Unity Despite Difficulty
Henry Miller was a man of remarkable courage and energy. The first Secretary of our Brotherhood, J. T. Kelly, said of him, "No man could have done more for our union in its first years than he did." Miller packed his tools and traveled to many cities of the United States to work at the trade. Everywhere he went, he organized the electrical workers he met and worked with into local unions.
Although the going was rough in those early days, Miller seemed impervious to personal discomforts and endowed with boundless energy. He ``rode the rails" with his tools and an extra shirt in an old carpetbag. Many times the receiving committee on his arrival in a city was a ``railroad bull" a policeman who chased him and tried to put him in jail for his unauthorized mode of travel.
Nevertheless, a great deal was accomplished in that first year. Locals chartered by the AFL and other electrical unions were organized in Chicago, Milwaukee, Evansville, Louisville, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Duluth, Philadelphia, New York and other cities.
A first convention was called in St. Louis on November 21, 1891. Ten delegates attended, representing 286 members. The 10 men to whom our Brotherhood owes its life and the cities they represented are:
Henry Miller, St. Louis, Missouri
J. T. Kelly, St. Louis, Missouri
W. Hedden, St. Louis, Missouri
C. J. Sutter, Duluth, Minnesota
M. Dorsey, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
T. J. Finnell, Chicago, Illinois
E. Hartung, Indianapolis, Indiana
F. Heizleman, Toledo, Ohio
Joseph Berlowitz, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
H. Fisher, Evansville, Indiana.
The Preamble to the first Constitution included the goals which motivated our founders and the far-reaching, sensible, unselfish Objects which have been retained, except for slight changes in language, by every Convention of the IBEW:
"The objects of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are: to organize all workers in the entire electrical industry in the United States and Canada, including all those in public utilities and electrical manufacturing, into local unions; to promote reasonable methods of work; to cultivate feelings of friendship among those of our industry; to settle all disputes between employers and employees by arbitration (if possible); to assist each other in sickness or distress; to secure employment; to reduce the hours of daily labor; to secure adequate pay for our work; to seek a higher and higher standard of living; to seek security for the individual; and by legal and proper means to elevate the moral, intellectual and social conditions of our members, their families and dependents, in the interest of a higher standard of citizenship."
The new national union was penniless and had to be financed with a $100 loan from the St. Louis local. "This was the time and manner in which the Brotherhood was born," wrote Charles P. Ford, a longtime International Secretary of the IBEW, commenting on the birth of our union. "There was little to encourage this small group of dedicated and determined men. The opposition to unions at that time was active and bitter. The obstacles seemed insurmountable. Hearts less courageous would have given up in despair." A motion to affiliate with the AFL passed at the First Convention. The AFL granted a charter on December 7, 1891, which gave the NBEW sweeping jurisdiction over electrical workers in every branch of the trade and industry.
Early Leaders Set Pace
Copyright 2014. IBEW Local 1288. All rights reserved.
1891---National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers founded (Nov. 28) and affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (Dec. 7). Apprenticeship system established. 1892---First women members admitted into NBEW. 1893---First Journal published (Jan. 15), called The Electrical Worker; continuously published under various titles. Cleveland Convention delegates voted to hold conventions every two years. 1895---Telephone operators joined NBEW. 1896---First woman organizer appointed. 1897---First woman delegate sent to the National Convention. 1899---NBEW becomes an international union when jurisdiction is extended to include Canada; name changed to International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. 1903---First full-time, salaried Grand President. 1908---Reid-Murphy split; IBEW affiliated with the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada. 1912---Court decision upheld McNulty-Collins as officers of the legitimate IBEW. 1913---Delegates return to a united Convention. Split in the IBEW ended and seceding faction (Reid-Murphy) reabsorbed into the legitimate Brotherhood (McNulty-Collins) by agreement in 1914. 1918---Constitutional amendment renders actions of conventions final. 1919---Telephone Operators Department established. 1920---Council on Industrial Relations founded. IBEW headquarters moved from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C. 1922---Electrical Workers' Benefit Association founded. 1924---Research Department established. 1927---Pension Plan established by Detroit Convention. 1929---IBEW moved into its own building at 1200 - 15th Street, N.W. 1946---Number of vice presidential districts increased from 10 to 12; National Employees' Benefit Agreement signed by IBEW and NECA. 1947---Permanent National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee for the Electrical Industry formed.Government Employees Department established. Progress meetings for vice presidential districts instituted. National Electrical Benefit Fund went into effect. 1950---Members voted to submit to referendum vote the holding of the International Convention every four years instead of every two. Affirmative decision reached in 1952. 1951---Broadcasting and Recording Department established. 1954---Chicago IBEW Convention was the largest labor union convention ever held in the world. 1955---Construction and Maintenance, Manufacturing, Telephone, and Utility Departments established; previously existed as divisions within the IBEW. 1959---Skill Improvement, Safety Departments established. 1963---Supreme Court ruling supported authority of IBEW Constitution. 1966---Founders' Scholarship Program instituted to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the IBEW. 1971---IBEW moved to new, permanent address at 1125 - 15th Street, N.W. Special Services, Organizing Departments established. 1972---IBEW membership reached one million in October; Telephone Department operations relocated to International Office. 1977---IBEW and NECA agreed to improve NEBF benefits and increase employer contribution from 1% to 3%. 1981---Electrical Industry Health and Welfare Reciprocal Agreement established; achieved 100% participation in 1985. 1982---IBEW affiliated with the Canadian Federation of Labour. 1984---Electrical Industry Pension Reciprocal Agreement established; achieved 100% participation in 1989. 1987---Pension Investment and Employee Benefits Department established in response to 33rd Convention resolution. 1988---Skill Improvement Department renamed Technical Services Department; Safety Department renamed Safety and Health Department;Telephone and Cable TV Departments combined into the Telecommunications Department; Education Program established (became Education Department in 1991). 1989---Research and Education Department renamed Research and Economics Department; Organizing Department renamed Special Projects Department. Canada IBEW-COPE established. 1990---IBEW Tenth District (Railroads) welcomed into membership the members of the Canadian Signal and Communications Union. The First District publishes the first issue of its newsletter, Canadian Comment. 1991---Centennial Exposition and the 34th and 100th Anniversary Convention held in St. Louis. Delegates vote to hold Convention every five years. Special Services Department renamed Human Services Department. 1992---Bylaw Approval Department and the Appeals Department consolidated into Bylaws and Appeals Department. 1994---New database established for agreement approval/analysis. Research and Economics, Technical Services Departments merged to become Research & Technical Services Department. Public Relations Department established. 1995---Journal, Public Relations Departments merged as the Journal and Media Relations Department. First IBEW-wide opinion poll of rank-and-file members conducted. 1996---Electronic voting used for first time at an IBEW Convention. Committee appointed to study IBEW's structure and Constitution. 1997---IBEW reaffiliates with the Canadian Labour Congress. 1998---Recommendations of the Select Committee on the Future of the Brotherhood approved by referendum vote of the local unions. Offices of the International Secretary and International Treasurer combined. Railroad Department established, and former Twelfth Vice Presidential District renumbered as Tenth Vice Presidential District.
