The 39th International Convention was gaveled to a close by International President Lonnie R. Stephenson on Friday, Sept. 23.
The seventh IBEW convention in the union’s home town of St. Louis began with a focus on the past. Stephenson, International Secretary-Treasurer Sam Chilia and nearly a dozen other IBEW leaders used side cut pliers to cut the ribbon — a thick copper wire-- of the Henry Miller Museum on Sept. 15.
More than a week later, the work of the more than 2,100 delegates and alternates to chart the union’s future was complete.
Stephenson took the podium Friday to address the men and women seated at tables stretching hundreds of feet away in front of him.
“This week, we came together as one union and one IBEW. We came together unified with one goal: to keep Henry Miller’s dream alive,” Stephenson said. “And that dream has remained the same since 1891: to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry in the United States and Canada.”
Friday, Sept. 23 was still a working day, and delegates listened to speakers and continued making crucial decisions for the Brotherhood.
|Former Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie fired up delegates, sending them home with a mission for November and beyond.
Abercrombie Presses Delegates to Organize
Former Hawaii governor Neil Abercrombie delivered a passionate plea for action.
“We’re not just going through the motions here,” he said of the proceedings. “Don’t forget you’re all here representing hundreds, thousands of others across this continent.” Each delegate, he said, has a responsibility to go back home and to work hard to grow the Brotherhood.
Pointing to the presidential race, Abercrombie said voters are frustrated because wages are stagnant and income inequality is growing. “The reason for all of that is because union membership is down. … We have to bring unions back to the top. We have to organize.” America does well when unions do well, he said.
Immigration, the governor noted, has been an important part of the 2016 political discussion, but you can’t blame immigrants for fleeing cartels or terrible living conditions or poverty. “You can’t blame them, but you can organize them.”
With candidates on both sides promising major infrastructure investments, Abercrombie pointed to massive projected labor shortages in the building trades. Projected growth for electricians is 14 percent in the next decade, he said, nearly double the number predicted for the general workforce. “The opportunity is there, and it’s real,” he said. “Who will build the bridges and the airports and the hospitals this country needs?” he asked, urging aggressive organizing by the building trades.
In November, he said, IBEW members need to pay close attention to the candidates and not let themselves be distracted by issues unrelated to working people. “You have to get your priorities straight,” Abercrombie said. “You need people in office who will appoint allies to these important jobs. … Find out who’s on your side.”
|Nearly 2,000 delegates and thousands more alternates and guests attended the week-long event in St. Louis.
Frontier CEO: IBEW Members are the Company’s ‘Secret Sauce’
Frontier Communications CEO Dan McCarthy thanked the company’s more than 7,000 IBEW members.
Frontier is one of the largest wireline companies in the United States with workers in 29 states. McCarthy thanked the IBEW’s members for their expertise in copper, in fiber, in wireline and in all aspects of the company’s technology.
“The secret sauce of our product will always be the technicians who will make it a great experience for new customers,” he said.
Labor relations in the telecommunications industry have been highly contentious recently. Nearly 10,000 IBEW members struck Verizon earlier this year, in part, because the company was not investing as much money in their unionized wireline business and fighting efforts to organize the wireless side of the company.
McCarthy, in contrast, was brightly optimistic about the future of the wireline business and the importance of good labor-management relations.
“I feel sorry for companies whose management holds fast to a mentality of ‘us vs. them,’” he said. “That type of thinking doesn’t work in a highly competitive marketplace, and it’s not how smart folks come to the table.”
|New York Local 3 Business Representative Christopher Erikson Jr., spoke from the floor on the importance of engaging young members.
Encouraging Delegates to Get Out the Vote
IBEW General Counsel Rich Resnick urged delegates to consider the labor implications of this year’s election in his address.
“These last five years, from a legal standpoint, have been good for the IBEW in both the United States and Canada,” Resnick said. But he said elections can undo pro-labor appointees to the courts and the National Labor Relations Board.
“You only have to look to your brothers and sisters in Canada for inspiration,” Resnick said, pointing to the sweeping changes in labor policy under the Liberal Party and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We must replicate that effort in the United States this election cycle, not only at the federal level but in the states as well,” Resnick said.
|Bob Carr, recently retired business manager of Orlando, Fla., Local 606, passed away unexpectedly in St. Louis on Sept. 22. Photo courtesy Local 606.
Remembering Delegate Robert Carr
The Convention opened Friday morning with a moment of silence for recently retired Orlando Local 606 Business Manager and delegate Robert J. Carr. While returning from dinner following Thursday’s Convention session, Carr collapsed and later died at a St. Louis hospital.
“Bob was so excited to be at this Convention,” said Local 606 Business Manager Clay McNeely. “He spent his last week on Earth surrounded by his Brothers and Sisters.”
The thoughts and prayers of the IBEW delegation are with Carr’s family at this difficult time.
Unity Fund Update
|International President Stephenson looks on as a video of founder Henry Miller is played.
International President Lonnie R. Stephenson updated delegates on the Unity Fund, informing them that it has raised $2.7 million in donations since its creation in 2011.
The fund was created in response to workers’ rights attacks in states like Ohio and Wisconsin. It has since assisted members taking on other union busting activities and helped members recovering from disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
“What we wanted to do was put our money where our mouth is when it comes to solidarity,” Stephenson said. “I ask you, please continue to give it your full support in the years to come.”
Stephenson informed delegates that they can donate at IBEW.org or send checks made payable to “IBEW Unity Fund” to the international office:
900 Seventh St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
|International President Stephenson gavels the convention to a close.
The Final Gavel
“If we don’t organize and we don’t grow. It’s not just us who fails It’s the failure of the entire American and Canadian dream,” Stephenson said. “And we can’t let that happen.”
Before Stephenson gaveled the convention to a close, he said to the thousands of men and women in front of him.
“We’re going to keep going on and on until every worker in every one of our branches can say with pride: ‘I am a member of the greatest union in the world. I am IBEW,’” he said. “So come Monday morning, be ready to work like hell and organize, organize, organize.”