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June 2016

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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First Energy Bill Since 2007 Clears Senate Hurdle

The U.S. Senate on April 20 passed its first comprehensive, bipartisan energy bill in nearly a decade, answering the calls of IBEW leaders who have been urging congressional action on energy policy for years.

The Energy Policy Modernization Act, say co-sponsors Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Alaska's Sen. Lisa Murkowski, aims to modernize the electric grid, increase investment in renewable energy and train the next generation of energy workers.

"We applaud this first step by the Senate to restore the role of making energy policy to the province of elected leaders," said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "For too long, we've relied on regulatory action by the Environmental Protection Agency and others to set short-term policies when what we've really needed is long-view leadership on these important issues."

IBEW input was instrumental in the addition of provisions to the bill that provide union apprenticeship programs with access to federal grants on par with community colleges in a new training program, said IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter.

"We've got a lot of work to do to prepare for the coming shortage of utility linemen," Hunter said, noting a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that predicts an annual 4.8 percent growth in demand for linemen between 2015 and 2025. "That means we'll need more than 30,000 additional linemen to be trained in the next decade."

Stephenson praised the bill's recognition for apprenticeship programs, saying, "The utility industry and unions like the IBEW have known for years that apprenticeship programs are vital to maintaining a steady supply of skilled energy professionals who can help our economy meet the challenges of the 21st century. This bill is preparing our country to meet the looming skilled worker gap in the energy industry."

Before it reaches President Barack Obama's desk, however, legislators will need to square the bill with a House version that passed last year. The prospects of a compromise are difficult to predict, especially during an election year.

For her part, Murkowski was bullish, telling the New York Times, "Most people thought we couldn't achieve anything, but we have demonstrated that we can legislate."

Her partner in the effort, Cantwell, told the paper, "There's so much change going on in the energy sector now, we need to have an energy bill every year. The speed of the transition in energy now is like telecom in the '90s."

"The investments we make today will benefit American taxpayers for generations to come," Cantwell said. "This bipartisan bill is an important step for saving consumers money on energy costs, providing more options to power U.S. homes and businesses, and preparing the next generation of workers for jobs in clean energy."


New energy legislation would help to train linemen to meet America's growing demand for power.

Boosting the Trades Across the Aisles

At a time when bipartisanship can seem as lost as a relic from centuries past, two representatives — one a Democrat and one a Republican — are joining together for a common cause. And one of them is an IBEW member.

Reps. Donald Norcross of New Jersey and David McKinley of West Virginia know the value of the building trades. They also know that the "D" or "R" next to someone's name shouldn't be a roadblock to creating jobs or improving the nation's infrastructure. So they came together to create the Congressional Building Trades Caucus.

Norcross is a Democrat representing New Jersey's 1st District. McKinley, a Republican, represents West Virginia's 1st District. Norcross is a journeyman wireman and member of Folsom, N.J., Local 351. McKinley is an engineer and owner of an architectural and engineering company. They both know how to build things. Now they are building a caucus to bring attention to the country's neglected roads, bridges and power plants, casualties of Washington dysfunction.

"The 6.6 million Americans across our nation who work in construction need strong partners who are working on their behalf," they said in an op-ed in The Hill, a publication focusing on Capitol Hill. "In Congress, as we follow this new and united blueprint for the future, we're also tearing something down: the traditional labels associated with labor and business. Neither should be claimed as a value solely of the Republican or Democratic parties. These are core American issues."

A congressional caucus is a group of members from the House or Senate that meets around a shared legislative objective. Also referred to as a coalition, they can be formed by party, identity, interest or ideology. More popular caucuses include the Blue Dog Coalition and the Congressional Black Caucus, the latter of which includes members of both chambers.

The building trades caucus will focus on educating congressional members about the ins and outs of the industry, including issues like the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires a prevailing wage on federal construction projects, project labor agreements and the value of apprenticeships. The co-chairs also want to push back on the myth of labor as a monolithic, anti-business movement.

"These issues are not blue or red issues. They're jobs issues," Norcross said. "We want to make sure that our fellow members know how the building trades work and how they impact their constituents and local economies."

"The work of the building trades touches the lives of every American. We build and maintain the highways, erect the skyscrapers and power the country," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "These working men and women deserve a dedicated voice in Congress, and who better than the members who know the trade."

Besides, there are valuable lessons in the building trades that could also apply to governing.

"As any construction worker will tell you, on a worksite everyone needs to show up and focus on the task at hand to get the job done, on time and hopefully under budget. Reps. Norcross and McKinley get that, and now they can lead the way for others," Stephenson said.


N.J.'s Rep. Don Norcross is a Local 351 member