November 5, 2019

This summer, IBEW leaders asked for your urgent help. Our apprenticeships were under attack, threatened by a nonunion contractor-backed Labor Department rule that would allow them to operate second-rate training programs and present them as equal to our own.

Apprentices, like the ones here at Washington, D.C., Local 26's training center, learn the skills that will prepare them for a long career in the electrical trade. More than 65,000 IBEW members spoke out to the Labor Department in defense of high-quality apprenticeships earlier this year.

More than 65,000 of you, joined by another quarter-million of your union brothers and sisters in other trades, responded by speaking up in defense of the top-quality training you received through the IBEW.

“We don’t yet know how the Labor Department will decide this issue, but I can tell you one thing for certain,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “IBEW members step up when their livelihoods are under attack, and I couldn’t be more grateful for everyone who took the time to speak out in defense of our apprenticeship training and the quality tradesmen and tradeswomen it turns out each and every year.”

The deadline for submitting public comments to the DOL passed in late August, and a month later the department had processed and posted just under 200,000 of the 325,000 submissions it received.

More than 95% of the comments were from union members urging the administration to exempt the construction industry from its apprenticeship rule. Union leaders hope the overwhelming response will be enough to persuade government regulators.

In addition to their public comments, thousands of members filled out the IBEW’s own survey about their apprenticeships. Those were also compiled and sent to the Labor Department.

The stories that emerged about the IBEW’s role in the lives of its members proved impossible not to share.

“My membership in this brotherhood has meant everything to me and to my family, but I was filled with pride reading the responses from so many of you who felt the same way,” Stephenson said.

“In this month of Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and only a month removed from the celebration in Canada, I thought it was important to take a moment to reflect on how the IBEW and the labor movement has played a role in our lives.”

Because of the nature of the apprenticeship campaign, the stories came primarily from the construction and utility branches across the United States. But IBEW leaders know the union’s effects on members’ lives extend to Canada and across each of the brotherhood’s seven branches.

“We want to give each of our sisters and brothers the opportunity to share their own IBEW story, and we know we’ll be just as moved as more of you reach out,” Stephenson said.

To that end, a new website has been created at where you and your fellow members can share what IBEW membership has meant in your lives and careers.

“Reading these responses brought me back to the start of my own career,” Stephenson said. “I was working in the produce department of a local grocery store during high school, planning to go to college for electrical engineering, when I had a chance meeting that changed my life.

“An electrician, Ray Wells, came into the store on a service call and we got to talking about how you become an electrician. I didn’t have any family in the construction business, but my dad was an auto mechanic part-time, so I grew up around tools and liked the idea of working with my hands.

“Ray sent me to the IBEW hall, Rock Island, Ill., Local 145, where my first-class apprenticeship and a handful of patient, hard-working journeymen taught me the skills I’d need to be successful in this trade.

“I never expected I’d end up as International President of this great brotherhood, but all along the way I had people encouraging me, teaching me, asking me to serve, pushing me to be a leader – demanding excellence.

Baltimore Local 24 wireman Rico Albacarys is part of a series of television commercials featuring the power of the IBEW to change lives. His career in the electrical trade allowed him and his wife, Lauren, to purchase a home for their family and gave him a sense of purpose on the job.

“That’s what this union is all about for me. The Code of Excellence is more than a program we put on hardhat stickers and breakroom posters. It’s a mindset and a way of approaching every little thing we do, whether it’s on the job or in the union hall. I’m proud to be a product of a brotherhood that’s provided for my family and pushed me to be the best at what I do, and I know so many of you are as well.”

The following are just a few of the responses pulled from the thousands we received, but they’re stories of veterans and college students, IBEW sons and daughters as well as people who had no connections but came in search of a career to provide for their families. They’re young people just starting out and retirees looking back on long, successful lives – even a few members embarking on second and third careers.

But they all have one thing in common: their membership in the IBEW and the training they received set them up for success and gave them and their families the opportunity for a better life. We hope you’ll share your story as well.