P. W. Collins 1905 to 1912 Charles P. Ford 1912 G. M. Bugniazet 1925 to 1947 J. Scott Milne 1947 to 1954 Joseph D. Keenan 1954 to 1976 Ralph A. Legion 1976 to 1985 Jack F. Moore 1985 to 1997 Edwin D. Hill 1997 to 2001 Jeremiah J. O'Conner 2001 J.T. Kelly 1891 to 1897 H. W. Sherman 1897 to 1905
Henry Miller .. 1891 to 1893
Queren Jansen .. 1893 to 1894
H. W. Sherman .. 1894 to 1897
J. H. Maloney .. 1897 to 1899
Thomas Wheeler .. 1899 to 1901
W. A. Jackson .. 1901 to 1903
F. J. McNulty .. 1903 to 1919
J. P. Noonan .. 1919 to 1929
H. H. Broach .. 1929 to 1933
D. W. Tracy .. 1933 to 1940
Ed J. Brown .. 1940 to 1947
D. W. Tracy .. 1947 to 1954
J. Scott Milne .. 1954 to 1955
Gordon M. Freeman .. 1955 to 1968
Charles H. Pillard .. 1968 to 1986
J. J. Barry .. 1986 to 2001
Edwin D. Hill .. 2001
Today we remain strong with approximately 750,000 members. The number of local unions within the Brotherhood has been reduced because of the need to amalgamate smaller local unions when it appears that better representation of the membership could be achieved. Still, we are united through more than 1,100 local unions established over the length and breadth of the United States and Canada. We are one of the largest unions in the world, and our wages and working conditions are second to none in any comparable field. IBEW members enjoy better health and welfare coverage, improved pensions, longer vacations and more holidays, as well as a shorter workweek. We stand where we are today because strong, intelligent and loyal men and women created, protected and preserved our union. They cared about what happened to them and to their children. They remained loyal to the organization that gave them protection and strength. Each era writes its own history. Our union heritage, vibrant and strong, has been passed on to us. Where we go from here depends upon our Brothers and Sisters today. As International President Barry said during the opening of the 35th International Convention, "We in the IBEW want a world where a man can go to a safe workplace, earn a fair wage and use his skills to do a good day's work. We want a world where a woman can develop her talents to the fullest and have a wealth of opportunity before her ... where workers can retire with dignity, with the security of knowing their healthcare is affordable and available ... where children are treated like the precious treasure they are—nurtured, educated and loved so they can carry the torch into the future, ... and where workers can organize and bargain collectively to achieve all these things in fairness and in justice."
In 1941, the golden jubilee year of the founding of our Brotherhood, we returned to the city of our birth, St. Louis, for the 21st Convention. Fifty years from our founding after, as International Secretary G. M. Bugniazet stated in his Convention report, ``having gone through a turbulent and hectic period, one of the longest and most severe depressions of our time, accompanied by rapid change" our 21st Convention represented 869 local unions in good standing and a membership nearly 200,000 strong. Reports to the 1941 Convention pointed out the dramatic progress achieved in the 12 years since the Miami Convention. In 1929 the average wage for inside electrical workers in the United States was $1.15 per hour. In 1941 the average was $1.38, and a new high of $2.20 had been reached in some areas. In 1929 less than one-quarter of our members worked the five-day week. In 1941 almost the entire membership of 200,000 enjoyed the reduced workweek. A new type of industrial relations was achieved with the signing of a collective bargaining agreement (including some of the best provisions in the country) with the government's huge power development, the Tennessee Valley Authority. In September 1941 an important event took place: The National Apprenticeship Standards for the Electrical Construction Industry were established. These standards resulted from a cooperative effort of the IBEW, NECA and the Federal Committee on Apprenticeship. We have mentioned the strides made in organizing utilities and manufacturing plants. Considerable progress was also attained in railroad organizing, as well as in the electric sign and radio broadcasting industries. Travel was curtailed during World War II, and our Conventions were postponed again. However, the years between 1941 and 1946, when we again met in convention, were active ones for our Brotherhood. The demand for electrical work and electrical workers dominated all phases of the war effort, and our Brotherhood measured up to the expectations of our countries. We established a system to staff defense jobs within 72 hours of receiving the government's request. Local union officers and members accelerated the training programs for new members. More than 35,000 IBEW members served in the armed forces. Incidentally, those not in the military paid the dues of our members on active duty, including their pension and death benefits, through a military assessment. When special projects required skilled electrical workers, our Brotherhood staffed the jobs adequately and performed admirably every time. We look back with pride, knowing that IBEW members performed 95 percent of all the electrical work needed for the prosecution of the war effort under union-shop conditions. By late 1943 it was evident that 37 cents per ``A" member per month was insufficient to pay for a $40 monthly pension. A special assessment of 70 cents was levied and allocated to the Pension Fund for the first six months of 1944, and in July 1944 this assessment was reduced to 20 cents. One significant IBEW development evolving from the war years was the Brotherhood's emphasis on training for the rapidly developing field of electronics. In November 1944 the IBEW, in conjunction with the Engineering College of Marquette University in Milwaukee, established a National Electronics School. From then until June 1945, hundreds of IBEW members received intensive training in electronics. They returned to their local unions as instructors for other members, and in a few months thousands of members were prepared to meet the challenges of the new electronics age. The demands of war brought the IBEW rewards for its outstanding defense efforts. When our Convention Call for 1946 invited delegates to the Golden Gate City, San Francisco, our membership had passed 360,000. The San Francisco Convention is remembered as being somewhat stormy, with heated election campaigns. D. W. Tracy, who served the Brotherhood as International President from 1933 to 1940, defeated the incumbent, Ed J. Brown, for the top IBEW position. Numerous changes also occurred in vice presidential and IEC posts. The 22nd Convention authorized the 20-cent assessment as a permanent part of the dues apportioned to the Pension Benefit Fund. In addition, 3 cents of the amount apportioned to the General Fund was earmarked for the Pension Fund, for a total of 60 cents monthly. The delegates at that Convention effected another important change in the Pension Plan. The benefit was increased from $40 to $50 a month, effective January 1, 1947. The International Officers were aware of the inadequate pension benefit provided by such a low funding level. They knew it would be necessary to involve the employers in providing the essential retirement security for our construction members. On October 1, 1946, NECA and the IBEW signed an agreement establishing the National Electrical Benefit Fund (NEBF). The contractors agreed to put 1 percent of their payroll into this special fund. The NECA and IBEW conventions ratified the agreement; the U.S. Treasury Department granted approval in March 1947; and the fund became effective on May 5, 1947. Our 1946 Convention also created another type of membership, known as ``BA." The IBEW thus offered three types of membership: ``A," ``B" and ``BA." The ``BA" member would enjoy rights equal to the ``A" paying the same per capita to support the IBEW's operations, with equal voting rights. The ``B" member continued to pay 50 cents with limited voting rights. The difference between ``A" and ``BA" members rested then, as it does now, solely on the death and pension benefits for which ``A" members pay additional dues as provided under the Constitution. A few months following our San Francisco Convention, Brother Bugniazet, who served for 22 years as International Secretary, tendered his resignation. President Tracy, with the approval of the IEC, appointed J. Scott Milne, Ninth District Vice President, to fill the vacancy. By action of the 1946 Convention, two new vice presidential districts were created, the 11th and 12th. Annual progress meetings for all vice presidential districts were instituted in 1947.