The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to get more aggressive on building nuclear reactors, such as its Watts Barr nuclear plant in eastern Tennessee, for cleaner power generation. As retired Tenth District International Vice President Robert Klein joins the TVA’s governing board, one of his challenges will be ensuring that workers’ needs are not forgotten in this time of growth. Photo credit: Tennessee Valley Authority.


The U.S. Senate on Dec. 21 confirmed retired Tenth District International Vice President Robert Klein as one of six new directors on the governing board of the Tennessee Valley Authority, bringing a labor voice to the electrical utility serving nearly 10 million customers across a wide swath of the South.

Retired Tenth District International Vice President Robert Klein, an incoming member of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board of directors, has a wealth of experience with the government-owned utility.

“From its beginning, union members have played an irreplaceable role in powering the TVA, so I’m thrilled and honored that a longtime IBEW leader like Bobby Klein is joining its board of directors,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

Established nearly 90 years ago at the height of the Great Depression as a New Deal project to bring electricity, jobs and economic prosperity to the South, the TVA remains the nation’s largest government-owned power provider, employing more than 2,500 IBEW members at nearly 60 nuclear, oil and gas, hydroelectric and solar worksites. Thousands more members perform short-term work for the utility each year, upgrading infrastructure and performing regular maintenance. The TVA operates across Tennessee and in parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

Klein will join a board that historically has not included union-affiliated members. In April 2021, he and two other nominees were selected by President Joe Biden to serve on the board, but their nominations were delayed by lengthy negotiations over issues such as states’ representation. 

“We’re very excited for Bobby. We’re glad this finally got done,” said Tenth District International Vice President Brent Hall. “He’s respected by the TVA’s management and its other unions, and he knows something about running an electric company. He’s going to be an asset to that board.”

A lifelong resident of Chattanooga, Tenn., Klein was initiated into Chattanooga Local 846 in 1974, and he topped out as a lineman in 1981. Working with the city’s Electric Power Board, Klein went on to become a line foreman and later served as chief steward for the EPB’s overhead line department.

In 1988 and again in 1991, Klein was elected president of Local 846, which later merged with Chattanooga Local 175. In 1998, International President J. J. Barry appointed Klein — who, at this point, was a full-time Local 175 staffer — as an international representative with the Tenth District, which covers Tennessee, Arkansas and the Carolinas.

Working at the district office, Klein serviced locals with members working for the TVA. He also served on the utility’s Labor-Management Committee and in 2001 was elected president of the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council, a position he held for 14 years.

Following the retirement of Tenth District International Vice President Carl Lansden in 2003, International President Edwin D. Hill appointed Klein to serve as Lansden’s replacement. Klein was reelected to that office by delegates to the 37th and 38th International Conventions. He retired from the IBEW in 2015.

“The TVA is going through a lot of changes,” Hall said, noting that the agency is getting aggressive, for example, on using nuclear reactors for cleaner power generation. Klein’s presence on the board, Hall said, will help the other members understand that they can’t forget about the workers as the agency grows and transforms. “I think he’ll be helpful in keeping the TVA steered in the right direction,” he said.

Klein and the five other new directors will be sworn in to five-year terms in January, to serve alongside three previously confirmed members of the board.

“Throughout his career, Vice President Klein upheld our union’s commitment to excellence, and I know he will continue to do so as a member of TVA’s leadership” Stephenson said. “We’re grateful for President Biden’s leadership in appointing a union member to stand up for workers in such an important post, and for Majority Leader Schumer and the members of the U.S. Senate who voted to confirm Brother Klein.”