The Electrical Worker online
August 2023

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
Local Registrars:
At the Crossroads of Power in Every Community

Sometimes the halls of power have linoleum floors and fading green curtains, a box of doughnuts and coffee in a cardboard box.

Every year, International Representative John Zapfel trains hundreds of IBEW registrars in florescent-lit rooms like the one he was in on the second floor of Baltimore Local 24's hall in early June.

For the wealthy, the keystones of political power are the lobbyist, the consultant and the staffers.

For the IBEW, it's the registrar.

"Every IBEW local is required by the constitution to have at least one registrar," Zapfel said. "Some still don't. Some have more, sometimes a lot more than one. The ones that do make a profound impact on the lives of working people in their jurisdictions. The ones that don't are leaving money on the table."

A registrar's job description is simple. They are the local's eyes and ears into the world of politics. At an absolute minimum, the registrar checks voting rolls to make sure every member is registered to vote and nudges the membership to make their voice heard on Election Day.

But registrars can take their role a whole lot further. They can build working-class political machines that turn an IBEW local into a powerhouse generating more work for the members, better contracts and safer working conditions. And not just for IBEW members but for all working people in their communities.

Zapfel was in Baltimore joined by Fourth District International Representative Steve Crum and Government Affairs specialist Joe Zahorik.

In the room were new registrars from three locals: Richmond, Va., Local 50 Business Representative Doug Williams; Washington, D.C., Local 1900 Business Manager Jerry Williford and President Richard Strong; and Washington D.C., Local 362 Chairman Ansylem Bartholomew.

"We never had a registrar before," Williford said. He then jerked his thumb toward Strong.

"He just got elected to his hometown's city council, so we have a different thought about getting into things," Williford said. "The councilman here is leading the way."

Strong lives in Hancock, Md., a small town in the narrowest sliver of the Maryland panhandle.

The training included an in-depth explainer on the IBEW's powerful Labor Action Network, a political database that helps locals understand and speak to their membership about advocacy campaigns.

"This is the kind of database that presidential campaigns paid millions of dollars for a decade or two ago, and now every local gets access for free," Zahorik said.

The training also covered what political advocacy means from an IBEW point of view.

"We care about issues, not people or parties, and our only permanent loyalty is to our members' interest," Crum said. "We don't have an opinion on every issue, and we never tell our members who to vote for. We simply give them our informed opinion about who is looking out for people who work for a living."

Some locals go far beyond the basic "one local, one registrar" model. Marietta, Ohio, Local 972 historically had three official registrars and then three more serving as eyes and ears in the six counties within the 230-member local's jurisdiction.

"People care about the area where they live, and what's good for one community may not be good for another. They will go to local meetings and watch out for issues that can help us or hinder our work, and when candidates come asking for donations, they will be able to speak on those issues," said Local 972 Business Manager Mike Haught.

As in most locals, Haught said, registrar is an appointed position, not an elected one. The most likely way to get the position is to volunteer.

That can be a tall proposal right now, Zapfel acknowledged.

"People don't always like to talk about politics, especially not now, when it seems we are all so deeply divided … by people with an interest in dividing us, of course," Zapfel said.

But inside the union, on the issues that matter most, members stand shoulder to shoulder, Zapfel said.

"The right person to be registrar is the person who can see how important what we agree on is and doesn't get sidetracked," he said.