Top, EWMC conference attendees cheer at a packed plenary session; top right, International President Edwin D. Hill celebrates with EWMC President Robbie Sparks in 2008; bottom right, founding EWMC members and others, 1978; bottom left, EWMC members at the 2024 conference.

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EWMC Mission Statement

  • Promote equity, equal opportunity and employment for minorities and underrepresented* workers at all levels of the IBEW structure.
  • Foster leadership development and empower minorities and underrepresented workers to become active participants and leaders in the IBEW.
  • Provide assistance to and address discrimination complaints of minorities and underrepresented workers in the IBEW.
  • Promote, support and assist the organizing of minority and underrepresented workers in the IBEW.
  • Encourage minority and underrepresented workers to be greater activists in community and political affairs.
  • Be actively involved in human, civil and women’s rights organizations both within and outside of organized labor.

*African Americans, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, people with disabilities and women

For 50 years, the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus has been, in the words of President Emeritus Robbie Sparks, the conscience of the IBEW. .

International President Kenneth W. Cooper, left, speaks with EWMC President Keith Edwards after delivering a speech at the 2024 EMWC conference.
Founding member and International Representative Mary Whipps O'Brien at an early EWMC conference.
NECA Vice President Lt. Gen. Ronald Bailey and Bruce G. Fulton at the 2024 EWMC conference.
From left: EWMC Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Sherilyn Wright, Executive Assistant to the International President, with EWMC President Emeritus Robbie Sparks and Education Director Amanda Pacheco.
International Secretary-Treasurer Paul Noble addresses the 2024 EWMC conference.
EWMC immediate past President Victor Uno, left, with EWMC conference attendees Jean Simonson and Long Island, N.Y., Local 1049 member Baron Lyn.
The EWMC’s Day of Service, a component of every conference, included tutoring when it took place in Detroit.
EWMC conferences are known for providing a loving atmosphere where members of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging.

Since its inception, the EWMC has been organizing and pushing for a more inclusive union, one that, in accordance with the IBEW Constitution, seeks to represent all workers in the electrical industry.

It was formed from a direct action that threatened an informational picket outside the 30th International Convention in 1974. International Treasurer Harry Van Arsdale Jr. spoke with the concerned members, leading to International President Charles Pillard meeting with a representative group of them, avoiding the picket and sparking the beginning of the EWMC.

"When I look at the history and the work of the EWMC, I see a group of members living the principles of this union," International President Kenneth W. Cooper said.

A major focus of the EWMC is training members to be informed leaders and activists, whether through its annual leadership conference or its signature Breakthrough Leadership Training Institute.

"The EWMC showcases the many talented members across the country that may not otherwise ever be seen or heard or hold local offices, but have been the backbone of determination and leadership for decades within our union," said Rennie Blye, an international representative in the Civic and Community Engagement Department. "The EWMC has always served as a pioneer and a safe space of belonging while helping labor recognize the value of all labor."

The focus on developing talent was a response to an all-too-common refrain from leaders in many industries, not just the IBEW, that there weren't enough minority members to promote. What the EWMC showed, decade after decade, is that leaders, especially in unions, can come from anywhere and are built, not found.

"Organizations need to be able to think outside the box, and that only happens with diversity," EWMC President Keith Edwards said. "Diversity in attendance and structure brings about new thoughts and ideas."

It also sends a message to other underrepresented members that leadership is possible for them, too.

"I know how good it feels for me when I see someone like me leading," said EWMC Vice President Grace Smith, who's also a member of Tampa, Fla., Local 824. "It makes a difference because it shows that this institution is really invested in me and my future."

As the Biden administration continues to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure and manufacturing, creating tens of thousands of jobs, the IBEW needs to grow to be equal to this historic moment. Cooper set a goal of 1 million active members in five years.

To fuel part of this growth, the IBEW can look to the EWMC for trained leaders who are primed to bring in the next generation. Locals can let their caucus chapters guide them on where to organize and which communities to go into, and then send those members out to do the recruiting.