David Vivian, Journeyman Wireman
Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697

"I was lucky enough to get into the apprenticeship program directly after high school. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't enter into it. We just purchased our forever home. We live comfortably knowing that we don't have to worry about medical bills or retirement. Knowing that I will retire comfortably makes it that much better."

Na'Quelle Davis, Apprentice Wireman
Seattle Local 46

"I studied philosophy in college, but I decided I wanted to work with my hands. I was drawn to the IBEW and apprenticeships in general because they were exactly what I wished college had been. A formal, consistent training and education program that wouldn't leave me in debt or financially stressed. I've never had such thorough training before starting a job."

Joseph Bass, Retired Journeyman Wireman
Decatur, Ill., Local 146

"My dad was an IBEW member, and a member of the Sac and Fox tribe. My only regret is that I didn't join the union sooner. I think the word needs to get out to high schools everywhere that joining a trade union is a viable alternative to a costly education. It would be hard to have the quality of life I was able to provide for my wife and son if I had stayed at the company I left when I joined the union. That company is now defunct, but my union pension plan followed me wherever I worked."

Gregory Geshwilm, Retired Journeyman Wireman
Bloomington, Ill., Local 197

"I was one of 17,000 people laid off by Caterpillar in 1980. I went back to school and earned a bachelor's degree, but after working various jobs, I still felt I could do better. I started Local 197's apprenticeship program in 1995. I had a wife and three children, and being able to earn while you learn made it possible. My top-notch instruction and on-the-job experience gave me dignity and allowed me to provide a skilled service to the customer. The good wages and great benefits made me a better provider for my family."

Amanda Stenman, Apprentice Wireman
Seattle Local 46

"I was working two jobs before I started my apprenticeship in July. I only need one now. It was essential for me to earn while I was going to school, or I would still be at my two old jobs where I was barely making enough to get by. Because of this incredible opportunity, I don't have to stretch myself thin to provide a good life for me and my amazing 9-year-old son."

Kevin Castle, Journeyman Lineman /
Apprenticeship Director
Columbus, Ohio, Local 71

"Before I started my apprenticeship, I was missing the Marine Corps and I wasn't happy in college because I missed the challenge and the sense of purpose I had as a Marine. After going to work as a groundman, I found that I loved it and was fascinated by the challenging work the linemen were doing. I decided that being paid well for doing something I love was better than paying for college to learn something I wasn't sure I wanted to do. The IBEW was the right path for me."

Connor Callahan, Apprentice Wireman
Raleigh, N.C., Local 553

"I graduated from college, but after a few years as a teacher, I needed a change. I come from an IBEW family, and I admire the skill and dedication my father displays in his craft. His good IBEW wages helped put me through college, and I'm proud to put my education to good use in the IBEW.

"My apprenticeship is preparing me for a long career in this trade, and I look forward to working in solidarity with my brothers and sisters to continuously improve our wages and conditions in the years to come."

Justin Long, Apprentice Wireman
San Luis Obispo, Calif., Local 639 

"I do not believe I could have learned the necessary skills for the electrical industry without the guidance of the IBEW apprenticeship program. Without a professional apprenticeship, working in the electrical industry is extremely dangerous and I would not feel safe on the jobsite without the supervision of a journeyman and classroom instruction. My apprenticeship is my ticket to the middle class."

Shamika Baker, Apprentice Wireman
Brockton, Mass., Local 223

"I was an associate at an Amazon warehouse, working the night shift for two years so I could be home during the day for my five children. As they got older, my husband and I decided it was time to find something more substantial. I was apprehensive about applying for Local 223's apprenticeship program, but I was encouraged by family, friends and other women to go for it.

"I am so thankful I did. I've always had an interest in electrical work and looked at another training program, but decided against it after doing my research. I am in my second year and I couldn't imagine getting this level of teaching expertise anywhere else. Being able to earn a living while doing so is extremely important to me. I could not afford to go without an income with those children still at home. I have gone from working a mindless job for $15 an hour to one where I solve problems and am mentally challenged. There are not many opportunities like this for upward mobility and a significant pay increase."

