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January 2023

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Lonnie R. Stephenson retired Jan. 4 after seven years as international president, capping an extraordinary nearly five-decade career that took him from Rock Island, Ill., to the heights of American power.

The International Executive Council unanimously selected Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper to replace him. Sixth District International Vice President Paul Noble was appointed secretary-treasurer.

The question at the beginning of Stephenson's connection with the IBEW in the mid-1970s wasn't how high he would rise but whether he would even be let in the door.

Stephenson almost went to college to become an electrical engineer. A chance conversation with an IBEW electrician performing a service call at the grocery store where Stephenson worked changed his path.

That electrician told him he should apply for the apprenticeship program at Rock Island, Ill., Local 145, even though his chances of being selected were small because he had no friends or relatives who were members.

Yet he was part of a 12-man apprenticeship class in 1975 and was initiated one year later.

Nearly five decades later, he steps down with the IBEW a stronger, bigger and more secure union than when he was appointed president in 2015, having guided it through a period of unprecedented chaos and uncertainty.

"It's been the honor of my life to serve the members of the greatest union in the world and advance the cause of trade unionism in the electrical industry," Stephenson said. "As hard as it is to step aside, I am confident the IBEW remains in good hands."

As he steps down, the IBEW has more "A" members than at any time in its history. And each year, thanks to the IBEW Strong program he shepherded, that membership looks more like the communities it serves.

Stephenson was the Sixth District international vice president before becoming president. At the time, the IBEW was going through a cultural transformation started by former International Presidents J.J. Barry and Edwin D. Hill that included mixed job classifications and requiring all construction locals to hire full-time organizers. It was a move those men saw as necessary to reverse the losses in membership and market share.

Stephenson was known as a progressive local leader, committed to the Brotherhood's new direction as an aggressive organizing union but also a consensus and relationship builder. He was someone who could steady the IBEW, consolidate the changes and make them permanent.

"Lonnie leaves the IBEW more certain of its future, with better prospects and more friends than it has had in decades," Cooper said. "Electrical workers are the key workforce for the technologies that will drive the future of our economy. A decade ago, it wasn't clear that those jobs would be good, middle-class, union jobs. Lonnie's work makes that choice ours. We have the resources, we have the law on our side, and we have the opportunities. The future is ours to seize."

Bringing the Light Back

This is in no small part because of the unique political relationship Stephenson built with President Joe Biden.

Biden regularly mentions Stephenson, the IBEW and its members in his public speeches. No sitting U.S. president had ever spoken in person at an International Convention until Biden did so in Chicago in May of last year.

"President Biden wasn't just willing to talk about unions," Stephenson said. "He backed up his words with actions, helping to pass the most pro-worker, pro-jobs legislation since the New Deal."

Stephenson didn't write the Butch Lewis Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, or CHIPS and Science Act, but he was as responsible for their passage into law as anyone not on Capitol Hill or in the White House.

Together, those four bills represent a sea change in the American economy. For decades, millions of jobs were sent overseas or to right-to-work states. Every other major indicator for workers was down, too: wages, benefits, dignity and respect. The sun was setting on the American Dream.

The IBEW and Lonnie Stephenson committed to bringing the light back.

Lessons From the Quad Cities

Stephenson's belief that organizing is the only way to benefit working families came out of his experience in the Quad Cities spanning Illinois and Iowa along the Mississippi River, where he had a front-row seat to the United States' industrial might.

When he joined the apprenticeship of Local 145 in 1975, Moline was an agriculture industry powerhouse, home to John Deere's world headquarters, as well as facilities for industrial giants Alcoa, Caterpillar, Case and International Harvester.

Stephenson rose through the leadership ranks at Local 145. He was elected vice president in 1984 and then president in 1987. During his two terms as president, he came on staff as an assistant business agent in 1991, a position he held until his election as business manager in 1996.

He had a unique insight into so-called right-to-work laws, which allow employees to receive the benefits of union membership without paying fees. His home local has jurisdiction in Illinois, one of the most worker-friendly states in the nation, and in Iowa, which has a right-to-work law.

