Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Electrical Workers


Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the Electrical Workers.

Name of Union: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

Mission: The IBEW is committed to organizing electrical workers across North America and promoting on-the-job excellence, good wages and benefits, a safe workplace, and a voice on the job.

Current Leadership of Union: Lonnie R. Stephenson serves as international president of IBEW. Born and raised in Rock Island, Illinois, Stephenson began as an apprentice inside wireman in 1975 and became a member of Local 145. He rose through the ranks and was elected business manager in 1996. He was appointed international representative for the sixth district in 2002 and appointed as international vice president in 2010, winning election to the position the following year. Stephenson was appointed international president in 2015 and elected to a full five-year term at the 2016 IBEW International Convention. 

Kenneth W. Cooper serves as international secretary-treasurer, and the IBEW has 11 international vice presidents: Thomas Reid, Michael P. Monahan, Michael Welsh, Brian G. Malloy, Brian Thompson, David J. Ruhmkorff, Steven M. Speer, Jerry Bellah, John J. O'Rourke, Brent E. Hall and Curtis E. Henke.

The IBEW is governed by its International Executive Council, which has nine members: Christopher Erikson, Joseph P. Calabro, Myles J. Calvey, James Burgham, William W. Riley, Frank J. Furco III, Dean Wine, Patrick Lavin and Ross Galbraith. 

Current Number of Members: 775,000 active and retired

Members Work In/Industries Represented: Utilities, construction, telecommunications, broadcasting, manufacturing, railroads and government.

History: In the late 1800s, electricity began to be installed around the country and small unions of electrical workers started and stopped, with the 1883 Western Union Telegraph strike being the first known attempt to organize the industry's workers. While that first strike was unsuccessful, it left a strong desire for organization among electrical workers. 

At the 1890 St. Louis Exposition, electrical workers from around the country came together to wire buildings and erect exhibits. They gathered after each workday and shared stories about the hardships and danger of the industry. The logical answer was to form a union and in 1890, the Electrical Wiremen and Lineman's Union became AFL Federal Labor Union 5221, with Henry Miller of St. Louis elected as the first president. At the first convention of the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1891, 10 delegates attended, representing 286 members.

In 1892, the first women became members of the union; and four years later, Mary Hoznik became the first woman hired as a paid union organizer. By 1897, the union had grown to 17,000 members and by 1905, that had risen to 24,000. In 1899, it expanded into Canada, becoming the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. In 1920, the IBEW relocated to Washington, D.C., to be closer to the center of government. In 1925, the IBEW gained representation on the AFL-CIO executive council.

In 2016, the IBEW celebrated 125 years of solidarity. The union now has more than 800 locals throughout the United States and Canada, with members in Puerto Rico, Panama, Guam and Saipan, as well.

Current Campaigns/Community Efforts: connects workers looking to get into the union electrical trade with IBEW locals and jobs in their area. The Electrical Worker is the official publication of IBEW. The Code of Excellence promotes on the job excellence, safety and labor-management partnerships at IBEW workplaces across North America. The IBEW Store sells branded products for electrical workers. The IBEW Museum chronicles the history of the union and electrical workers in the United States and Canada, while the Henry Miller Museum, housed in the same St. Louis brick house where the union’s first convention was held, commemorates the founding of the IBEW.

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