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act after its author and friend of labor, Senator Robert Wagner, ensured government protection to union organizers and to organized workers and led to a rapid increase in union membership. The Wagner Act enabled the IBEW to organize utility companies and manufacturing plants in a way never before possible. Before 1935 there was only one type of IBEW membership, later known as "A" membership. In 1935 a "B"-type membership was created by referendum vote. "B" membership allowed the unorganized in utilities and manufacturing plants to join at a lower admission fee ($1.50) and pay a lower per capita (50 cents). "B" members did not participate in death and pension benefits, since they did not pay for them. Neither were "B" members allowed equal voting rights with the other members at Conventions and on referendums. Other legislation beneficial to U.S. workers was passed in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, including the Railway Labor Act, Social Security Act, United States Housing Act and Norris-LaGuardia Act. Our Brotherhood played a prominent role in these legislative triumphs. President Tracy, in his report to the 1941 Convention, stated: "The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workersoverlooked no opportunity to present its case to the various boards established by the government for the purpose of formulating regulations and schedules under this program of new legislation, and our Brotherhood enjoys the distinction of having made available to these government boards more accurate, more detailed and more helpful data than any other labor organization." In 1939 the IBEW became bargaining agent for technical employees of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). In July 1940 Brother Tracy resigned as President to accept an appointment as an assistant secretary of labor. The IEC appointed Ed J. Brown, a member of the IEC, to fill the post.
In January 1929 the International Office moved into the IBEW's own building at 1200 - 15th Street, N.W. That year the 20th Convention, held in Miami, Florida, adopted a retirement plan for Brotherhood officers and representatives. Unbeknown to the delegates in 1929, this would be the last Convention held for 12 years. The Great Depression created serious financial difficulties for the International, and the Conventions scheduled between 1929 and 1941 were postponed by referendum vote. President Noonan died in December 1929; the International Executive Council (IEC) appointed Vice President H. H. Broach to fill the office. President Broach presided over our Brotherhood during the Great Depression, which devastated our countries and our union. His tenure was marked chiefly by a series of changes designed to enable our union to meet the challenges of the times. Many felt our Constitution and the local union bylaws needed to be rewritten completely to clarify certain sections and strengthen others by providing proper discipline and orderly conduct of business, and to ensure respect for authority. At its March 1930 meeting, the IEC approved submitting a proposed amendment to the membership for a referendum vote. The amendment empowered the International President to appoint a special Constitution Committee of 11 members (no two from the same local union) to meet with him and the International Secretary in the International Office ``for the purpose of altering, amending or revising the Constitution and the rules therein as may be necessary to conform with the needs of this organization." This referendum was adopted by a vote of 39,581 to 5,405. As part of this referendum, the membership authorized implementing the Constitution Committee's recommendations immediately upon notification by the International Secretary. Immediately after the referendum vote, the committee was appointed and began deliberations which resulted in an abbreviated and more precise Constitution. Our current Constitution is much the same as it was following the action taken in 1930. Meanwhile, the United States and Canada suffered through a period of unprecedented economic stress. Wage cuts pyramided upon each other; banks failed; businesses collapsed; unemployment soared. Men and women roamed the streets begging for jobs and, later, for just enough food to stay alive. More than 50 percent of our membership was idle throughout the United States and Canada. We in the IBEW today are surprised how well our organization survived those dark days. Membership only dropped from 64,000 to 50,000 while other unions were decimated. The International was forced to take stern economic measures: officers' and representatives' salaries were cut 50 percent; some officials were furloughed, with no salary or expenses; some staff members were laid off. Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933 and immediately proposed New Deal legislation to launch the United States on the road to recovery. First came the National Recovery Act, later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court after bitter opposition from big business. Later came the Walsh-Healey Act, then the Wage-Hour Law. President Broach's health failed, and he was forced to resign as International President in July 1933. The IEC appointed Vice President D. W. Tracy to take his place.
The 12th Convention, with delegates representing 18,500 members, lasted 14 days. The Convention again attempted to put the IBEW on a firmer financial basis by voting to recommend to the membership an increase in per capita from 30 to 40 cents. That action, as well as all convention actions except the election of officers, had to be submitted to the membership for approval. While the per capita increase and other constitutional amendments passed, the requirement of membership approval continued to handicap the organization. Once more in possession of its funds and with AFL backing, the McNulty administration gradually won back its membership. By 1914 the locals which constituted the Reid faction were readmitted. Those who left the Brotherhood with Reid and Murphy received credit for whatever standing they would have enjoyed had they never seceded. They also received 12 months' credit in the payment of death benefits. Those who joined the secessionists but were never in the IBEW received the same consideration.
The 12th Convention of our Brotherhood, held in Boston in 1913, included nearly all of the local unions which had seceded. In his report to the Convention, Frank J. McNulty, now a 10-year veteran as Grand President, tried to bind the wounds of secession and inspire the members to carry on in a true spirit of unionism. Speaking of his years in office, he said: "I have seen our Brotherhood in victory, as well as in seeming defeat t; I cannot say in defeat, because I do not concede to anyone that our Broth Brotherhood has met defeat....No labor organization, in our opinion, is ever defeated. When it suffers a setback, it incites the members to greater effort in organization and makes better pilots out of the leaders who profit by their past experiences and guide their organizations over the dangerous shoals upon which they had grounded in the past.... "We have fought a clean fight, and we have won, simply because we were right.... "We have not centralized our efforts to bring about temporary advantages for our Brotherhood; we rather have endeavored to fortify the trenches of our Brotherhood, so as to make them impregnable against the forces of its enemies in the future...." President McNulty then directed a poignant statement to those of us reading our Brotherhood's history many years later: "When the history of our Brotherhood is read by the Electrical Workers of the future and we have all transferred our cards to our local union in Heaven, they will appreciate our efforts. They will realize and know that we fought the battle successfully that assured its future prosperity." At the 1913 Convention President McNulty presided with a new partner. Brother P. W. Collins, who stood with Brother McNulty during the days of secession, resigned on July 15, 1912. Charles P. Ford was appointed Secretary in his place.
