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April 2023

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IBEW Joins Landmark Labor Deal to Help Build and
Run High‑Speed Rail From L.A. to Vegas

The IBEW has joined a coalition of labor unions to sign an agreement to build and run what is billed as the first truly high-speed passenger rail line in the U.S.

The Brightline West project aims to connect the Los Angeles area's Metrolink system with the Las Vegas Strip via high-speed rail. The agreement between the coalition and the company commits Brightline to employing union members on every aspect of work to build, operate and maintain the line as a condition of securing a $3 billion grant from money made available by the trillion-dollar 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

"Thanks in part to the men and women who work in our Railroad and Construction branches, millions of people who drive between Los Angeles and Las Vegas could soon be making that same trip on a comfortable train in half the time," said International President Kenneth W. Cooper. "Brightline knows that they can count on the members of our union coalition to get the job done safely and efficiently."

The High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition unions represents more than 160,000 highly skilled freight, regional, commuter and passenger railroad workers in the U.S.

"The coalition met with Brightline several times and gave them a few of our concepts of how high-speed rail should be done," said Railroad Department Director Al Russo. Had the company tried to do the project without using organized labor, he said, it would have set a dangerous precedent for some of its planned projects in other parts of the U.S.

High-speed rail is generally considered to include trains that travel at least 155 miles per hour on tracks that have been built specifically to handle such speeds. Brightline West is planned to operate on new tracks along a 218-mile route that mostly uses the median strip of the Interstate 15 right of way via trains capable of achieving speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

The $10 billion investment promises to have far-reaching economic benefits, including the creation of thousands of jobs during construction — about 1,100 of which would be under the HRLSC's jurisdiction. The system is expected to generate hundreds of permanent union jobs, including IBEW work, once the line is operational.

"That's crucial, because our members understand that keeping the work is just as important as getting the work," said Construction and Maintenance Department Director Matt Paules. "This type of infrastructure investment will employ thousands of our members. This is only the beginning for high-speed rail in the U.S., and the IBEW intends to be part of the construction, operation and maintenance of these rail systems of the future."

In February, the coalition wrote Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in support of Brightline's application for an IIJA grant from his department. Once funding is secured and construction is underway, Brightline estimates that the line could be ready for full revenue service as early as 2027.

Brightline also estimates that the fully electric and emission-free system will take 3 million cars off the road each year, preventing the generation of about 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Brightline West promises a journey time of just over two hours from a planned Metrolink light rail station to the Strip, operating at a top speed near 180 mph. Drivers on I-15 along the same route have speed limits that top out at 70 mph.

The memorandum of understanding sets Brightline West as an official rail carrier as defined by the Railway Labor Act, and it specifically spells out the rights of workers on all aspects of the project to be represented by a labor union.

"The IBEW was the last to sign the MOU," Russo noted. "President Cooper wanted to make sure that the project labor agreements fully protect workers."

Having RLA jurisdiction also helps ensure that Brightline will remain neutral during any organizing campaigns during the project, Russo said.

Joining the IBEW on the High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition are the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers' Transportation Department and Mechanical and Engineering Department; the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ; the Transportation Communications Union; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers; the Transport Workers Union of America; the American Train Dispatchers Association; and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.

Meanwhile, Russo, Paules and their staff members continue to work alongside their counterparts in the coalition to work out the necessary agreements among the various locals and trades organizations in Nevada and California.

"Once America sees this, governors will flock to see about implementation in their states," Russo said.

Paules concluded: "When that happens, our reputation for success on this rail line will go a long way toward securing future projects on similar new construction all over the country."


IBEW members from the Construction and Railroad branches are part of a coalition of unions gearing up to build the all-electric Brightline West, the U.S.'s first truly high-speed rail service for passengers traveling between Southern California and Southern Nevada.

Credit: Brightline

Federal Labor Report Shows Union Strength,
Growth Opportunities

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual report on union membership showed overall numbers on the rise, good news for America's working families. It also demonstrated again that union members continue to earn more than their nonunion counterparts.

Unions' opponents and many media outlets, however, emphasized that the same report showed that the percentage of unionized workers actually fell slightly. But digging into the details of the report and the context of the labor market reveals a lot to be enthusiastic about. Leaders from the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association, the Brotherhood's longtime management partner, reminded observers that both groups continue to add members.

"The [IBEW] reports 11 consecutive years of construction membership growth," the two groups said in a joint statement. "[NECA] shares this upward trend of membership over the last several years."

The BLS also reported that the average weekly pay for a union construction worker was $1,319, 26% more than a nonunion counterpart.

"NECA and the IBEW are able to provide good family-sustaining wages all while still representing some of the largest and most successful union contractors in the country," the statement said.

The BLS report, which was released in February, stated that the number of U.S. workers belonging to unions increased 1.9%, to 14.3 million. But the union membership rate — which is defined as the share of wage and salary workers who are members of a union — was 10.1% in 2022, down from 10.3% one year earlier.

The reason? A red-hot job market, which added 5.3 million salaried workers throughout the year. Most of those jobs were not unionized, which is typical of most jobs when they are created.

But some will present organizing opportunities. The booming 2022 job market was good for workers overall, allowing them to be more selective and force employers to improve working conditions to attract employees.

Plus, there is evidence that the number of unionized workers will continue to rise.

The National Labor Relations Board reported that requests in union election petitions between October 2021 and September 2022 increased 53% over the previous fiscal year. That is the largest increase since 2016.

Major strike activity — defined by the BLS as a strike that affects 1,000 or more workers and at least one work shift — increased 50% in 2022.

The American public continues to support unions at a historic rate. A Gallup poll conducted last year found unions' approval rating at 71%, the highest since 1965. Most workers say they would join a union if given the chance.

Plus, the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the CHIPS and Science Act will provide more good-paying union jobs. Much of that is spelled out in the language of the two laws, which will help add to the IBEW's rolls, especially in construction.

"It's an exciting time for the IBEW and all unions," International President Kenneth W. Cooper said. "Despite what our detractors say, we have some powerful tailwinds at our back: a strong job market, a presidential administration that is one of the most supportive in our nation's history and, perhaps most importantly, the support of the American public. I am confident the IBEW's membership numbers will continue to grow."


Total active IBEW membership has been on a steady upward trajectory in recent years, even accounting for the toll of the beginning of the pandemic.