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January 2023

Grounded in History
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What's in a Membership? It's Complicated.

Visitors to the IBEW Museum are often struck by the wide variety of membership cards or "tickets" on display. The dizzying array of letters and numbers, most of which are no longer in use, raise plenty of questions and tell the story of the IBEW and its members over the last 130-plus years.

"A" membership was established in 1891 and was the only type of membership available until 1935. The earliest membership ledgers in the museum archives are all titled "Alpha Index" in reference to this membership type. In 1922, the IBEW created a pension plan through the Electrical Workers Benefits Association (EWBA) where members could participate by paying an additional monthly fee.

"B" membership was established in 1935 by a referendum vote. This allowed the unorganized workers in utilities and manufacturing plants to join the IBEW with a lower admission fee and per capita tax by excluding them from the death and pension benefits.

"BA" membership was established in 1946 by action of the 22nd IBEW Convention. These members were granted equal rights to that of "A" members, such as the ability to vote at Conventions, but did not participate in pension benefits. Because of the inherent overlap, "B" membership was discontinued in 1953 and each member was transferred to "BA."

"OA" or "Over-Age" membership was established in 1937 for those who were 55 and older at their time of initiation. Due to age, these members were ineligible to participate in pension benefits but they could receive death benefits after only six months of service. This type of membership ceased after the 1991 Convention when death benefits were combined with the EWBA to create the current IBEW Pension Benefit Fund.

"AI" or "A-Insurance" membership was created specifically for members in Michigan and Kansas who, because of state insurance laws at the time, could not participate in the EWBA. As a result of the merger of the EWBA into the IBEW Pension Benefit Fund at the 1991 Convention, all "AI" members became "A" members.

Membership Card Numbers

In relation to membership types, another frequent question concerns how the membership card number system works. Starting in 1891, card numbers were comprised of 4, 5, or 6 digits. In 1905, letter prefixes C, D, E, and X began to appear on new cards, again followed by 4, 5, or 6 digits. The letters did not symbolize anything and were only for sorting purposes.

Starting in 1935, "A" and "B" members were given the prefixes A, C, D, E, or X followed by a number beginning with 1 or 2. "BA" members also used the prefixes but their digit portion began with the numbers 3, 4, or 5. Duplicate card numbers were given the prefix W.

In 2001, a digital membership database was created at the International Office and ushered in an age of "smart" cards. Local Unions are now sent packets of membership cards, each comprised of a 7-digit number beginning with 6, 7, or 8. This system has eliminated the need for prefix letters and prevented duplicates.

Throughout our history, IBEW membership cards have appeared in different shapes, sizes, and colors. The same goes for cards outside the membership category, such as transfer cards, military cards, and dues receipts. But what ties each of these together is the value they represent. An IBEW card was never about a piece of paper; it was the promise of a more dignified life, a ticket to the middle class for millions of workers and their families, and an assurance that no matter what hardships came your way that you were not alone in the fight. This is what an IBEW card symbolized to our founders, and what it still does today.

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IBEW membership cards through the decades (top to bottom): 1892, 1896, 1919, 1960 and 2010.