Unsafe working conditions and substandard wages prevailed. Local Union 1 reported as late as 1897 that the wage of an electrician in St. Louis was only $2.00 per day. However, general conditions of work in the industry and the safety record for electrical workers began to improve, due to the adoption of an apprenticeship system. To effect better conditions in the industry and to rid the trade of its large numbers of unskilled and incompetent mechanics, the first NBEW Constitution established an apprenticeship system which required a minimum of three years' training under the supervision of a journeyman before an applicant could become eligible for membership. The system also limited the ratio of the number of apprentices to the number of journeymen an employer might employ. Later the term of apprenticeship was extended and an apprentice was required to pass an examination before being admitted to membership in a local union. In addition to the severe depression ravaging the country in 1894 and 1895, hostile employers and anti-labor prejudice were almost insurmountable. Those were the days of beatings and blacklistings. Members concealed their ``tickets" (union cards) in their shoes as they traveled from place to place seeking employment. One early account tells of the experience of a member traveling by boxcar to Cripple Creek, Colorado, to find work. He was dragged from the car and searched. When an IBEW card was found in his pocket, he was chained to a tree, whipped and shipped out of town on the next freight.
In the early days constitutional amendments had to be submitted to every member with a two-thirds affirmative vote required for adoption. Conventions could only recommend, not adopt. The Third Convention voted to recommend an increase in per capita tax to 15 cents, which the members subsequently approved. Members also voted by referendum that year to hold conventions every two years. Queren Jansen served as Grand President from 1893 to 1894, with Henry Miller serving as Third Grand Vice President and Grand Organizer. In 1894 Secretary-Treasurer Kelly reported a loss for the year of $468.50, which was covered by loans from various members and locals. With many obligations to be met, Kelly wrote, ``It was under such circumstances, when the very life of the organization depended on it, that I mortgaged my household effects and building association stock to meet the checks and get out the Journal with proceedings of the Convention...."
Beginning in 1870 many small, weak unions organized, then disappeared. However, by 1880 enough telegraph linemen had organized to form their own local assembly and affiliate with the Knights of Labor. A few more locals soon organized, and a district council was formed. In 1883 this council called a general strike against the telegraph companies. The strike failed and broke up the first known attempt to organize electrical workers. The urge to unite was strong, however; and another attempt was made in 1884 this time with a secret organization known as the United Order of Linemen. Headquarters for this union was in Denver, and the group attained considerable success in the western part of the United States.
Various histories of labor record no attempts to organize electrical workers during the experimental days of electricity. In 1844 the first telegraph wires were strung between Washington and Baltimore carrying that famous message of Samuel Morse, "What hath God wrought?" This was the first electrical accomplishment of commercial importance. It changed the whole aspect of electricity, which most people believed to be an interesting but dangerous experiment. In 1848 the first telegraph station was built in Chicago. By 1861 a web of telegraph lines crisscrossed the United States, and in 1866 the transatlantic cable was laid. Linemen to string the wires became a necessity, and young men flocked eagerly to enter this new and exciting profession.
Delegates to the 34th and Centennial Convention in St. Louis in October 1991 increased the per capita to $7.00 effective January 1, 1992, and to $8.00 effective January 1, 1994. The delegates also amended the Constitution to provide for a Convention every five years. This change should reduce the overall costs of conducting the Convention and enable more local unions to send delegates to the Convention. Before the opening of the 34th Convention, a Centennial Exposition, open to the general public as well as delegates, their families and I.O. staff, commemorated our first 100 years, celebrated our union’s progress and envisioned our next 100 years of service. The IBEW Archives was re-created at the entrance to the Exposition, the first time these artifacts have been displayed outside the International Office. An estimated 10,000 people visited more than 100 booths and exhibits provided by IBEW employers and union service providers. In addition to educating visitors about the IBEW, the electrical industry and the trade union movement, the Exposition revealed the numerous ways in which our union touches the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the United States and Canada. At the 35th Convention in Philadelphia, in September 1996, the International President and International Secretary were elected by electronic voting. Electronic voting was employed also to determine the vote on some of the proposed amendments to the IBEW Constitution. A $1.00 increase in the per capita tax to be effective no later than January 1, 2001, won the approval of the delegates. This increase may be implemented by the IEC prior to 2001 if budget projections indicate a deficit. Delegate action also directed the International President to appoint a committee to study the IBEW’s structure and Constitution and recommend changes to ensure the Brotherhood’s vitality in the 21st century. Any constitutional changes the committee recommends were to be voted on by referendum. Effective April 1, 1997, International Secretary Moore retired and was named International Secretary Emeritus. President Barry appointed, and the IEC confirmed, Third District International Vice President Edwin D. Hill to complete the unexpired term of International Secretary.
After 22 years of dedicated service to the Brotherhood as International Secretary, Joseph D. Keenan retired in 1976. This great humanitarian faithfully served not only the IBEW, but the entire trade union movement at home and abroad. Early in his career Brother Keenan realized organized labor needed to become active in the education and registration of voters. These people could then vote for public officials who understand and support social and economic issues vital to workingpeople. He served with distinction as director of Labor's League for Political Education, which evolved into the Committee on Political Education (COPE). Secretary Emeritus Keenan died on July 22, 1984. Ralph A. Leigon was appointed to replace Brother Keenan as International Secretary in 1976 and was elected to that position in 1978. Brother Leigon initiated the reorganization of the office of the International Secretary, introduced the latest in modern office techniques and software design, and initiated the conversion to computers in all departments of the International Office. After serving with distinction, Brother Leigon retired, effective October 1, 1985, and was named International Secretary Emeritus. Jack F. Moore, International Vice President of the 11th District, was appointed to complete the unexpired term of International Secretary. Delegates to the 31st Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1978 approved monthly per capita increases from $2.00 to $3.00 effective January 1, 1979; to $3.50 effective January 1, 1980; and to $4.00 effective January 1, 1981. The per capita payment was increased to $5.00 per month effective January 1, 1983, by action of the delegates to the 32nd Convention held in Los Angeles, California, in 1982. International President Pillard retired in August 1986 and was named International President Emeritus. J.J. Barry, International Vice President of the Third District, was appointed to succeed him on August 25, 1986. Delegates to the 33rd Convention in Toronto, Ontario, in 1986 elected J.J. Barry as International President and Jack F. Moore as International Secretary by acclamation. The delegates to the 33rd Convention also voted to raise the per capita tax to $6.00 effective January 1, 1987.
