The twinkle in President Joe Biden's eye and delight on his face said it all: Once again, an IBEW member had knocked his socks off.
Backstage at a Syracuse event where she introduced President Joe Biden, Local 43 member Shawni Davis captures a selfie with the president and her proud business manager, Alan Marzullo, who said she “hit a grand slam” with her remarks.
|President Joe Biden shares a laugh with Chicago Local 134 member Alyssa Cruz after her introductory remarks at the White House in early November.
Local 43 member Shawni Davis welcomes President Joe Biden to the podium in Syracuse, flanked by VIPs who cheered throughout her opening remarks Oct. 27. At left are U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; at right, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, and Micron Technologies CEO Sanjay Mehrotra.
It happened twice in the span of six days in mid-autumn when two rock-star IBEW sisters joined the elite but growing club of members to introduce the president at public events.
Shawni Davis and Alyssa Cruz first had to process the familiar shock, even disbelief, at being invited. Was this their business managers' idea of a joke?
But in the blink of an eye, they were addressing rows of dignitaries and media, speaking from a podium with the presidential seal that they'd soon hand over to the most powerful man in the world.
"I was so honored and thrilled," said Davis, a Syracuse, N.Y., Local 43 journey-class wirewoman and electrical contractor. "I was up there for eight minutes but had no idea it was that long until someone sent me the video. It flew by."
Punctuating their remarks with radiant smiles and infectious laughs, the women heralded Biden's labor bona fides — the promises made and promises kept around workers' rights and good, union jobs fueled by historic investments in American infrastructure and manufacturing.
For Davis, the occasion was Micron Technology's game-changing announcement Oct. 27 that it will build a $100 billion complex of semiconductor plants near Syracuse.
"This means hope. It means good-paying union construction and manufacturing jobs for years to come," she told her audience in central New York. "So, selfishly, I'm really excited about it."
Cruz's turn came six days later in the East Room of the White House, where Biden spoke about expanding the talent pipeline of skilled trades workers who are crucial to the nation's infrastructure boom.
"I went from never speaking publicly in my life to introducing the president," said Cruz, a fourth-year apprentice at Chicago Local 134. Yet she wasn't nervous — not at first.
"Everyone kept telling me, 'Don't worry, you'll be OK,' and I'm like 'I'm fine,'" she said. "And then I went into the Blue Room and freaking Joe Biden walks in and I couldn't feel my legs."
While they waited there, Biden brought out his inner prankster to put her at ease. "He said, 'Are you ready to introduce the president?' Then he looks around and goes, 'Where is the president?' and I died."
In an anteroom at Syracuse's Onondaga Community College, Biden made a beeline toward Davis when he saw her IBEW shirt. "If it wasn't for the IBEW, I wouldn't be president today," he told her, gratitude he never fails to express.
Other VIPs in the room also chatted her up, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra.
"There were so many bigwigs," Davis said. "Any other time, I'd be, 'Oh my god, such-and-such is here,' and I'd be pulling out my phone. I took a couple of pictures, but I couldn't fangirl as much as I wanted to."
She and Cruz had fans, too. Their audiences cheered the sisters' pride in the IBEW, their passion for their work and the paths they took getting there — life stories that started off worlds apart but led to same place.
Davis grew up in a Syracuse housing project raised by a devoted mother and grandmother who were role models for hard work, strong character and a zest for life.
Her grandmother's success running a soul-food restaurant when Davis was young was one of her inspirations for launching Luminary Electric in 2020. Not long afterward, she lost her grandmother to COVID-19.
"She had the biggest smile in the world, and I can just imagine hearing her say how proud she is, if she could have seen me introducing the president," Davis said.
Davis never imagined being an electrician until she was well into her 20s. Neither did Cruz, not even with her father and five uncles comprising a brotherhood within the Brotherhood of Local 134, all able to raise their families comfortably in Chicago's suburbs.
"I am the first female Cruz to join the IBEW," she said to wild applause at the White House. "I am proud to represent the next generation of skilled tradeswomen and -men who will power America's future."
Growing up, Cruz insisted to her father that she wanted to work in an office. She went to college and studied business, tutoring fellow students in calculus along the way, and spent five years in the financial sector. As her uncles began to retire, it dawned on her how well set they were, thanks to the IBEW.
Soon, the young woman who'd "never picked up a tool in my life" was a Local 134 helper and then an apprentice. "I love it," she said. "Never in a million years would I want to do something else."
Her experience in finance and insurance led Local 134 Business Manager and International Executive Council member Don Finn to appoint her as the first apprentice to serve as a pension fund trustee.
She was with Finn at an employee benefit fund conference in Las Vegas when he got the call asking for a member to introduce Biden the following week. "I've got the perfect person right here in front of me," he told them.
"I'm really proud of the job she's done," Finn said. "The Cruz family, obviously they have a great reputation throughout Local 134, and she's upholding that. She's what the future is all about."
Davis also went to college, studying psychology at Syracuse University until leaving school to care for her mother while she battled breast cancer. Today, her mother is a 20-year survivor.
The detour led Davis to spend time in Florida with her father, an HVAC technician who changed her life when he took her along on a job that required minor electrical work.
"All I knew was that you flipped the switch and the light came on," she said. "It was fascinating to see how it all came together. I told my dad, 'This is fun, I want to keep doing it,' and he told me to go back home and join the union."
Davis started calling Local 43's training hall persistently, finally breaking through in 2008.
"Local 43, they welcomed me, and with some borrowed tools I was able to work my way up, starting as a helper, then as an apprentice, then as journeywoman electrician," she told her audience. "Now, I am the first Black woman master electrician in the region."
It was Business Manager Alan Marzullo, then the local's membership development coordinator, who loaned Davis the tools she couldn't afford. He saw something special in her from the start.
"She was dynamic," he said. "I looked at her and thought, 'This is someone who does whatever she sets her sights on.' I knew she had the heart and the drive to get through our program."
Marzullo laughs, describing how he "had to take the phone away from my ear" when he called Davis with the big ask barely 36 hours before Biden's visit. "She was saying, 'Al, are you pulling my leg?!'"
At the Micron event, he couldn't have been prouder. "She hit it out of the park," he said. "No, it was more than that. It was a grand slam."
Davis, who lives with her wife, Tonya, and their new blue-nosed pit bull puppy, Rocky, already was well known in Syracuse before sharing a stage with the president. A community activist and businesswoman, she'd been featured in the media for her achievements and is a sought-after speaker in area schools — invitations that have soared in recent weeks.
"I tell students, 'I grew up on these streets, I went to these schools,'" Davis said. "I want them to know that they have the same options and opportunities and that if I was able to take this path and succeed, they can, too.”