be many new faces in the House, and Roberts is determined to stop the worst anti-worker legislation.

He will have at least one potential partner. Josh Wheeeler, from signatory contractor Wheeler Electric, won a House seat as a Republican.

Together, Roberts hopes, they might change the state's "lowest bidder" contracting system that benefits out-of-state contractors who cut corners and wages.

Idaho is due to get at least $500 million in federal funding for broadband and $30 million for electric vehicle infrastructure along the interstates, and Roberts thinks that might be a good place to start.

"Lowest bidder doesn't mean lowest cost. Could we shift that to a best-practice process instead? Add some local-hire language?" he said. "It will be good to have Josh in the Republican caucus. I hope we can work on that together. That is what it will take to get passed."


"We will have some successes … working with anyone who will work with us."

– Nate Roberts, newly elected to Idaho House


Pocatello Local 449 journeyman wireman Nate Roberts walks toward the Idaho state Capitol in Boise, where he won a House seat in November as a first-time candidate. Roberts, a Democrat in a Republican-dominated state, said he is determined to find common ground on workers' issues, such as ending the lowest-bid system that rewards shoddy contractors.

San Diego Votes to Remove Ban on PLAs

San Diego voters on Nov. 8 approved Measure D, which overturned a ban on project labor agreements in the city.

The measure passed by nearly 12 percentage points. The ban dates to 2012, when Republicans controlled city government. The city now has a Democratic mayor, and all nine seats on the city council are held by Democrats.

San Diego, with a population of nearly 1.4 million people, had been the largest city in the United States that banned PLAs. The measure's win will make the city competitive for state and federal projects, a high priority after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act were passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden.

The IBEW's signatory contractors will be more competitive in bidding for contracts against nonunion competitors, who pay lower wages and offer less quality for taxpayers. That will be a major boost for San Diego Local 569, which plans to expand its apprenticeship classes.

"Make no mistake, this was a top priority for all our members," Local 569 Political Director Gretchen Newsom said. "They walked door to door every single Saturday and Sunday for more than two months. We phone-banked, we text-banked, we pulled out all the stops for a successful campaign while the other side was spending a lot of money against us."

There's also some symbolic value in the vote. San Diego will host the next International Convention in 2026.


San Diego Local 569 members prepare to canvas in support of Measure D, which repealed the city's ban on project labor agreements.

Ohio IBEW Bikers Rev Up Campaign Trail

The Toledo Local 8 motorcycle club proudly led the way during the final week of Rep. Tim Ryan's 2022 race for Senate, roaring into rally sites and revving up crowds just in front of his campaign bus. A champion for workers, Ryan personally invited the club to escort his bus, with fellow IBEW and building trades bikers joining in as they crisscrossed the state. "We were honored to do it," said Assistant Business Manager Bill Box, pictured far right with a mix of Local 8 members and steelworkers. He described it as a thrill from start to finish, from the cheering crowds to the fun of tossing around a football with the candidate and his son on road breaks. While the Ohio Senate race outcome was a "kick in the gut," he said, he felt privileged to be in the front row when Ryan conceded late on election night, a speech that drew national praise for its graciousness and respect for democracy. "It was hard on us, but he made us proud," Box said. "We'd absolutely do it again for another worthy candidate who puts workers first."