It was the largest Convention of our Brotherhood and, as a matter of fact, the largest labor union convention ever held in the world up to that time. Three thousand one hundred thirty delegates attended, representing a membership of 625,000. A referendum vote reduced the number of delegates to all subsequent Conventions. Otherwise, the steady increase in the number of our members soon would have made it impossible to locate cities with adequate accommodations to handle our future Conventions. Reports of the officers to the 1954 Convention still emphasized the sinister effects of the Taft-Hartley Act and the "right-to-work" laws it had spawned in 16 states. On the other hand, the reports and Convention discussions also profiled the progress achieved in membership growth and improved collective bargaining agreements despite these damaging laws. Less than a year later, on July 20, 1955, International President Milne died. Five days later our IEC appointed Vice President Gordon M. Freeman of the Fourth District to the post of President. A number of innovations were initiated in the International Office by Presidents Milne and Freeman. These included training classes for representatives and establishing individual departments of manufacturing, utility and telephone operations to assist local unions and our representatives in the field. The years 1955 and 1956 brought considerable gains in the telephone field, with sizable groups of independent telephone unions electing to join the IBEW. This was an era of gains for railroad workers, culminating with the declaration by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 21, 1956, that the union-shop amendment to the Railway Labor Act was constitutional. Following the Supreme Court decision, union-shop agreements were negotiated with all but three major carriers in the United States. There were innovations in our apprenticeship program. A full apprenticeship training program for outside electrical apprentices became available in January 1957. Because the number of apprentices in the construction field had increased by 46 percent since 1952, when the first director was appointed, an assistant director of apprenticeship and training was appointed in 1957. A full-time International Representative was appointed to handle matters in the atomic-energy field because of the IBEW's increased participation in this area.
Between our 1946 and 1948 Conventions, the Taft-Hartley Act was passed, creating vexing problems for the labor movement and severely hampering our efforts to organize new members. In 1947 the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee was established. Arrangements were made to expand our apprenticeship program to increase the number of trained electrical workers supplied to the construction industry. In September 1948 our 23rd Convention was held in Atlantic City. Considerable attention at this Convention was focused on the Taft-Hartley Act and anti-labor legislation being promulgated in several states. Our 24th Convention took place in Miami, Florida, in 1950. Again, anti-labor legislation and its effects dominated the Officers' Reports and floor discussions. International President Tracy and the IEC unequivocally stated in May 1950 that the IBEW preferred private ownership of utilities to public ownership because of the more favorable climate for collective bargaining with privately owned companies. Following the 1950 Convention, which was an expensive one for our union, a referendum vote of our membership established conventions every four years instead of every two, as our Constitution previously directed. In October 1952 the IBEW and NECA appointed a full-time director of apprenticeship and training. ``B" membership was eliminated on January 1, 1953, as a result of a referendum vote; and all members were required to transfer to either ``A" or ``BA" membership. On April 15, 1954, President Tracy resigned; and Secretary Milne was appointed by the IEC to take his place. Brother Tracy became President Emeritus. President Milne appointed a longtime member of the Brotherhood, Joseph D. Keenan, to serve as International Secretary. These two officers were at the helm when our Chicago Convention met in 1954.
A constitutional amendment adopted in 1918 declared all Convention actions final, except when the Convention itself votes to refer a matter to the membership for consideration. This single change is credited with allowing a more effective and efficient operation of our Brotherhood, curtailing contentious political maneuvers and fractious circular letters. Thus, the amendment enabled the officers to focus their attention on the jobs they were elected to perform. If not for our predecessors' foresight in adopting this policy, much of our union's progress might never have been accomplished. At the very least, our progress would have been seriously delayed.
Two conventions were held in 1911. Photos in the IBEW Archives show that the Reid-Murphy Convention was much larger than the McNulty-Collins Convention. While no reliable figures on the membership of the Reid-Murphy faction can be obtained, it has been conceded that the Reid faction at one time controlled three-fourths of the organized electrical workers in the United States and Canada. Finally, a court decision in February 1912 declared the 1908 convention illegal and its actions void; union funds were restored to the AFL-recognized group. That 1912 court decision marked the turning point of the rebellion.
In 1901 when the Seventh Convention met in St. Louis, the Grand Secretary reported that unconstitutional strikes were so numerous that year as many as 40 at one time that he was unable to keep an accurate record. The International was reluctant to suspend a local union for disregarding its obligations when the dues and support of each local were so critically needed. But the lack of discipline discredited the organization in the eyes of employers. W. A. Jackson, elected President at the Seventh Convention, tried to cope with the situation; but such oversight required the services of a full-time, salaried officer. Accordingly, at the Eighth Convention, held in 1903 at Salt Lake City, Utah, the members elected F. J. McNulty as Grand President and voted him a full-time salary so he might dedicate his time solely to the interests of the union. A strong, magnetic leader, Frank McNulty served in this office until 1919. The change was an important event in the history of the Brotherhood. It transformed the international body from a weak association into a coordinated and effective organization. President McNulty was determined that the provisions of the Constitution should be enforced, particularly those dealing with relations between the union and employers. All infractions were promptly punished. In a short time, the organization regained its prestige as employers were assured that any contracts they might make with local unions would be respected and enforced. Enforcement of the Constitution also favorably affected the Brotherhood's growth. Illegal and unsuccessful strikes had discouraged many members and had forced them to seek employment wherever they could find it. After an unsuccessful strike many locals found themselves almost entirely disorganized and had to drop out of the Brotherhood. Under President McNulty's constructive policy, many difficulties which formerly would have resulted in strikes were peacefully settled; and turnover in membership greatly decreased.
