EWMC Celebrates 40th Anniversary in Kansas City
January 15, 2014
|Retired International Representative Mary Whipps O’Brien is one of two surviving EWMC founders.
As Kansas City and Local 124 host the 24th annual leadership conference of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus on Jan. 16, members will reflect upon the legacy of one of the longest-standing minority caucuses in the labor movement formed 40 years ago in the same city during the 30th IBEW Convention.
Retired International Representative Mary Whipps O’Brien—one of two EWMC founders still living—recalled the hardships of African-American workers in the IBEW in a video that will be shown at the conference.
O’Brien, who was featured in an April 2012 Electrical Worker story on the fight to defend voting rights, recounted her history as a labor and civil rights activist in her native Mississippi where she took part in organizing the Presto manufacturing plant in Canton.
“Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up,” O’Brien advises young IBEW members who want to play a more active role in the union. “If you have the audacity to speak up and you show that you can do a job as well as anyone else, you can succeed. It may not be easy, but you can do it.”
As part of the EWMC conference, members will donate their labor in a day of service to the surrounding community.
Since last year’s conference in Houston, the EWMC has been busy on several different fronts.
The organization’s newsletter, The Communicator, reports that officers participated in presentations at progress meetings.
National Secretary Grace Smith and Executive Board Member Eppie Martinez encouraged members to build a more inclusive IBEW and labor movement, at the Eighth District Progress Meeting in Teton Village, Wyo. Smith provided an overview of EWMC workshops on building organizing skills, public speaking, coalition building and political action.
EWMC President and Local 595 Business Manager Victor Uno, Vice President Cheryl Thomas and executive board member Fred Narnjo carried the EWMC’s message to the Tenth District Progress Meeting in Little Rock, Ark.
In July, EWMC national officers met with International President Hill, International Secretary-Treasurer Sam Chilia, Executive Assistant to the International President Sherilyn Wright and Director of the Department of Civic and Community Engagement Carolyn Williams to discuss the caucus’s work in the union and in communities, describing challenges minority members are experiencing.
EWMC members also participated in events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington in August.
Members of EWMC Youth, a caucus within the wider organization, have played a leading role in IBEW’s young worker effort, RENEW (Reach out and Energize Next-gen Electrical Workers), which held a conference in September in Washington.
International President Edwin D. Hill says, “On the occasion of the EWMC’s historic conference, I convey the deep gratitude of our officers, staff and members for everything the caucus has done and continues to do to build a more diverse, inclusive and stronger IBEW.”