While it did not hinder the local's ability to organize in Iowa, Stephenson said, it was an ever-present reminder of its necessity in all parts of the local's jurisdiction. He was an extremely aggressive organizer. While he was business manager, his local grew from 700 members to 1,100.

Stephenson also understood early the necessity of building broad coalitions to turn political success into good jobs.

While business manager, he led a joint effort with local business leaders to pass a $5 million bond initiative to rebuild the waterfront in Davenport, Iowa. The scale is astronomically different, but the waterfront revitalization and the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law share a common political philosophy: Public policy using public money should benefit working families.

"It showed firsthand how good public policy could result in good union jobs," Stephenson said. "It also taught me that when organized labor works with lawmakers and the business community, everyone, including the community, benefits."

Stephenson was finishing his second term as business manager in 2002 when he was appointed by then-International President Hill as an international representative assigned to the Sixth District, covering Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

When Stephenson was appointed vice president in 2010, no state in the Sixth had a right-to-work law. But a poisonous stew of fury over the Great Recession and shameless gerrymandering delivered a terrible midterm election for pro-labor candidates, and putting statehouses across the U.S. into the hands of the far right.

Stephenson joined the battle across his district, but ultimately more than half of the states there — Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana — passed right-to-work laws.

These setbacks made clear to him that if labor had a future, it would need to organize everything — the work, the workers and the politicians.

A Story of Growth

The IEC chose Stephenson, with his reputation for organizing success and strong political instincts, to finish Hill's term in 2015. One year later, he was elected by acclamation to a full five-year term at the 39th International Convention in St. Louis. He was reelected by acclamation at the 40th convention in Chicago last May.

For a brief overview of some of what Stephenson and the IBEW accomplished in the next seven years, see the accompanying timeline.

The national legislative accomplishments are important, but Stephenson made clear that their primary value is that they support the top priority of the IBEW since its birth in 1891: organizing the entire electrical industry and working for its growth.

The infrastructure, CHIPS and inflation reduction laws are set to bring hundreds of billions of dollars of new work and tens of thousands of new IBEW members in entirely new industries, including grid-scale battery storage manufacturing, installation and repair; semiconductor factory construction and maintenance; electric vehicle infrastructure; and more, on top of a massive expansion of distribution and transmission projects.

The bills have prevailing wage included at the legislative level for the first time ever. The telecom, utility, construction and manufacturing branches all will likely see dramatic increases in wages and work for decades.

The CHIPS Act has already led to the signing and then expansion of the largest project labor agreement in the union's history, an agreement with Intel for its Ohio semiconductor plant that could amount to a $100 billion investment. A $100 billion Micron semiconductor plant in upstate New York followed weeks later, along with nearly a dozen more announced new chip plants and expansions of existing facilities across the country.

Stephenson's presidency saw the continued support and professionalization of the IBEW's investment in organizing so that when the work arrives, the union has the capacity to staff it. The IBEW now has hundreds of full-time organizers at the international and local levels. It has new teams like the Workforce Recruitment Task Force and new tools like Action Builder that give the IBEW more ability to reach nonunion electricians and manage organizing campaigns than at any time in its history.

The results are clear. After decades when the IBEW was closing or amalgamating locals, Stephenson chartered six new locals: Upper Peninsula, Mich., Local 906; Chattanooga, Tenn., Local 911; Baltimore Local 410; Atlanta Local 1997; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 1974; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Local 787.

The IBEW also expanded the Code of Excellence to nearly every branch during his presidency. It is a statement of our confidence in the members and transforms conflicts into cooperation.

The best example of this is the Code of Excellence program Stephenson signed with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest government-owned power provider. Grievances filed there have plummeted in the years since.

And most importantly, the IBEW grew.

During his tenure, the IBEW has grown by an average of 4,000 new members every year and added 9,000 members in 2022, the largest single-year growth in generations.

And while total membership has grown, "A" membership has grown faster, to the highest it has ever been. The IBEW is within shouting distance of reaching 700,000 total active members again, a milestone likely to fall in early 2023.