Conditions took their toll. When the Fourth Convention opened in Washington, D.C., in 1895, only 12 delegates answered the roll call; the treasury showed a deficit of $1,016. Our Brotherhood was certainly at a low ebb. It is amazing that the union did not fall apart completely. It probably would have, had it not been for that stalwart of our Brotherhood, Grand Secretary J. T. Kelly. He kept the foundering union afloat with the strength and encouragement of a few more members who refused to abandon their dream of a strong national union and a better life for all. The delegates to the Washington Convention corrected some past mistakes and established a sounder financial policy for the Brotherhood. The funeral benefit covering a member's spouse, which proved too heavy a burden for the treasury, was abolished. The minimum initiation fee was increased to $5.00, and the per capita was raised to 25 cents a month. In addition, the office of Grand Secretary-Treasurer was separated into two offices. Harry W. Sherman served as Grand President from 1894 to 1897, when he succeeded the veteran J. T. Kelly as Grand Secretary. Meanwhile, the man who did so much to breathe life into this organization, Henry Miller, died from an industrial accident while working for the Potomac Electric Power Company. On July 10, 1896, while working as head lineman of a crew repairing storm damage, Brother Miller suffered an electrical shock and fell from a power pole, striking his head. Newspaper accounts stated he remained conscious, was carried to his rooming house, treated by a doctor and died about eight hours after the accident. At the age of 43, he had no money and was buried at the power company's expense. The undertaker's record shows expenses of $63.50, including $1.50 for a shirt, collar and tie. The man who gave so much of himself for others was destitute and without a decent outfit to his name. According to the many friends he made while organizing and working as a lineman, Brother Miller often went without food and deprived himself of needed clothing so his earnings could benefit his dream the NBEW. His final resting place is in Glenwood Cemetery in Washington, D.C., Section F, Range B, Site 179. His dream lives on. The IBEW provides for perpetual care of his gravesite.
The country was plunging into a severe economic depression at the time of the Third Convention, held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1893. Many older members were forced to drop out of the organization. At that time wiremen and linemen were organized into separate local unions in cities where the membership was large enough. However, linemen and wiremen frequently argued over which branch had the right to enroll members of other branches of the trade not numerous enough to organize locals of their own. These disputes surfaced forcefully at the Third Convention.
The nucleus of our Brotherhood formed in 1890. An exposition was held in St. Louis that year featuring "a glorious display of electrical wonders." Wiremen and linemen from all over the United States flocked to Missouri's queen city to wire the buildings and erect the exhibits which were the "spectaculars" of their era.
The men got together at the end of each long workday and talked about the toil and conditions for workers in the electrical industry. The story was the same everywhere. The work was hard; the hours long; the pay small. It was common for a lineman to risk his life on the high lines 12 hours a day in any kind of weather, seven days a week, for the meager sum of 15 to 20 cents an hour. Two dollars and 50 cents a day was considered an excellent wage for wiremen, and many men were forced to accept work for $8.00 a week.
There was no apprenticeship training, and safety standards were nonexistent. In some areas the death rate for linemen was one out of every two hired, and nationally the death rate for electrical workers was twice that of the national average for all other industries.
No wonder electrical workers of the Gay '90s sought some recourse for their troubles. A union was the logical answer; so this small group, meeting in St. Louis, sought help from the American Federation of Labor (AFL). An organizer named Charles Cassel was assigned to help them and chartered the group as the Electrical Wiremen and Linemen's Union, No. 5221, of the AFL.
A St. Louis lineman, Henry Miller, was elected president of that union. I.O. Archives photos show him to be a tall, handsome man with broad, powerful shoulders; keen blue eyes; and reddish-brown hair. To him and the other workers at that St. Louis exposition, it was apparent their small union was only a starting point. Isolated locals could accomplish little as bargaining agencies. Only a national organization of electrical workers with jurisdiction covering the entire industry could win better treatment from the corporate empires engaged in telephone, telegraph, electric power, electrical contracting and electrical-equipment manufacturing.
The founders of our union met in a small room above Stolley's Dance Hall in a poor section of St. Louis. It was a humble beginning. The handwritten report of that First Convention in our Archives records Henry Miller's thoughts: "At such a diminutive showing, there naturally existed a feeling of almost despair. Those who attended the Convention will well remember the time we had hiding from the reporters and trying to make it appear that we had a great delegation."
The name adopted for the organization was National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The delegates to that First Convention worked night and day for seven days drafting our first Constitution, general laws, ritual and emblem the well-known fist grasping lightning bolts. The Convention elected Henry Miller as first Grand President and J. T. Kelly as Grand Secretary-Treasurer.
Charles H. Pillard, an IEC member, was appointed by the IEC to succeed Brother Freeman on October 1, 1968. Early on, President Pillard realized the growing importance of residential construction. Among his many accomplishments from the ’60s through the ’80s are the promotion of the Coordinated Residential Organizing Program (CROP), the organization of the construction industry and the development of imaginative programs which provided better service to our members. His agreement with NECA to increase the employer contribution to the NEBF from 1 percent of payroll to 3 percent provided a sound basis for improvements in pension benefits. At the 29th Convention of our Brotherhood in Seattle in 1970, President Pillard was unanimously elected International President. The 29th Convention's theme, "Exploring New Horizons in Electricity," reflected the strides the IBEW had made. Since the Convention of 1966, 101 new locals had been chartered; more than 45,000 members were receiving pensions; and wages were increasing steadily. IBEW membership reached one million in October 1972. Another milestone occurred on December 1, 1973, when the new headquarters building of the IBEW in Washington, D.C., was dedicated. The 30th Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, in September 1974, was the first Convention at which the delegates (2,970) represented more than one million members.
In 1959 a full-time director of skill improvement training was added to our I.O. staff. A complete industrial electronics course was developed; and by 1970 more than 100,000 journeymen were taking or had taken skill improvement courses. In June 1959 a Safety Department with a full-time director was established at the International Office. In autumn 1961 our Brotherhood developed a course called Industrial Atomic Energy Uses, Hazards and Controls; and institutes were conducted to train instructors in this field so important to the welfare of our members and the public. Delegates to our 27th Convention in Montreal, Quebec, in 1962 voted to raise our per capita tax from 90 cents to $1.50. Our Diamond Jubilee Convention was held in September 1966 in St. Louis, where the Brotherhood was born 75 years earlier. Delegates voted to create a Strike Assistance Fund, in addition to the Legal Defense Fund. "A"-member delegates voted to strengthen the IBEW pension program by increasing payments to the PBF and improving benefits. In its diamond jubilee year, the IBEW also began its Founders’ Scholarship Program by awarding eight scholarships in electrical engineering to IBEW journeyman electricians. President Freeman told the 75th Anniversary Convention, "Our union stands tall today. ... The dream our founders had of bringing dignity and security to Electrical Workers is a staunch reality. ... We can take pride in how far we have come, but there is no time to rest on our laurels." Two years later President Freeman retired from office, after 13 years of dedicated service in that position. President Freeman was determined that the IBEW remain strong and continue to grow after he handed over the reins of leadership. So, he retired as President while still an active and effective leader to assure an orderly transfer of administration. He served as President Emeritus until his death on May 13, 1983.
Since it was first drafted more than 100 years ago, our Constitution has provided organizational stability while ensuring the democratic principles for which it stands. As a result of the LMRDA, the IBEW has been forced to spend considerable membership funds to defend our Constitution against actions, many of them frivolous and without merit, which aim to destroy or impair our organization. While we have been successful in upholding our Constitution in the majority of cases, our victories have not come without damage to our structure. However, those who believed such laws would destroy the labor movement cannot be considered ``visionaries"; organized labor has learned to adapt in the face of challenges to its existence.
