IBEW Swears in First Female International VP
Gina Copper takes over the Union's Fourth District
This article was written by the IBEW Media Center.
Fourth District International Representative Gina Cooper has been appointed the district’s vice president, making her the first woman to serve as an international vice president in the IBEW’s 129-year history.
The Fourth District includes Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. Cooper replaces Brian Malloy, who passed away following a heroic battle with lung cancer.
“I was very close to Brian and that makes it a bittersweet time,” she said. “What’s helped me through this is having the support of his wife, Susie, and daughter, Breana. Knowing they are so supportive that I was tapped for the position and having them say that Brian would be happy about the appointment really helped me refocus on the work we need to do.”
Calling herself “humbled” and “honored” by the appointment, Cooper said she takes great pride in being the first woman to serve as a vice president and is grateful for the path that was paved by all the sisters that came before her. “The IBEW will continue to be a game changer for all workers and especially for women and minorities throughout the United States and Canada,’’ she said. “More women are joining our ranks and having a female officer shows there is a place for them in the IBEW.”
A native of Las Vegas, Cooper began her career at Local Union 357 in 1985 before moving to Hollywood, Calif., Local 45 and then on to Las Vegas Local 396. In 2005, she was appointed an international representative and moved to the Fourth District to serve at the International Office in Washington, D.C., first in the Telecommunications Department and later the Government Department.
In 2010, she was the first woman to serve as the Director of Professional and Industrial Organizing for Membership Development where she oversaw 50 field organizers and assisted in countless organizing wins. She accepted an assignment to the Fourth District in 2015.
“This is a great moment in the history of the IBEW,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “While I’m proud to appoint our first female vice president, it’s not the reason I chose Gina for this role. It's because she is eminently qualified, having worked with nearly every branch, and has been a key part of the success we’ve had in the Fourth District in recent years, particularly during our successful organizing drive at Baltimore Gas and Electric.”
After four previous attempts fell short, the IBEW earned the right to represent more than 1,400 BGE employees in 2017 which led to the creation of Baltimore Local 410. Cooper and International Representative Chuck Tippie were lead negotiators on the contract team.
“If I had to be in a fight, I’d want her on my side,” said Local 410 Business Manager Ben Ferstermann, who was a BGE employee who worked on the organizing drive and later served on the contract negotiation committee.
“I met Vice President Cooper shortly after our members voted to join the IBEW, and I had the pleasure of working for two years with her on that first contract. Her ability to understand just what working people need is unmatched by anyone else I’ve met. She has that ability to draw the best out of someone, challenging them and encouraging them to put their best forward.”
Baltimore Local 1501 Business Manager Dion Guthrie said Cooper has been the best servicing representative that he has had in his 51 years as business manager.
“What I found out with other international reps I had worked with is they didn’t know my side of the business,” said Guthrie, who has served as business manager since 1969, the longest current tenure in the IBEW. “They had come from construction and knew about as much about my business as I knew about theirs.
“But Gina is just very intelligent and has a lot of knowledge about a lot of industries. If something happens, she gets on her computer and learns about it in no time. There was very little you had to show her. You hand her the contract and she literally memorized it in a couple of days.”
Cooper noted she’s been fortunate to represent workers in construction and maintenance, telecommunications, manufacturing, utility and broadcasting, which she hopes allows her to make a quick transition to the vice president’s role.
She didn’t hesitate when asked what her top priorities will be.
“Organizing, organizing, organizing,” she said, “Nothing is more important than growing the IBEW and making our voice louder in the industries we represent. The way we do that is through organizing.
“Don’t get me wrong, you will never be successful in organizing if you don’t also believe in servicing and educating your members. But, organizing is my passion. I have seen how it affects people’s lives and their families’ lives. It provides security, fair wages, benefits, good working conditions and due process. For all the talk about wage discrimination, women and minorities getting paid less than men for the same work, there is one sure way to stop it, and it is by joining a union or organizing a union in your workplace. When wages are locked into a contract they are done by classification and no matter your gender or race, you receive equal pay and benefits.”
“My biggest goal is to live up to what Brian would have expected from me and continue paving that path. The Fourth District tends to lead the way in a lot of things. Being the first woman vice president just continues that tradition. I’ll be happy when we don’t have to talk about there being a first-time woman, when it is not such an anomaly, and when all workers realize that they are in this fight for fairness, dignity and respect in the workplace together, regardless of their race or gender or background.”
Cooper is the wife of International Secretary/Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper. The couple has five children and resides in Clarksburg, Md.
The officers and staff congratulate Sister Cooper on her historic appointment and wish her much success in leading the Fourth District.