David Terwilleger, Journeyman Wireman/Training Director
Austin, Texas, Local 520

"Because of the IBEW, I was able to support my family and look forward to a time when I would be able to comfortably retire and not rely on others to support me. The opportunity to advance in the trade was important too. In fact, the most valuable aspect of being an electrician in a trade union is the freedom to manage my career any way I want. For those who like independence and the feeling of control over your destiny, look into an apprenticeship."

Lee Clancy, Operations Foreman
St. Paul, Minn., Local 23

"I did well in high school and enrolled in college because that's what you were supposed to do. But college wasn't a good fit for me, so I decided to take a different path. Who wants to take out loans for classes that don't seem relevant?

"I enrolled in an IBEW limited energy installer apprenticeship, and that was a good start, but I decided to go into nuclear energy and completed a plant attendant apprenticeship too. The IBEW and its apprenticeships are the difference between me working dead-end jobs and solidly rooting my family into the middle class."

Chris Brown, Journeyman Wireman
Lansing, Mich., Local 665

"I'm a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. I left active duty in 2005 after 13 years of service. I bounced around, job to job, always being told, 'Thank you for your service, but we don't have any room.' When I started my IBEW apprenticeship in 2012, they told me they were honored to bring more veterans on board. I've been a journeyman wireman for two years now. The skills and benefits have allowed me to help put my daughter through college. I'm able to put my 8-year-old son in a stellar hockey program. I'm no longer struggling with bills and have a great benefits package, and I'm no longer worried about retirement or the future."

Jacqueline Darnell, Journeyman Wireman
Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697

"I worked in insurance and retail before I joined the IBEW in 2013. I'd seen advertisements for colleges to train people to be electricians, but why would I pay someone to teach me when I could work and earn money while being trained? During my apprenticeship, I got pregnant with my son, who is now 4. But we had nothing to worry about because I had excellent health insurance and wages to handle expenses. No one can put a price on that kind of peace of mind."

Matthew Schlei, Journeyman Wireman
Milwaukee Local 494

"I grew up in Milwaukee and topped out there, but when it started getting cold that year, I looked on the job boards for someplace warm. Honolulu Local 1186 had open calls, so I left Wisconsin on a Thursday and by Monday, I was working on the balcony of a high-end condo with whales jumping out of the ocean right in front of me. It's 12 years later, and I never left Hawaii. Last year I transitioned from the field to the office doing BIM electrical 3D modeling. The IBEW gave me the skills and freedom to live and work where I choose and the upward mobility to shape my career with new technology."

Ryan Roe, Journeyman Wireman/Foreman
Raleigh, N.C., Local 553

“I learned this craft the hard way, working nonunion for 12 years before I organized into the IBEW. The apprentices I see come through IBEW training are miles ahead of the nonunion side, well-trained on systems, not just the basics. I’m fortunate to work alongside true craftspeople in this union who take safety and professionalism seriously. They’re a huge benefit to the entire industry.”

Nicolas Wakeen, Retired Journeyman Wireman
Eau Claire, Wis., Local 14

“I served as an electrician’s mate in the U.S. Navy and wanted to continue that work as a civilian. My IBEW apprenticeship prepared me for the demands of the trade and kept me safe through all my years on the tools. I started nonunion, and let me tell you, the difference is night and day. The IBEW afforded me the ability to have a family and take care of them, and though a back issue forced me to leave earlier than I wanted, I’m so lucky to have been a member of this brotherhood.”

Shawn Hale, Journeyman Wireman
Kalamazoo, Mich., Local 131

“My IBEW apprenticeship just made sense for me and for my family. I had three surgeries as an apprentice, and my insurance covered the lion’s share of those costs. I’d held off on at least one of them because of the poor benefits at my previous employers. “My wages made a huge leap when I got my ticket — about a 30% increase. My wife and I are able to travel and see places we’d only dreamed of going prior to becoming a JIW. My contributions to my pension also increased considerably. At 56 years old, this makes a huge difference to how I’ll spend my retirement.”