The idea for the CIR was conceived in the era after World War I, when labor strife was rampant. As early as 1916, a small group of electrical contractors met regularly to discuss matters pertaining to the electrical contracting industry. The group called itself the Conference Club. Some of the issues it raised involved difficulties in labor-management relations. L. K. Comstock, a contractor, proposed that members of the club meet with a committee from the IBEW to draft a ``national labor agreement" designed to benefit both groups mutually. A joint committee from the IBEW and the Conference Club met in March 1919 to consider this proposal. Charles Ford, IBEW International Secretary, was chiefly responsible for the IBEW's participation in devising the plan for what eventually became the CIR. The joint committee decided a labor agreement between them was not essential. They needed an environment in which to conduct open and frank discussions to resolve their differences. The Conference Club persuaded the National Association of Electrical Contractors and Dealers (later renamed National Electrical Contractors Association [NECA]) to become the signatory employer organization, an action affirmed by NAECD's July 1919 convention. Our New Orleans Convention of 1919 likewise approved the Declaration of Principles creating the CIR. The council was organized in 1920 with the same requirements as today: equal representation by employer and union, disputes submitted voluntarily, and all decisions unanimous. The council was a milestone in our Brotherhood's history. Like a "supreme court" of the electrical construction industry, the CIR has settled thousands of disputes without strike, earning for us the title ``strikeless industry." While many in our ranks have questioned the value of the CIR, it is unquestionably superior to other alternatives. Were dispute resolution left to arbitration, the cost would be astronomical. Were resolution of differences available only through strikes, the result most likely would be self-destruction.
From 1913 to 1919, while our Brotherhood was feeling its way and setting the stage for progressive action, membership exploded: from 23,500 in 1913 to 148,072 in 1919. Many factors contributed to this growth; but the most significant by far was World War I and the consequent great demand for electricity, with its power and versatility. Our union had mechanics trained to handle electricity, and the IBEW could quickly train more. Our ranks swelled as the call went out for IBEW members to perform the vitally important role of building our first "Arsenal of Democracy." The IBEW's 13th Convention was held in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1915 and the 14th in Atlantic City in 1917, with the same principal officers at the helm. The history of our organization was not affected significantly by the actions of these Conventions, chiefly because the decisions of the delegates were defeated when submitted to a referendum vote, as our Constitution required. The only laws adopted during those years were amendments submitted separately to the membership. One of the amendments passed in 1918 established a separate Telephone Operators Department. Operators had full rights and full vote at conventions. Because of efforts to encourage organization among them, however, they paid about half the per capita paid by other members.
Annual records show that the membership in good standing prior to 1903 was composed almost entirely of the new members initiated each year. In some cases there were fewer members in good standing at a year's end than had joined during the year. In December 1903, for example, the total membership in good standing was 9,922; however, 18,341 new members had been initiated during the preceding 12 months.
In 1905, just two years after the President became full-time, the total dues-paying membership had increased to 24,000, while 12,247 new members had been initiated during the preceding two years. The Brotherhood was not only recruiting members, it was retaining them. In 1908 when the IBEW was in pretty fair condition with paid officers, a treasury balance and a strong organization a bitter internal struggle erupted. This costly experience, which resulted in the secession of a large percentage of the Brotherhood, was known as the Reid-Murphy split, named after the two officers elected by the seceding faction. Frank J. McNulty and Peter W. Collins remained the true officers of our Brotherhood. A number of problems caused the split; such as the long-brewing dissension between wiremen and linemen, stimulated by disappointed office seekers and by a former Grand Treasurer removed from office in 1907 because of irregularities. In addition, employer forces appeared to want the fast-growing union to be destroyed. So they fostered the struggle which divided our Brotherhood for six long years. A large number of local union representatives attended a special convention called by the dissenting forces in 1908. They refused to recognize President McNulty and Secretary Collins. Instead, they elected J. J. Reid as President and J. W. Murphy as Secretary. The Reid faction secured an injunction to prevent disbursement of union funds. The McNulty group secured another to forestall seizure of the International Office and operated on loans from local unions and individuals. AFL President Samuel Gompers unsuccessfully attempted to reconcile the groups, then subsequently recognized the McNulty-Collins faction as the ``legitimate" Brotherhood.
The Fifth Convention, held in Detroit in 1897, proved that the courage of people who persevere despite great odds had not been in vain. Work became more plentiful, membership increased and the Brotherhood treasury showed a surplus. Encouraged, the officers sent an organizer to Canada; and a successful campaign began there. J. H. Maloney served as Grand President from 1897 to 1899. The Sixth Convention, meeting in Pittsburgh in 1899, changed the name of our union from National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The first local to be organized in Canada was Local Union 93 of Ottawa, Ontario, on December 20, 1899. In 1899 Thomas Wheeler became Grand President of the new International, while Harry W. Sherman continued as Secretary. The Constitution adopted in 1891 vested considerable executive power in the officers, but such power was exercised rarely in the early years of the Brotherhood. The officers were not paid regular salaries and earned their living working at their trade. Traveling organizers received expense money if the union could afford it. Despite the remarkable devotion of these men and the personal sacrifices they made to perform the work of the Brotherhood, they were unable to devote sufficient time to union business to ensure that locals complied with the provisions of the Constitution. Headquarters, as well as the international officers, changed frequently.
Strength Amid Struggle
May 5, 1947 $50.00 per month pension January 1, 1966 $2.00 per month for each year of employment since 1942 January 1, 1968 $3.00 per month for each service credit July 1, 1977 $6.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1981 $8.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1983 $10.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1985 $11.00 per month for each service credit March 1, 1986 $13.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1987 $14.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1989 $15.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1990 $16.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1991 $18.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1992 $19.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1993 $20.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1994 $21.00 per month for each service credit December 1, 1995 $23.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1997 $24.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1998 $26.00 per month for each service credit January 1, 1999 $28.00 per month for each service credit
To correct this situation, the provisions of the NEBF plan were revised to permit all employees working for participating employers to be covered by the NEBF. The NEBF provides eligible employees with a monthly pension based on a specific amount per month for each completed year of credited service. The accompanying table depicts the basis for monthly pension benefits earned by participants retiring under the plan. A participant retiring on or after the dates shown will receive a benefit based on the amount to the immediate right of that date. "A" members of the IBEW also participate in the Pension Benefit Fund (PBF). Through December 1991 the PBF provided benefits computed on the basis of $2.00 per month for each year of continuous good standing as an "A" member. Effective January 1, 1992, the computation of this benefit increased to $3.50 per month for each year of continuous good standing earned as an ``A" member after December 31, 1991. The fund also pays a death benefit of $5,000 upon death by natural causes or $10,000 upon accidental death to beneficiaries of active ``A" members. The NEBF and PBF, as supplements to Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, provide retired members who participate in these plans with the means to live in moderate comfort after their years of labor. The four years following our 1958 Convention in Cleveland were not easy ones for any segment of the labor movement. We experienced the most virulent wave of antiunionism since the open-shop movement after World War I. Already beset by the effects of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and "right-to-work" laws in 18 states in the United States, with laws equally damaging to labor in effect in Canada, our efforts in organizing and collective bargaining were more difficult, to say the least. Then, in September 1959 the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), also known as Landrum-Griffin, took effect. The International and our local unions have faced considerable difficulty and expense living with the LMRDA and its regulations.
