IBEW Stresses the Importance of Organizing
Facing full employment and the upcoming election, the IBEW stressed the importance of internal and external organizing at their annual DC conference
With unions coming under attack from Janus and Right to Work, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) held the Legislative/Political conference as well as their Construction & Maintenance conference last week in Washington DC.
The main theme of the Legislative/Political conference was preparing for the midterm elections. Pro-union elected officials and candidates spoke to the IBEW membership about the importance of activating union members to fight for candidates that are willing to stand up for their issues. Speakers included Conor Lamb from Pennsylvania who recently won his special election thanks to strong union support from locals like IBEW 29. Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) told the crowd that we can not continue to let Republicans divide working people in the middle of the country and that many of the economic problems we face today could be avoided if union membership was double what it currently is. The IBEW even invited some pro-union candidates to speak, like Richard Ojeda, who spoke about his work with the West Virginia Teachers during their recent strike.
In addition to reminding the IBEW leaders about the importance of activating their membership, an emphasis was placed on registering their members and their families to vote. As part of the effort to organize and activate their membership, the IBEW is stressing that locals need to focus on all races, not just the national ones. Since redistricting will occur after the 2020 Census, many of the people who are elected to state offices will be drawing new lines. If anti-union officials are drawing the lines, it is almost a guarantee that more states will become anti-union, probably leading to more states passing anti-worker laws like Right to Work.
After the Legislative/Political conference, the IBEW held their Construction & Maintenance conference. At this meeting, the IBEW faced a unique issue, not having enough manpower to meet the demand of contractors. In many parts of the country, a building boom has led locals to be at or near 100% employment. The worry is that contractors will want to work with union electricians but the local will be unable to fill the spots and the contractor will then use non-union workers. To try and rectify this situation, the IBEW is asking their locals to promote and increase their apprenticeship programs, as well as recruit and organize new shops.
Across the construction industry, this has become a major issue. Building in big cities like New York has increased tremendously since the 2008 crash. With limited amounts of union members working on these projects, the non-union have gained a stronger footing in the industry. For many IBEW locals, organizing these non-union shops may be the quick answer to taking back their share of the market. Since newly organized members only need to go through minimal classes, like a 40-hour safety course in New York City, they can continue to work without missing a beat.
The major takeaway from the IBEW conferences is the focus on organizing. Whether it is organizing their members to be informed on important legislative and political issues, making sure they are registered to vote or organizing new shops, the IBEW clearly is taking a back to basics approach over the next few months.