A major initiative is underway to ensure that every IBEW
member eligible to vote is registered, aiming to educate members that
participating in the electoral process directly translates to power on the job
and at the negotiating table.
“Voting is our best opportunity to have a say in who writes and enacts laws affecting our pay, our benefits and our collective-bargaining rights,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “It matters because so much of what we do hinges on decisions politicians make about upcoming projects and our ability to work on them.”
The Political and Legislative Affairs Department recently mailed every U.S. local a list of its unregistered members, included in a tool kit designed to help local leaders encourage members to get active. It’s part of the union’s larger “It Matters” campaign, a fresh attempt to get all members to consider the important role we play in protecting our livelihood via the ballot box.
One local that boasts a particularly high percentage of registered voters is Norfolk, Va., Local 80. Business Manager Dennis Floyd attributes some of that success to activists’ efforts to communicate directly with members about election issues at stake, often through phone calls and precinct walks.
“Let’s get away from other issues and focus on good-paying jobs,” Floyd advises his members. “You’ve got to be able to feed and take care of your families.”
Floyd said he goes into every political conversation expecting to get at least a little pushback on what he’s saying.
“Politics can be a tricky subject,” he said. “You have to accept that you’re not going to get everybody to agree with you.”
Links to help locate your state’s registration rules and determine which states permit online voter registration can be found at ibew.org/political/itmatters.
“It’s never been easier to register to vote,” said Political Director Austin Keyser. “But unfortunately, you can’t assume that you’re still registered even if you remember registering.”
Some localities routinely purge name from their voter rolls if it’s determined that they haven’t voted in recent elections, Keyser said, or if they can’t be found because they moved or changed their names.
If a struggle to get to the polls on Election Day has kept you from registering to vote, you can also find resources on the “It Matters” website for determining whether your locality offers early voting options, Keyser said.
“Our constant message is that you have to vote your paycheck in every election, not just every four years,” he said. “Every election, for president or city council or school board, is an opportunity to secure work.”
Some members go beyond the ballot box by also testifying at hearings or public meetings. “Our voice gets heard because IBEW members are recognized as politically engaged and able to speak intelligently on subjects that matter to workers,” Keyser said.
In Portland, Maine, the leaders of Local 567 were looking for members to testify before the state’s House of Representatives in favor of worker-friendly legislation that, if passed, would require the hiring of thousands of workers to install and service large renewable energy facilities — up to 25% of whom would have to be trained through state and federally-approved apprenticeships.
Although he had never done anything like that, first-year apprentice Isaac Smith had personal reasons for volunteering.
“Apprenticeships are another form of higher education besides college,” explained Smith, who attended college for a few years before deciding to pursue a career as an electrician.
After receiving guidance on what legislators might ask, Smith delivered his prepared remarks during a House hearing in April.
His advice to members considering doing something similar? “The most important thing is not to be afraid of being yourself,” Smith said. “Tell politicians what’s important to you and your union brothers and sisters.”
Milwaukee Local 494 Political Director John Zapfel tells members interested in taking political activism to another level, “It’s usually best to start by focusing on local issues.”
Last year, activists from Local 494 were among those who helped oust anti-labor Governor Scott Walker and elect longtime educator Tony Evers.
While in office from 2011 through 2018, Walker helped make Wisconsin a right-to-work state, destroyed project labor agreements and prevailing wage, and took away the bargaining rights of public sector workers. Since assuming the governorship earlier this year, Evers introduced legislation to undo much of Walker’s damage.
Zapfel said he tries to get members thinking about their power. “You’re the best person to talk about the business,” he tells members. “In our own communities, our voices carry weight.”
IBEW sisters and brothers understand that we deserve a say in what happens at all levels of government, Stephenson said.
“It’s why the only candidates our union supports are those who put working people first,” he said.
What happens in politics is so important, Stephenson said, that the IBEW Constitution requires every local to have at least one registrar tasked with educating members about it. The union also relies on district and state political coordinators to help boost its political message.
“But it all comes back to the ballot box,” Stephenson said. “The things we fight for — and against — can have profound effects on our lives. The very least we all can do is to show up and vote in every election.”
Main page photo credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user Bart Everson.