To make sure that no one else hears what he first heard, that you need a friend or an uncle to get a shot at an apprenticeship, Stephenson — though he will not take credit for its creation — supported the development of the IBEW Strong program.

The program's premise: To transform unions' rising popularity into permanent growth, ranks and leadership must draw from the entire workforce, especially historically underrepresented groups. Through IBEW Strong, Stephenson made the commitment mandatory. "I'm in my job because I got opportunities along the way. Every member deserves that opportunity," Stephenson said at the program's launch in 2020.

He didn't just speak but acted, appointing the first female international vice president, the Fourth District's Gina Cooper, in 2020. "This is a great moment in the history of the IBEW," Stephenson said at the time. "While I'm proud to appoint our first female vice president, it's not the reason I chose Gina for this role. It's because she is eminently qualified, having worked with nearly every branch, and has been a key part of the success we've had in the Fourth District."

Obviously, many of these projects were started before Stephenson was appointed, and all of them were the result of many hands and hearts pulling in the same direction.

"The idea that there is a self-made man anywhere is always a lie, but it is especially untrue in the labor movement. And Lonnie is a very humble man who resists taking credit more than most," Cooper said. "But the ultimate decisions here were his. Ideas and movements like IBEW Strong came from the members and staff, but it was always his choice what to raise up into the light, what to put our resources and goodwill behind and then call us together to push."

When Stephenson was first appointed as an international representative, he said his greatest concern about the position, really the worst part of the job, was living out of a suitcase and a hotel.

As he traveled across North America, he always thanked his IBEW brothers and sisters for putting their trust in him. And then he thanked his wife, Dawn.

"Whatever gratitude people have toward me, extend a lot of that to Dawn because none of this would have been possible without her love and support all these years," he said.

Stephenson plans to retire with Dawn to Cape Coral, Fla., to live near Dawn's parents and roll his suitcase to the back of the closet to gather dust.

Please join the officers wishing Brother Stephenson a long, healthy and peaceful retirement.



International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper (right) will serve the remainder of Stephenson's term.


The working relationship between Stephenson and President Joe Biden was one of the most productive in American labor history.


Stephenson was twice elected president at International Conventions, most recently in spring 2022.


IN THEIR OWN WORDS Leaders reflect on Stephenson's presidency

President Joe Biden

Lonnie Stephenson is a friend, a wireman, and most importantly a hell of a fighter on behalf of working men and women across this country. I've known Lonnie a long time, and I've always said there's nobody I'd rather be in a foxhole with. Lonnie and the IBEW have been indispensable allies in the fight to build an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out — including rebuilding American infrastructure, creating good union energy jobs, unleashing the power of American manufacturing, and protecting the hard-earned pensions of union members and retirees. I know that even in retirement, he won't stop fighting for unions and the middle class they helped build. Congratulations, Lonnie. I'm proud of you, pal.


Liz Shuler,
President of the AFL-CIO, member of Portland, Ore., Local 125

President Stephenson has always had a unique ability to see around the corner. Whether he was endorsing President Biden before anyone else, building out the infrastructure necessary to grow the ranks of the IBEW or investing in programs like IBEW Strong to make our union more welcoming to women, people of color and young people, he's always seemed to be a step ahead. Thanks to his forward-thinking vision, the IBEW is stronger now than it was seven years ago and will continue to thrive well into the future.


Chuck Schumer,
U.S. Senate majority leader, New York

Lonnie Stephenson is one of the most dedicated and hardest-working labor leaders I've ever met. And he is one helluva human being, too. He is a ferocious advocate for working people — and we worked together to pass a historic infrastructure law, to modernize our energy grid, and to make sure it's union labor that transforms our economy to clean energy and builds the chip plants of the future. He will be sorely missed and leaves behind a proud and profound legacy of accomplishment.


Hakeem Jeffries,
U.S. House Democratic leader, New York

It's been an honor to work with President Stephenson in the fight to save pensions, restore our nation's crumbling infrastructure and bring good-paying domestic manufacturing jobs back home. He is a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly for IBEW members, and I congratulate him on his much-deserved retirement.


Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey,
Member of Folsom, N.J., Local 351

Lonnie R. Stephenson is a worker's labor leader. His tenure as international president has been marked by a fierce commitment to fair working conditions. IBEW is larger, stronger, and more diverse than ever before, thanks to Lonnie's commitment to the working men and women who are the backbone of the American economy.


Chris Crane,
Exelon CEO

Lonnie Stephenson has been a strong and effective partner with Exelon in keeping the lights on in all our service territories. He was a worthy adversary in making sure his locals negotiated good contracts for members and he still leaves a strong legacy of teamwork. I am grateful for the chance to have worked with him.


Dick Durbin,
U.S. Senate Democratic whip, Illinois

Illinois and this nation were lucky to have had such a friend of working people in Lonnie Stephenson. It was a first for me to hear a sitting president speak about unions by name, and that was IBEW and Lonnie Stephenson. I will miss working with Lonnie, but I take comfort in knowing Lonnie leaves a legacy of service to the labor movement.


Jagmeet Singh,
leader of Canada's New Democrats

Lonnie loves his union because he loves its members. And Lonnie's leadership has not only created jobs — for decades, he's been working hard to make sure electrical jobs are good jobs, that pay a fair wage and include strong protections for workers. As Lonnie passes on the torch to Kenneth Cooper, Canada's NDP wishes him a long, joy-filled retirement. He can relax and enjoy, knowing his legacy is IBEW Strong.


Sen. Tammy Baldwin,

Thank you to my friend Lonnie R. Stephenson for serving as the 18th International President of IBEW for the past 8 years. I am so proud to say that you started your career with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 47 years ago, right here in Illinois, as an apprentice and worked hard every single day all the way to International President. Your dedication and commitment to all the members of IBEW is truly appreciated.


Kirk Davis,
president of National Electrical Contractors Association

President Stephenson has been an invaluable partner to NECA. Together, we have strived to increase and improve safety training to better the lives of our contractors and make them more successful. I have observed a steady improvement in labor relations and working conditions over the last several years thanks to President Stephenson.

I'm sure Kenny Cooper will seamlessly fill the role of International President with the same dedication. I look forward to working with him and new Secretary-Treasurer Paul Noble to continue the upward trajectory of our industry.



David Long,

President Stephenson and I take great pride in our work together to help solve problems and create solutions for our great industry. We worked tirelessly through a worldwide pandemic to ensure our workforce was rightly recognized as essential workers – workers we help keep safe as possible throughout one of the most unprecedented periods of uncertainty and growth for our organizations.


Sean McGarvey,
president of North America's Building Trades Unions

Lonnie Stevenson helped us defend and protect jobs, wages, safety and training for building trades members at a tumultuous time. He helped protect the interests of our membership through a divisive election in 2016 and then a Congress and administration that were hostile to working families. He then led us on the offensive, electing the most pro-working-family Congress and president in our nation's history.


Warner Baxter,
executive chairman of Ameren Corp. and
chair of the Edison Electric Institute

Lonnie is an exceptional leader and a trusted advisor to many, including President Biden, members of Congress, and America's electric companies. He played a vital role in getting transformational infrastructure and clean energy legislation onto President Biden's desk and it was an honor to work closely with him on this transformational legislation.


Tom Kuhn,
President of EEI

Strong labor-industry partnership is what enables America's electric companies to deliver extraordinary outcomes for the customers and communities they proudly serve. I especially commend his commitment to safety, including his leadership throughout the pandemic to ensure that new safety protocols were in place and that our workforce was recognized as essential by our government partners. This was critical to our ability to effectively respond to record-setting hurricane and wildfire seasons.


Nick Akins,
CEO of American Electric Power

Under Lonnie's leadership, the IBEW increased its membership significantly; focused on diversity, equity and inclusion; and strengthened relationships with stakeholders. Lonnie and I also co-chaired the National Labor and Management Public Affairs Committee, and I'm thankful for his partnership as we developed programs to create a more engaged workforce capable of meeting the changing needs of our customers.


Bea Bruske,
president, Canadian Labour Congress

Brother Stephenson's dedication has made our movement stronger and the lives of workers better. His contributions will be felt for decades to come.