Moments before Marine guards opened the doors leading to the South Lawn of the White House, Lovette Jacobs anxiously asked an aide how many people were gathered outside.
|Before introducing President Biden to the South Lawn audience, Boston Local 103 journeywoman Lovette Jacobs spent a half hour waiting with him and VP Kamala Harris inside the White House. While chatting about everything from sports and lobster rolls to her newly completed apprenticeship, Jacobs presented them with IBEW challenge coins.
A member of Boston Local 103, Jacobs was about to face a Who’s Who of guests invited to celebrate passage of the Biden administration’s historic Inflation Reduction Act. She steeled herself for a few hundred pairs of eyes.
She laughs, recalling the aide’s startling answer: “It’s a small crowd today,” he told her. “About 5,000 people.”
But it was no more surreal than Jacobs’ past half hour in the elegant oval foyer where she chatted with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris about everything from her IBEW apprenticeship to sports teams to Boston’s best lobster rolls.
A whirlwind 30 hours had passed since a phone call turned her ordinary workweek into something extraordinary: an invitation to represent the IBEW from the White House bully pulpit and champion a president who is fighting for America’s workers with an intensity not seen since the New Deal.
Now, in bright sunshine with the United States Marine Band playing “Hail to the Chief,” Jacobs was striding onto the famous lawn with Harris at her side and Biden leading the way.
She radiated pride as Harris introduced her as a young leader helping to make President Biden’s pro-worker agenda a reality.
“My career with the IBEW has given me endless opportunities that have in turn changed my son and I’s life for the better,” Jacobs said, wearing a red Local 103 polo shirt and flashing smile after smile. “So, you can only imagine how big of an honor it is to introduce our next speaker, a real friend of the IBEW.”
With Biden beaming to her right, she made her case.
“The Inflation Reduction Act won’t just lower energy costs, it will create an untold number of energy jobs,” she said, ticking off a list of legislation won and promises kept over the past 20 months.
“It also comes with some of the strongest worker protections we’ve ever seen — because President Biden knows that we don’t just need more jobs. We need more middle-class, union jobs.”
The $369 billion IRA invests in clean energy, good jobs, lower health care costs, tax fairness and more benefits for working families. It was passed by House and Senate Democrats in August without a single Republican vote.
As Biden put it in his remarks, “With this law, the American people won and special interests lost.”
The IRA builds on other major victories: the $1 trillion American Rescue Plan, which also ensured the security of multiemployer union pensions like the IBEW’s; an unprecedented 1.3 trillion in infrastructure spending under the American Jobs Act; and the $260 billion CHIPS and Science act to expand high-tech manufacturing.
Already in Boston, Jacobs noted, hundreds of new Local 103 jobs are being created to modernize Terminal E at Logan International Airport.
IBEW members nationwide stand to benefit from projects funded by this legislation for decades to come — as long as voters stay the course Nov. 8, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson cautioned.
“Sister Jacobs did a beautiful job describing what’s at stake,” he said. “Everything we’ve fought for and won is due to President Biden and our allies’ razor-thin majority in Congress. But the rollout’s only begun. Given the power, our opponents will derail it and other progress for workers as fast as they can. We can’t let that happen.”
Though she didn’t mention the midterm elections directly, Jacobs hopes her message was clear. “I hear people say, ‘My vote doesn’t matter.’ Your vote absolutely matters,” she said. “It could be the one vote that keeps us going forward or sends us backward, and people have to understand that.”
The audience at the White House on Sept. 13 was roughly 50 times bigger than she’d ever addressed as a union activist, not to mention the millions of people who would see her on TV and online.
She channeled the calming words of her father, a union Boston transit inspector. “Just imagine you’re having a conversation with me,” he’d counseled.
Her IBEW family gave her confidence, too. “I’m a young Black female construction worker, and part of the reason I was able to get on the stage with two of the most powerful people in the world and feel comfortable is because, right here in my backyard, my union makes me feel comfortable with being who I am,” Jacobs said.
No one watching from the South Lawn was prouder than Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis. “I honestly felt like I would feel if she were one of my own kids, that type of pride. She went down there and hit a home run.”
He wasn’t at all surprised. “Lovette is a natural leader when it comes to getting involved and being involved,” he said. “People can’t help but gravitate toward her.”
Five years ago, Jacobs was barely making ends meet on wages she earned sterilizing surgical instruments at a Boston hospital.
Encouraged by a female friend in the Ironworkers, she began looking into the trades and eventually narrowed her pursuit to the IBEW. She was in the throes of final exams as an apprentice when she spoke at the White House and graduated as a journeyperson three weeks later.
Recently, she’s been working on renovations at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center, where she was atop a ladder when her phone alerted her to an IBEW voicemail on Monday morning, Sept. 12.
Stunned as she was by the invitation to the White House, she already had something of a rapport with Biden.
Early in his campaign, she’d trekked to New Hampshire with other Local 103 members to wave signs of support. Spotting his IBEW fans, Biden walked over and chatted while pouring them cups of coffee.
Then in April 2020, Jacobs was asked to take part in a Zoom session between the candidate and working women.
“I told him I lost my job during COVID and explained how tough it was to be laid off suddenly,” she said at the White House. “The president gave me encouragement. He let me know that he understood how valuable the workers of our country are and that we have to take care of our workers. When he got elected, he put those words into action.”
As she turned the podium over to Biden, he hugged her and gushed, “I’m impressed. I’m really impressed!”
Speaking to the crowd, he said, “Thank you Lovette for this. This law is for you and the millions of people like you: good, decent, hardworking Americans.”
Jacobs, who is 33 and the daughter of Liberian immigrants, hopes all Americans could see a little of themselves in her that day.
“Being young, or still youngish, being a person of color, a female, a first-generation American, a construction worker — if someone sees me on the television screen and says, ‘Hey, she looks like me,” maybe they’ll also say, ‘If she can do it, I can do it. If she’s passionate about the issues, I should be, too.’”