IBEW 40th International Convention Update – Lighting The Path to The Middle Class
Day 1 of the 40th International Convention saw the re-election of the IBEW Leadership. IBEW International President, Lonnie Stephenson, was elected unanimously to continue leading our great union forward.
IBEW International Secretary-Treasurer, Kenneth Cooper, and IBEW International Executive Council Chairman, Christopher Erikson, were also unanimously elected to continue leading the IBEW.
Stephenson’s re-election was for a second full term as International President. He first took office in 2015 when the IEC appointed him to fill the unexpired term of Edwin D. Hill and he was elected to his first full term at the 39th International Convention in 2016.
In accepting delegates’ trust in him for another term in office, Stephenson took the opportunity to shine the spotlight on others and express his deep gratitude to the membership for supporting his re-election. Nearly his entire speech was expressions of gratitude.
“Leading this union has been the honor of my life. This truly is the greatest union in the world and being part of it means everything to me,” he said. “Thank you for believing in me and giving me a chance to lead this great union once again as we continue to light the path to the middle class.”
Stephenson then called back to the IBEW’s founding, noting the distance we have traveled but also what hasn’t changed.
“When Henry Miller and our founders gathered in St. Louis, they didn’t have money. They didn’t have resources. They didn’t even have an office. All they had was each other,” he said. “If Henry Miller was alive today, I’m sure he couldn’t believe what he would see at this convention, the resources we have.”
“But despite how much things have changed, we’re still the same union,” he said. “Our power doesn’t flow from money. Or resources. It flows from worker solidarity. That is my lodestar.”
Stephenson’s first term spanned some of the most eventful and challenging years in recent memory, but the strength of the IBEW has only grown, he said.
“We’re a flesh and blood community that brings together workers from all walks of life to fight for a better workplace, a better community, and a better nation. If we stick with each other, we can do anything,” he said
Stephenson closed with a promise.
“I pledge to you here and now. I will continue to give my all and my everything to ensure that this union remains the greatest union in the world,” he said to a standing ovation.”
He was renominated by Cory Bergfeld, Business Manager of Stephenson’s home local, Rock Island, Ill., Local 145.
“Lonnie is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, but he will fight like hell for what he believes in,” he said. “No matter what title Lonnie has before his name, he never forgets who he is or where he comes from.”
Cooper, who was appointed International Secretary-Treasurer by the IEC in 2017, won his first full term Monday, also with the unanimous support of delegates.
Second District International Vice President Michael Monahan opened nominations for each of the offices, and Cooper’s name was put forward by Business Manager Carl Neutzling of his home local, Mansfield, Ohio, Local 688.
“We all know that being a labor leader isn’t always easy, but any time I get the chance to talk to Coop, it boosts my spirits and gets me ready to get back in the fight,” he said.
Cooper spoke to the delegates about his own gratitude and the honor of serving the IBEW.
“There are no self-made men or women in the IBEW. Everything we do as a union is a group effort. We all owe something to our brothers and sisters. I know I do,” he said.
He recalled growing up in a family that struggled for – and many times lacked – the basics.
“My mom worked hard. Very hard, but making ends meet on her wages was tough. I remember sometimes going to bed hungry. I remember waking up with snow on my blankets because we didn’t have proper insulation. That’s because she didn’t have a union,” he said. “So, I cherish what the IBEW has done for me.”
It was in part why he also cherished the opportunity now to be the guardian of the IBEW’s financial resources, the pension and health and welfare funds that provide the safety net he did not have himself.
“The IBEW’s finances are sacred because it’s your hard-earned money, our members’ money, and we’re ensuring that it’s used prudently,” he said. “Our retirement funds are stronger than ever. And we’re putting those investments into projects that are creating IBEW jobs today.”
Cooper said his rise in the IBEW was an unlikely journey, one he compared to the main character in the film Forrest Gump, who inexplicably found himself at the center of great events. But Cooper gave credit not to fate, but to the brotherhood he now helps to lead.
“When I first started out in this union, I could have never imagined I’d be standing here today. But the IBEW makes great things possible, and I can’t think of any honor greater than serving all of you” he said.
New York Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson was re-elected to chair the International Executive Council, his second election after being appointed to the post in 2015.
Erikson was nominated by his sons, Local 3 Assistant Business Manager Christopher Erikson Jr. and Local 3 shop steward Robert Erikson.
“[Dad’s] empathy for working people knows no bounds. He is always asking what can be done to improve the lives of the members of the IBEW and then goes and fights for it,” Christopher Erikson Jr said.
Chairman Erikson said he would continue to do his best for the membership and as a continuation of his family’s unbroken service to the IBEW for nearly a century.
“What has been instilled in me by both my grandfather, Harry Van Arsdale Jr., and my uncle, Thomas Van Arsdale, was that the only purpose of the union is to serve the membership. My family has done that with distinction since 1933 in New York as Local 3’s business managers and as international officers,” he said.
He ended his speech with a fiery call to action. The IBEW has a great friend in the White House now, he said, but the reality is that inside that opportunity is a threat that has not gone away.
“We lose the majorities, and we will have an obstructionist Republican majority that will do nothing for President Biden or the majority of Americans that voted for him, including us,” he said. “It is imperative that we come away from this convention united, fully engaged and laser-focused on the job that must get done.”
He urged Local leaders to challenge members to put nothing ahead of the basic economic security of their families and all the progress working people have made.
The future of democracy and the freedom to associate in unions are on the ballot, he said.
“National right to work was absolutely in play. We are in their crosshairs, make no mistake about it,” he said. “It is the commonsense Americans in the middle that need to save our democracy, to save our country.”