Jason Lauze, Journeyman Lineman/NEAT Training Director
Boston Local 104

“The wages and benefits were extremely important to me during my apprenticeship as I had a four-year-old daughter, a pregnant wife and mortgage to pay for when I joined the program. Without the pay and benefits I wouldn’t have had that option. I wanted to help the program keep moving in the right direction, so I took a job at the Northeastern Apprenticeship and Training Program and I’ve been helping to train the next generation of IBEW linemen.”

John Geoghegan, Journeyman Wireman/Business Representative
Chicago Local 134

“I graduated from DePaul University with a liberal arts degree, but I struggled to find a job you could raise a family on. I came from an IBEW family, so I knew how a highly regarded union apprenticeship could set a person up for success. My apprenticeship not only taught me the skills I’d need, it forced me to grow up and accept responsibility. I got married and bought a home after topping out and I’m able to put my three children through college because of the career I’ve had in the IBEW.”

Dylan Long, Apprentice Wireman
Wilmington, Del., Local 313

“I worked a retail job and gave college a try, but an uncle I admire is a lifelong union member. He gave me some of the best advice of my life, pointing to the great training with no debt I could get in the trades

“From the start of my apprenticeship, I was making more money than I ever had and was able to support myself. I also have access to health insurance and a retirement plan. Other young adults I know going to college are going to have a large amount of debt and no guarantee of a job after school."

Richard Smith, Retired Journeyman Wireman
Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697

“Due to the training that I received from the IBEW, there is not one thing in the industry that I could not do. I worked in and was supervisor for refineries, hospitals, schools, residential housing, high-rise apartments, telecommunications, fire alarm systems, computer cabling installations, transmissions lines, and high voltage wiring and repair. Because of the training, my wife and I are not overburdened with medical bills and the price of prescription drugs. My retirement is, and will be, the best for my wife and me.”

Randall Albertson, Journeyman Wireman
Kalamazoo, Mich., Local 131

“In the electrical field, there are so many paths you can take, and the IBEW’s apprenticeship program gives you the tools to be successful. I’ve had an opportunity to pursue many of those paths, so I’m not limited to one area. As the economy changes, as customers’ needs change, I’m able to adapt to those changes and still be employable. I’m able to take classes in fiber optics, medium voltage splicing and leadership training to help further my career in this field.”

Levi Cook, Journeyman Wireman/Training Instructor
Milwaukee Local 494

“Working in electronics coming out of the Air Force was a low-paying career field. My family and I barely scraped by. Through the IBEW, we are able to live comfortably. I can afford to take my children on vacations. And because of IBEW/NECA’s training and safety practices, I know I will be coming home to my family at the end of the day.”

Stephen Ruskin, Apprentice Wireman
Seattle Local 46

“I spent 20 years as a CPA and two years as a licensed butcher and was frustrated with my choices. I needed an affordable way to find a new career that was both intellectually stimulating and physically challenging. As a 52-year-old apprentice, I have to pay my bills and my health insurance was critical. The IBEW gives me all of that.”

David Baker, Journeyman Wireman
Kalamazoo, Mich., Local 131

“I’m from a lower income family, so when my first child was on the way, I needed to support my family while furthering my education. My IBEW apprenticeship was the starting point of my career. Besides the schooling, the people I learned alongside and worked with helped form who I am today. They taught me to apply what I’d learned in school and do electrical work I could be proud of — always with safety in mind. Safety is a huge part of the equation, because it’s hard to support your family if you’re dead.”

David Frohnapple, Retired Journeyman Wireman
Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697

“I joined the IBEW a couple of years after serving in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corps and worked for 38 years before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Because of the IBEW, we put kids through college and I have the health care and benefits that my wife and I need to live comfortably in retirement. I’m just a regular working schlump who wanted a career that provided for my family. My union gave me that opportunity.”