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April 2023

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IBEW Sister Shines as Ambassador for Pre‑Apprenticeships at State of the Union

A budding electrician had the hottest ticket in D.C. as President Joe Biden delivered a sweeping State of the Union speech that reported on record-breaking job growth and other unparalleled progress for American workers.

Andrea Kelly, a newly initiated member of Decatur, Ill., Local 146 and graduate of the pre-apprenticeship program run by her city's building trades, was among the youngest guests watching from the gallery of the packed U.S. House chamber the evening of Feb. 8.

"It was just very exciting to be there and hear him speak and to see all the congressmen and -women react," said Kelly, 20, who was struck by the thunderous ovations, as well as less civil reactions, from the floor. "I liked that he's good on job training and helping not just our program but every trade and all working people when and where he can."

Kelly was invited by Illinois Rep. Nikki Budzinski, a pro-labor freshman lawmaker who has pledged that her first bill will seek tax incentives for small businesses that hire apprentice and pre-apprentice workers.

She signaled her commitment by giving her lone guest ticket to Kelly, who was selected by Local 146 Business Manager Josh Sapp.

"I'm excited to be joined by Andrea Kelly for my first State of the Union address — a young woman who shows us just how important apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs are to the economic mobility of our communities," Budzinski said.

"At a time when too many Americans struggle to find good-paying jobs, thousands of well-paid positions lie unfilled due to a persistent job skills gap," she added. "We must do more to connect folks with training opportunities that will help them get ahead."

From the House podium, Biden saluted the IBEW, the Ironworkers and other trades — shoutouts that were nothing new for a president who talks about union apprenticeships and good, union jobs every chance he gets.

He heralded the 12 million jobs created during his administration's first two years — more job gains than in any president's full four-year term and a large factor in the nation's 3.4% unemployment rate, the lowest in a half-century.

Millions more jobs are on the way, Biden said to cheers, made possible by the $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill and other legislation that is putting people to work building and improving everything from roads, bridges and tunnels to schools and airports. Not to mention explosive growth in U.S. computer chip manufacturing and high-tech rest stops.

"We're going to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, installed across the country by tens of thousands of IBEW workers," Biden said in the address.

Each of the 535 members of Congress is allowed to invite a plus-one to the annual address. Kelly was surrounded in the gallery by members' spouses and Washington insiders, but also guests like her representing a cross-section of Americans.

Her business manager didn't have quite as good a seat. Sapp, who traveled with Kelly to Washington, laughed as he described attempting to watch the speech on his phone in a noisy Capitol Hill restaurant.

Sapp met Kelly during a career fair at her high school when she stopped by the IBEW's booth. "She said she always wanted to be an electrician," he said.

Or at least since she was 10 or 11, Kelly recalled, when she watched in fascination as technicians tackled a lighting problem at a glass manufacturing plant run by her grandfather.

"The lights kept tripping, and they were trying to figure out why," she said. "It was pretty cool. They had to pull some wires out and seeing all those different-colored wires go here and there, seeing the workers flip that switch and the light goes off and this switch and the light goes on. It was like 'Wow!' I'd never seen that before, and I'd always wondered what would happen if I flipped the switch."

Sapp steered her toward the Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program, a partnership of the Decatur Building & Construction Trades Council, Workforce Investment Solutions and local nonprofit One Level, that provides 120 hours of training, including on-the-job experience.

For Kelly, who had been working at McDonald's, a stint with Bodine Electric turned into a life-changing job with the signatory contractor.

Kelly has applied for an IBEW apprenticeship and was anxiously awaiting interviews in March. But with a year under her belt as a construction wireman at Bodine, she's already an IBEW sister, initiated into Local 146 on Valentine's Day.

Growing up, she made trips to see an aunt in Washington but had never stepped inside the Capitol until the day of Biden's address — a speech that won rave reviews, even earning praise from some of his critics.

Earlier that day, Kelly and Sapp visited with Budzinski and other members of the Illinois delegation, including Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and Reps. Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood. They even met with House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and bumped into other politicians as they trekked the halls of House and Senate office buildings.

"She was introduced to dozens of people of importance," Sapp said. "She recognized it as an awesome opportunity, but I think some of it was also overwhelming."

He was proud of how she navigated it all, recalling her perfect response to a reporters question.

"One of them asked her what she was hoping to hear from President Biden," he said. "She answered it really well — she said funding for job training to help people like her get into the trades."



As President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union speech in February, reporting on explosive job growth and other groundbreaking progress for workers, guests in the balcony of the U.S. House chamber included Decatur, Ill., Local 146 member Andrea Kelly, pictured at left in the above photo. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, center, invited the pre-apprentice graduate as a show of support for union training programs. Earlier that day, Kelly and Local 146 Business Manager Josh Sapp, right, made the rounds on Capitol Hill advocating for funding for pre-apprenticeship and apprentice programs.

IBEW Members Answer Call for
National Electric Vehicle Program

Approximately 20,000 IBEW members have been certified to install electric vehicle charging stations across the United States after completing the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program, the White House said Feb. 15 in finalizing standards for its expansive EV initiative.

The training milestone is a big step toward President Joe Biden's goal of building a national network of 500,000 charging stations and having at least half of new car sales be electric vehicles by 2030.

Last June, the Department of Transportation recommended the EVITP as the preferred national training program for installing the stations. The program was developed more than 10 years ago by the IBEW, the National Electrical Contractors Association and other partners.

That proved to be a wise move. After the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was passed and signed in November 2021, then-International President Lonnie R. Stephenson pledged that the IBEW would certify 10,000 electricians by August 2022.

The union met that goal and now has doubled down on its success.

"Skilled IBEW electricians helped lead the first energy revolution, electrifying America from coast to coast," said International President Kenneth W. Cooper. "We are proud to do our part in leading today's energy revolution, building a modern low-carbon infrastructure that will combat climate change, boost our economy and rebuild the middle class."

The White House cited about 20 private companies — including automakers, energy companies, restaurants and grocery stores — that have invested in installing charging machines nationwide.

"The rapidly expanding industry is ramping up production to make high-quality, Build America-compliant chargers, creating good jobs and helping the United States strengthen its leadership in clean energy manufacturing," the White House said.

The final rules comply with requirements that charging station assembly is done domestically. For instance, final assembly and manufacturing for iron and steel charger enclosures must be done in the United States, effective immediately. By July 2024, at least 55% of all components must be manufactured domestically.

That's welcome news for IBEW members and all American manufacturing workers, who have seen jobs sent overseas for decades.

"Strong labor standards like these are crucial to creating a pipeline of electricians and other skilled construction labor needed to build a low-carbon energy infrastructure, while Buy American requirements are helping to jumpstart our nation's manufacturing sector," Cooper said.