"EWMC chapters are a great tool for locals to tap into. Someone of the same race or gender can often have an easier conversation," said Wendell Yee, a New York Local 3 member and adviser to the EWMC board. "People are more open when it's a familiar face."

RENEW/NextGen, the IBEW's initiative to get younger members involved in the union and train them to be leaders, originated with the EWMC. Sparks in particular saw the need for a way to elevate the voices of younger members and ensure that they were being heard.

"If we don't listen to our young people, we're going to be lost. They're the next generation," said Edwards, who's also a retired international representative and business manager of Portland, Ore., Local 48. "There are new ways to approach things that only they're aware of. They think differently. We have to honor that."

Leadership training ties into another tenet of the caucus: mentoring. It's a way to help with retention by letting members know they're valued. It's also crucial for fostering the next generation and passing along institutional knowledge.

"None of us are going to be here forever. We're all just placeholders. Our job is to prepare people to take our place," Edwards said. "It's not fair to the membership to hoard that knowledge. That's a huge, critical piece, and one that holds back organized labor. It shouldn't be about you. It should be about the membership."

It used to be that institutional knowledge was passed down through the family, or a small group of people. Now, there are more and more first-generation members who may not know all the ins and outs or the trade jargon. Mentoring is a way to teach those rules.

"If you don't mentor, it's baptism by fire for the next person," said EWMC at-large member Sylvester Taylor.

Legacy of Inclusion

As an autonomous organization, the EWMC cannot submit resolutions to the IBEW International Convention. Nevertheless, it has gotten a number of its agenda items passed through locals introducing them. It's how RENEW/NextGen started, as well as IBEW Strong, the union-wide initiative to create more diversity, equity and inclusion in the IBEW, particularly within leadership.

The EWMC has also gotten resolutions and amendments passed to make the constitution gender neutral; to add racism, sexism and fascism to the list of what the IBEW opposes; to make discrimination, bullying and harassment chargeable offenses; and to create a Department of Human Services, which is now the Civic and Community Engagement Department.

"It's been a lot of small chess moves," said Sparks, a retired business manager of Atlanta Local 2127. "This is a great union because of real hard effort."

That the IBEW does a Day of Service at its conventions is also a product of the EWMC. Days of service have long been a component of EWMC conferences, which are always held during the week before the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. They are a nod to the EWMC's civil rights roots, but more than that, they are a way to get into underserved communities and give back, all the while dispelling negative myths about unions.

"As King said, anyone can be great because anyone can serve," Edwards said. "It's an investment we make now that will sow benefits down the road. That's the best PR."

For anyone who's curious about the EWMC, there may be no better way to learn than by attending conferences. Open to all members, they're frequently credited with fostering a particularly inviting environment.

"It's a love conference," Sparks said. "We are family. It lets you know you've got brothers and sisters who will check on you constantly. You will never go to a conference and not have someone to talk to."

That sense of love, as well as the social justice drive, is what attracted EWMC immediate past President Victor Uno, who grew up in an activist household.

"When I found the EWMC and met Robbie, she gave me a big embrace and I felt like I'd come home," said the former international representative and business manager of Dublin, Calif., Local 595. "I felt like I belonged. That's the EWMC."

The conferences, through their sessions and increasing numbers of attendees, also offer a lot of opportunities for education.

"I learn something new every time I attend an EWMC conference," said Nashville, Tenn., Local 429 President Kim Sansom, who serves as an at-large member on the EWMC board. "I'm able to network with business managers, presidents and rank-and-file members so I can better understand and continue to learn. That's mentoring."

Part of what the EWMC has been educating members on is the need to destigmatize mental health challenges and provide better resources to help members. A conference session on the subject in 2023 went two hours over its scheduled time because so many attendees wanted to share their experiences. A similar session at the annual conference in January was expanded to allow for more participation, and still was filled to capacity.

