Biden Picks Union Leader for TVA Board
The pick puts an IBEW leader on the board of the electric utility that employs 2,500 IBEW members
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate retired Tenth District International Vice President Robert P. “Bobby” Klein to serve a five-year term as a member of the board of directors for the Tennessee Valley Authority. More than 2,500 IBEW members work for the government-owned utility, providing electricity to nearly 10 million customers across Tennessee and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.
“Union labor built the TVA,” Klein said. “I’m very humbled and grateful for this opportunity. Certainly, I’m indebted to the IBEW for submitting my name for consideration.”
There are four open positions on the Authority’s board, and both International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who served as an adviser on Biden’s transition team, and current Tenth District International Vice President Brent E. Hall are delighted with Klein’s intended nomination by the Biden administration. “Bobby cares about people, the TVA and its mission, and I think it’s a great opportunity for him, for organized labor, and for TVA’s ratepayers,” Hall said.
A lifelong resident of Chattanooga, Tenn., Klein was initiated into Chattanooga Local 846 in 1974, and he topped out as a lineman in 1981. Working with the city’s Electric Power Board, Klein went on to become a line foreman, supervising the construction and maintenance of the power distribution system. Three years later, he was chosen to serve as the overhead line department’s chief steward.
Klein was elected president of Local 846 in 1988 and was re-elected in 1991. When Local 846 merged with Chattanooga Local 175, Klein left his EPB job and joined the local staff full-time.
In 1998, then-International President J. J. Barry appointed Klein as an international representative with the Tenth District, which covers Tennessee, Arkansas and the Carolinas. There, Klein took on the role as the service representative for the 17 IBEW locals with members employed by the TVA.
The Authority was established in 1933 under President Franklin Roosevelt, one of his many “New Deal” programs that helped put to work people who lost jobs during the Great Depression. It remains the nation’s largest government-owned power provider, a fully self-sustaining utility supported by the revenues it collects from the millions of ratepayers it serves.
“Any time you talk to Bobby about the TVA, first and foremost he’ll tell you TVA’s mission statement: To bring prosperity to the Valley,” Hall said. “He’s a perfect candidate for the board. He does not make knee-jerk decisions. He thinks things through.”
Today, the TVA employs about 2,500 IBEW members as permanent employees at nearly 60 nuclear, oil and gas, hydroelectric and solar worksites, with thousands more members performing short-term work for the utility each year upgrading infrastructure and performing regular maintenance.
While Klein worked in the district office, he also served on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Labor-Management Committee, and in 2001 he was elected president of the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council, a position he held for 14 years.
In 2003, then-International President Edwin D. Hill appointed Klein to serve as the district’s international vice president; he was re-elected by delegates to the 37th and 38th International Conventions. In 2014, Klein led a successful fight against a draft federal budget plan to privatize the Authority. He retired from the IBEW the following year.
The TVA board position requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. A hearing date to consider Klein’s nomination has not yet been set.
“I feel like having someone from labor will bring a different perspective to the board,” Klein said.
“For so many years, Bobby served with distinction as this union’s caretaker of our partnership with the TVA,” said Stephenson, who noted that, in 2018, the IBEW and the TVA forged a partnership to promote the values of the Code of Excellence and to inspire new levels of cooperation between labor and management.
“As far as anyone can tell, if he’s confirmed, he’ll be the first union member to hold a seat on the TVA’s board,” Stephenson said.
“This nomination is not about me,” Klein said. “It’s about bettering the future of the TVA, IBEW and all working-class people in the Tennessee Valley region.”