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May 2024

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Pro-Worker State of the Union a Thrill for IBEW Guests

Inside the U.S. House chamber, gazing down at the president and hundreds of the nation's most powerful people while surrounded by fascinating guests in the gallery for the State of the Union address, Teila Allmond thought about the words of a colleague.

"She told me that I would have a hard time describing it, that you have to see it and feel it to understand what she was trying to verbalize," said Allmond, who recruits and trains Philadelphia Local 98 apprentices. "I'm still trying to process what I experienced. It was amazing."

Allmond and two other IBEW guests cheered over and over as President Joe Biden delivered a pro-worker, pro-union speech that hailed historic job numbers and the construction and manufacturing boom happening under his watch.

"I thought he did a phenomenal job," said Las Vegas Local 357 journeywoman Melenie Zavala, who was invited by Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. "He spoke his mind — 'We're here to make change, and this is what we've accomplished and this is where we're going' — and he was able to back it all up with numbers and facts."

Even for Boston Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis, who has met with his share of powerbrokers in fighting for IBEW members, it was a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"It was a powerful speech that aligned with President Biden's promise to be the most pro-union president we've ever had," he said. "I was honored to represent the hard-working members of Local 103."

Biden frequently name-checks the IBEW in his travels around the country, but hearing him do so in front of a global audience was a special thrill for the guests.

It happened as he cited the tens of thousands of clean energy jobs that his policies are creating, "like the IBEW workers building and installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations."

"I had my IBEW pin on my jacket, and President Biden then mentions the work of the IBEW," Allmond said with awe. "It was a proud moment."

Each of the 535 members of Congress is allowed to bring one guest to the speech, often someone whose work or activism reflects the lawmaker's goals.

Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon invited Allmond, impressed by her success running Rosie's Girls, a nine-week Local 98/NECA program that introduces high school students to the electrical trade. Nine young women completed the program's second class last December.

"Women, especially women of color, have historically been underrepresented in the industries where the jobs are being created," Scanlon said when she chose her guest. "That's why I'm so proud Teila Allmond will join me at this year's State of the Union. Through her work with Rosie's Girls, Teila is leading the way to create and expand pathways for women in the skilled trades."

Allmond laughed recalling her emphatic "yes" when Scanlon's staff called with the invitation about two weeks beforehand. "I thought it was adorable, like very respectful for them to say, 'Hey, would you like to attend?'" she said.

In Zavala, the IBEW's 2022 apprentice of the year, Cortez Masto saw a young woman representative of Nevada's growth and progress as hundreds of millions of dollars a year pour into the state from the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Biden's other signature pieces of legislation.

"Over the past four years, we've delivered historic investments for clean energy and infrastructure in Nevada, and this is just the beginning," the senator said by way of introducing her guest to the media.

Now a journeywoman, Zavala's worksites have ranged from Las Vegas resorts to solar developments. "It's always changing and engaging, and you're constantly being challenged," she told the Las Vegas Sun. "It gets you to think, physically move, and it's a way to be part of something that's going to be there long after I'm gone."

Antonellis and his host, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, made the most of the festive hours before the speech, meeting with other members of their state's congressional delegation and doing interviews with Boston TV and radio stations.

"Senator Markey couldn't have been more gracious," Antonellis said. "He touted the work of the IBEW at every opportunity and spoke at length about how environmental justice and worker justice can be achieved together through President Biden's historic legislation."

Local 103 members "have supercharged the Commonwealth's green jobs revolution," Markey said in a statement after the speech. "The solar panels on our roofs, cost-effective and energy-efficient housing, and new electric vehicle charging infrastructure — that's what Local 103 and union workers are building in Massachusetts and all across this country, as President Biden told us tonight."

Allmond marveled at the lawmakers and celebrities she met on her afternoon tour of Capitol offices, including House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, rapper Fat Joe and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, an IBEW sister out of Portland, Ore., Local 125.

"I told her about the work we're doing with Rosie's Girls," Allmond said. "She was ecstatic about it."

Later, in her center gallery seat, she found herself next to actor Bradley Whitford of "The West Wing," a 40-year SAG-AFTRA member who rallied with unions and personally lobbied members of Congress during an Obama-era attempt to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Their seats had a clear view of a section of Democratic congresswomen whose white outfits honored the hard-won battle for women's voting rights a century ago. "I was noticing all the white jackets and how many women were on that floor and what a beautiful change that was," Allmond said.

The IBEW trio said the energy and passion inside the packed chamber was intense, in spite of stony-faced silence from GOP lawmakers who refused to clap for skyrocketing job numbers, record-low unemployment, rising wages and other objectively good news for workers.

"The support for President Biden's message was overwhelming," Antonellis said. "It felt like the whole room was with him with all the cheering and positivity, even if half the room sat still."

Standing ovations were more rule than exception. "I couldn't count the number of times I stood up and clapped every time a powerful point was being made," Allmond said. "It was pretty much every time I sat down."

The IBEW and other building-trades guests were especially charged as Biden talked about projects that will create good union jobs far into the future, such as "modernizing our roads and bridges, ports and airports, public transit systems [and] providing affordable high-speed internet for every American, no matter where you live — urban, suburban or rural communities in red states and blue states."

He directed some good-natured ribbing at the sullen section of the audience, noting how eagerly his GOP opponents take credit for local projects — even though just 13 Republicans in the House and 19 in the Senate supported the law that funds them.

"I noticed some of you who've strongly voted against it are there cheering on that money coming in," Biden said with a smile. "And I like it. I'm with you. I'm with you."

International President Kenneth W. Cooper said Biden's speech "reiterated his commitment to working people and building an economy that works for everyone."

"President Biden's first term has seen historic investments in our infrastructure and energy grid," Cooper said. "Not to mention the rebirth of domestic high-tech manufacturing that's taking 'Buy American' from a mere slogan to reality.

"America is on the right track, and staying there over the next four years is the only way we continue to create jobs, put more money in workers' pockets and truly rebuild our middle class."


As tens of millions of Americans watched from their living rooms, a trio of IBEW members had the hottest ticket in town: Seats in the U.S. House chamber as President Joe Biden delivered a pro-worker, pro-union speech that hailed historic job numbers and the construction and manufacturing boom happening under his watch.


Each member of Congress is allowed one guest at the State of the Union speech. Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, at left, invited Philadelphia Local 98 apprentice recruiter and trainer Teila Allmond. The congresswoman used the opportunity to tout Allmond's success with Rosie's Girls, a program that introduces high-school girls to the electric trade.


Las Vegas Local 357 journey-level wirewoman Melenie Zavala with her SOTU host, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.


Making the rounds in the Capitol before the speech, Boston Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis, left, and his host, Sen. Ed Markey, pause at the statue of Massachusetts Founding Father Samuel Adams.