"People are hurting," said Royetta Sanford, the first Black woman to hold the position of director at the International Office when she took the helm of the newly formed Human Services Department. "They bared their souls and shared their anguish. Some even cried. It was unbelievable."

Sanford and Edwards both point to insurance plans, and awareness about what they offer, as a way for unions to help. In particular, plans should provide access to therapists who represent the membership wherever possible.

"We can't have people taking their lives because we dropped the ball," Edwards said, referring to the high rates of suicide in the construction industry. "That's not what a union is about."

'A Beloved Community'

Part of the EWMC's push for more inclusive leadership includes championing its members and their successes, said Taylor, who's also the director of diversity, equity and inclusion for St. Louis Local 1.

"The EWMC makes sure the International Office sees its members doing well. It helps them get to higher levels," Taylor said. "We shine a spotlight on their work, both in the community and in the IBEW."

For Uno, who grew up in the 1960s, the EWMC is a way to honor the legacy of Dr. King, whom Uno describes as not just a peacemaker but a fighter for radical change.

"It's about more than just wages and benefits," Uno said. "King had a view of a beloved community, of the American promise for everyone, and he was viewed as a threat to a lot of people in power. It's very meaningful that we always meet on MLK Jr. weekend. There are things there you won't find at a progress meeting."

Early on, the EWMC was seen by some as adversarial, even militant. But there may be no IBEW members more committed to the values of the union than those in the EWMC. For a lot of them, they've had to endure discrimination, on and off the job, but instead of leaving or trying to tear down the union, they've chosen to stay and help it better live up to its values.

"We want a carrot instead of a stick. We don't want to be punitive," Edwards said. "If you're found guilty of something, that's an opportunity for enlightenment on how to treat your brothers and sisters better. That's always been the goal."

In most cases, once someone gets to know the EWMC or attends a conference, they quickly see what it's all about: educating and empowering all members regardless of identity or background. In short, there's nothing to be afraid of — and a lot to get invested in.

"People are always astonished when they see what the EWMC is," said Sanford, who also served as a business representative with Los Angeles Local 18 and on the EWMC executive committee. "There were negative connotations at first, but then they saw how we were educating members and that there was a place for them, too. Most people walk away impressed."

Through days of service and initiatives to adopt schools, along with get-out-the-vote efforts and other forms of community activism, the EWMC is organizing in ways big and small.

"The EWMC is getting out in the community, and our members are telling their story of how the IBEW has changed their lives," Civic and Community Engagement Director Jennifer Gray said. "Through preparing future members for apprenticeships and volunteering in underrepresented communities, the EWMC is helping the IBEW meet the goal of 1 million members."

The first EWMC conference in 1991 had fewer than 50 members in attendance. This year, there were over 800, from a multitude of nationalities and backgrounds. That kind of growth and diversity is not something every conference or progress meeting can claim.

For Senior Executive Assistant to the International President Sherilyn Wright, who attended her first conference in 1997, the EWMC opened her eyes to a different side of the union.

"The EWMC has shown so many that they do belong. It's such an important piece of the IBEW," said Wright, who this year received the EWMC's Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Sanford. "It was quite an honor to be recognized by a group that does such amazing work."

After 50 years of growth, there are 44 chapters in the U.S. and Canada, and that number is sure to grow in the next 50 years because what the EWMC offers is timeless and lies at the heart of unionism: the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to reach your highest potential.

"It's simple. It's what everybody wants, to belong, to see yourself and others like you have the opportunity to advance and be part of a great organization," Sanford said. "It's no more than anyone else would want."

For some, the best place for the EWMC to be in 50 years is as a footnote in the IBEW's history because there won't be a need for it anymore. There will be more women, people of color and LGBTQ+ members occupying the highest levels of the union. The concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion will be as commonplace as any other aspect of running of a successful large organization.

It's entirely possible, Taylor said. There's just more work to do along the way.

"We have some housekeeping to do, but we can get there," Taylor said. "We're nowhere near where we should be, but we also don't look anything like we used to."