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Local 3 delegates, alternate delegates and guests to the 39th IBEW Convention are pictured with (5th from left) 3rd District Vice-President Don Siegal, IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson and Business Manager and IEC Chairman Christopher Erikson.

The 39th IBEW International Convention began on Monday, September 19th in St. Louis, Missouri with the theme of “Our Founding, Our Future.” International President Lonnie R. å_Stephenson opened the week-long proceedings saying, “The Convention is where we honor where we’ve been, make an honest assessment of where we are and set a course for where we’re going.” St. Louis is the birthplace of the IBEW, the city where Henry Miller and nine other linemen gathered to form an association of electricians bound by a constitution 125 years ago. With a respectful nod to the past, the Convention aimed its keen eye towards the future of the electrical industry and by all accounts it has never looked brighter.
Local 3’s contingent led by Business å_Manager Christopher Erikson and President John E. Marchell was well represented among the nearly 2,100 delegates from across the IBEW that managed the official work of electing leaders and debating and voting on amendments to the constitution and resolutions to the constitution for the next five years. Senior Assistant Business Manager Raymond Melville once again reprised his role with distinction as the head Sergeant-at-Arms for the Convention.
The host District Eleven Vice President Curt Henke addressed the convention and thanked Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon for their welcoming speeches to the 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests of the IBEW to the founding city of St. Louis. The anthems of the United States and Canada were played as the nations’ colors marched down the entirety of the large convention hall while Local 3’s Sword of Light Pipes and Drums thundered proudly behind.

Local 3 Sword of Light Pipe band opens up the 39th IBEW Convention.

The first order of business was to fill the three senior officer positions of the IBEW which saw Lonnie Stephenson elected the 17th International President, Salvatore “Sam” Chilia the International Secretary-Treasurer and Local 3’s Christopher Erikson the International Executive Council’s Chairman, all unanimously. Stephenson graciously accepted saying, “I couldn’t be prouder or more humbled than I am right now standing before you today.” Chilia thanked his family and the men and women who shaped his career and said he sees bright days ahead for the IBEW. “I haven’t been this excited about the future of this union in many years. We stand on a powerful foundation. We enjoy a rich and inspiring history, and now, it’s in our hands.”
IEC Chairman Erikson thanked the members of Local 3, President Stephenson and the convention delegates for the privilege of serving as chairman. “There is no greater honor than to be elected by your peers to represent them. Whether you are an elected officer of this great organization or a convention delegate, you have the same responsibility: to act on their behalf with integrity and with the resolve that the decisions you make are in their best interest.”
President Marchell gave a detailed accounting of the IBEW Disaster Fund, the money donated on behalf of the twenty-one IBEW members who were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The rest of the first day included a keynote address by President Stephenson who said decisions made during the previous two conventions to devote additional resources to organizing allowed the IBEW to emerge from the 2008 economic collapse as one of the strongest labor unions in North America. But just because the U.S. economy has improved does not mean it is time to slow those efforts. “Unless we double down on our commitment to organizing here at this convention, unless we commit even more resources and time to membership development,” Stephenson said, “all those gains we’ve made will be gone sooner than you think. The IBEW has added 133,000 “A” members and 120,000 “BA” members since 2011, but has lost 250,000 members due to deaths, dropped members and retirements. Stephenson encouraged delegates to fully support RENEW/NextGen and the Electrical Workers Minority and Women’s caucuses to “break down barriers and open the doors of opportunity for new members. “If we don’t look like today’s workforce, if we aren’t out organizing every community, color and gender, we’ll face major challenges,” Stephenson said to a round of applause from the nearly 2,000 delegates.
Delegates took action Tuesday to support the IBEW General Fund to ensure the health of the Pension Benefit Fund for “A” members. International Secretary-Treasurer Chilia delivered an overview of the financial status of the General Fund and the PBF. Delegates then unanimously adopted the recommendation of the Law Committee to amend the IBEW Constitution and increase per capita by $2 over the course of the next five years and PBF contributions by $3 a month over the same period. “Our goal is 100 percent market share in the IBEW, and we need to build the coffers and expand our resources to do that,” said President Lonnie R. Stephenson.
The Law Committee recommended amending Article IX, Section 2 of the IBEW Constitution to reflect a $1 per month increase in per capita payments starting Jan. 1, 2018 and again on Jan. 1, 2020.
President Emeritus Edwin D. Hill spoke to the convention Wednesday and urged members to stay connected with the core values of the IBEW. Hill reminded the delegates of the importance of organizing, getting involved in their communities and standing up for their members, but he put extra emphasis on political action and urged them to work to ensure Hillary Clinton is elected. “This is a woman who has been a friend to the IBEW since her days as First Lady,” Hill said.
President Hill then swore in the officers of the IBEW that were all unanimously elected from district caucuses that selected the nominees for International Vice Presidents and IEC member positions. The rest of the convention saw keynote addresses from a number of powerful voices of the labor movement. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered an impassioned speech on the importance of unions ‰ÛÒ not just to members but to all working people. “You’re bringing the union advantage to communities across America,” Trumka said. “When we organize ... when we stand strong, wages go up for everyone.” He called on delegates to keep fighting for shared prosperity and to get out the union vote in November. “Our nation is rediscovering unionism right now,” Trumka said. “When we win, the country wins.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, who marched with Local 3 in the 2014 Labor Day Parade, was made an honorary member of the IBEW and called it “a rare honor. Today, I’m proud to be able to formally call you all my brothers and sisters,” Harkin said in his opening remarks to the Convention. “I may be retired from the Senate, but I’m not retired from the fight for social and economic justice and the right of workers to form and join a union.”
Local 3 Business Manager and International Treasurer Emeritus Thomas Van Arsdale delivered an important video message to the IBEW delegation and received a standing ovation. “You are the future of the IBEW. You must recommit to organizing all workers in the electrical industry. Never, never, never give up.”
Carlo De Masi, secretary-general of the Italian Federation of Utility Workers brought a message of borderless brotherhood to the International Convention. Through a translator, De Masi spoke about the creation of Electrical Workers without Borders, an international group bringing together unions in France, Germany and Spain and now North America. “The IBEW and the FLAEI represent an important part of the workforce, that being electrical power, which has always represented the symbol of light. Light that takes darkness away from our homes, our streets, and our cities.”
With a bang of the ceremonial gavel and all of the union’s formal business over, President Stephenson closed the 39th International Convention. “We’re going to keep going on and on until every worker in every one of our branches can say with pride: ‘I am a member of the greatest union in the world. I am IBEW.’”
In the days before the Convention, IBEW members descended upon St. Louis and got to work right away meeting for a community day of service and convening each day for caucuses that shape the policies to be resolved during the convention. Meetings of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and the IBEW Women’s Caucus outlined the progress made in building a more inclusive union, hosting practical summations of exemplary work to help local unions better reflect the best qualities of a diverse, democratic society.

IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson pictured with some Local 3 members who participated in the Day of Service.

Day of Service

For the first time at a convention, delegates from dozens of local unions were up before dawn to pitch in at 26 different sites around the city, accounting for more than 1,600 hours of service in a single morning. One of the day’s largest projects was at Our Lady of the Holy Cross Church in the Baden neighborhood in north St. Louis. Much of the church’s unused space has been repurposed as an after-school and community center. “It’s a great facility that wasn’t being used,” said program director Antoinette Cousins, “And now 40 kids a day learn programming, cooking, gardening, boxing and basketball.” The neighborhood is crime-filled and often too dark for kids and their parents to feel safe coming to the center at night. St. Louis Local 1 provided more than $7,000 in LED light fixtures to improve the safety and function, and St. Louis Local 1439 provided thousands more worth of bulbs. Alderwoman Dionne Flowers, who grew up in the neighborhood and attends Holy Cross, estimated that IBEW volunteers had put over $100,000 worth of work into the church and community center.

Women’s Caucus

The Women’s Caucus saw some 400 delegates attend to discuss women’s inclusion in the IBEW and to focus on political action. “We want to honor our history, but most of all, we’re here to make it. And that’s something the women’s caucus‰ÛÓand all our IBEW sisters‰ÛÓdo every day,” said International President Stephenson. “We’re going to be writing the next chapter of IBEW history starting next week. And you’re a vital part of it. We’ve made a lot of progress. But we still have a long way to go,” Stephenson said.

RENEW/NextGen Young Workers

RENEW‰ÛÓReach Out and Engage Next-Gen Electrical Workers‰ÛÓwas formed in 2011 to inspire new IBEW leaders by focusing on issues important to younger workers and providing history and education about the labor movement. In addition to helping out with the day of service, the young workers of Renew held a caucus days before the convention to discuss the State of the Union for the next generation. With the future of the IBEW in the room, there were panel discussions, informational videos, reports from each district’s youth member representative, a question and answer session with the leadership of the IBEW and a reception that allowed young members from across the country to form the bond of brother and sisterhood at the core of the IBEW.

Electrical Workers Minority Caucus

The Electrical Workers Minority Caucus brought together hundreds of IBEW members and guests to discuss the past, present and future of diversity in the Brotherhood. “The Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and the work you do is absolutely vital for the IBEW because the reality that today’s and tomorrow’s workforce is more diverse than ever,” said International President Stephenson. “We need more women and more people of color, especially in the industries we represent.” EWMC President Keith Edwards opened the day’s proceedings by honoring the men and women who formed the EWMC for the progress of minority workers in the electrical industry 42 years ago. “Talkers didn’t build this union. Critics didn’t build it either. It was the people who put their butts on the line, who did the work, who sacrificed lots of blood, sweat and tears to make the IBEW everything it is today. It was built by people who when they saw injustice, they fought to change it. When they saw opportunity, they worked to seize it,” Edwards said.