Shortly after the armistice of November 11, 1918, the open-shop movement in the United States, the infamous, misnamed American Plan was adopted; and every piece of antiunion propaganda and trick in the book were pulled against us and our fellow union members in the AFL. Anti-union employers attempted to destroy the labor movement through legal and not-so-legal means. Employers in Canada and the United States campaigned nationwide against unions. Restrictive laws were passed. Court injunctions, strikebreakers and spy agencies were used. Frequent bombings and beatings terrorized members and potential members. The tactics of the robber barons of the day and the government they ``owned" were very effective at intimidating organized labor. Aided by the scourge of unemployment, by 1925 our membership had dropped to 56,349 a loss of 91,723 members in six years. In 1919 the presidency of the Brotherhood changed. Brother McNulty, who guided our union through the dark days of secession, resigned; James P. Noonan replaced him. The 15th Convention was held in New Orleans in 1919. One of the most important actions of that Convention established an International Strike Fund. The fund went into effect on January 1, 1920, and was financed by collecting 14 cents per month from each member and by appropriating half of all initiation fees. The 1919 Convention is remembered in IBEW history as the body which took a historic step forward in labor-management relations. That Convention approved a plan which other management and labor groups try to emulate to this day. This wild-eyed idea of the Roaring Twenties is known as the CIR Council on Industrial Relations. This body is credited with providing stability in the construction branch of our Brotherhood.
The new union was destined for setbacks, however. Of course, our inexperienced pioneers made mistakes in those early days. The men who attended our first Conventions had a dream of brotherhood. They were idealists, and from the very beginning they believed that benefits and brotherhood went hand in hand. They set the per capita to be paid to the "Grand Office" low only 10 cents a month per member. They assumed this small sum would cover all their obligations and expenses. Then they established not only a $50 funeral benefit payment for members, but also a $25 funeral benefit for wives of members.
All obligations of those first years were met. Secretary Kelly's accounts are specific; his ledger, written in longhand, is practically the sole record of the early years in the history of the IBEW. Many electrical workers died in those early days, but the widow of every man in good standing received a death benefit. Thus, the Brotherhood headed down the road to bankruptcy.
The mistakes were overshadowed by two important innovations. At the 1892 Convention women who were employed as telephone operators became members of the union. Four years later, when only one organizer was on our payroll, a second, Mrs. Mary Honzik of St. Louis, was added. Our Brotherhood was the first union to have a woman organizer on its staff. The Second Convention also authorized publication of our Journal. The first Journal, called The Electrical Worker, was issued on January 15, 1893. The magazine has been published continuously ever since.
From the earliest days our Brotherhood recognized the importance of communication within the union. In an early convention report, J. T. Kelly, appealing for financial support for the Journal, said, "We could not have managed to keep our Brotherhood intact through these early years if it were not for our magazine."
The handicaps suffered by the new union no money, bitter resistance by employers to organizing were counterbalanced by the vigor and determination of the members. Henry Miller was tireless in his efforts. In the first year of the Brotherhood's existence, he is said to have visited every major city in the East, from New Orleans to Boston. Other officers of the union organized in the same way, spending their own time and funds. Their only rewards: the satisfaction of enlarging the organization and the knowledge they were working toward wiping out injustice and creating a better life for all who sought a living from electricity. When the Second Convention met in Chicago in 1892, the Brotherhood had 43 locals chartered; nearly 2,000 members; and $646.10 in the treasury. Henry Miller and J. T. Kelly were reelected Grand President and Grand Secretary-Treasurer.
With Edison's invention of the first successful incandescent lamp in 1879, the general public became aware of the possibilities of electricity. The electric power and light industry was established with the construction of the Pearl Street Generating Station in New York in 1882. Where once only a few intrepid linemen handled electricity for a thrill, many now appeared on the scene, and wiremen, too, seeking a life's work. As public demand for electricity increased, the number of electrical workers increased accordingly. The surge toward unionism was born out of their desperate needs and deplorable safety conditions.
A Determined Group
The First Constitution
Not long after reaching the pinnacle of one million members, our membership began a steady decline. Our Brotherhood's organizing efforts, although significant, could not keep pace with the erosion of jobs in almost all industries caused by anti-union sentiments, foreign competition and technological change. The 1980s brought a conservative trend in the United States led by right-wing zealots whose primary purpose was to increase the profits and wealth of the already-wealthy. To show his strength of purpose in the early stages of his administration in Washington, U.S. President Reagan fired every air traffic controller who participated in a strike called by their union, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. After executing the union, Reagan forbade hiring of the strikers to any federal government job. This initial incident set the stage for an anti-union philosophy that dominated labor-management relations until 1992. Conservative thinkers also gained power in Canada and achieved significant inroads in crippling the labor movement. In both countries wages stagnated and membership declined. In the United States the NLRB, through its supervision of certification elections, had a ruinous effect on organizing. The Department of Labor became dedicated more to protecting business interests than to ensuring the rights of workers and their unions. Many of these businesses employed union-busting consultants to defeat union organizers and to decertify bargaining units. Corporate executives’ salaries soared to obscene heights while workers suffered continual rollbacks in wages and even loss of their healthcare benefits. Unemployment grew as our domestic industries seemed unable to compete with their foreign counterparts. The manufacture of entire classes of electronic products moved offshore while still bearing the well-recognized names of American corporations. This de-industrialization, plus technological change, caused the loss of tens of thousands of jobs for our manufacturing members. In 1982 the court-ordered divestiture of AT&T led to a decline in our telephone-industry membership, including devastating losses in manufacturing plants operated by that company. During the ’80s nonunion electrical contractors gained a stronger foothold, eroding membership in our construction branch. While a proactive organizing campaign, instituted by President Barry, began to turn these losses around, the economy in the United States and Canada killed a promising building boom and inhibited membership growth. These factors caused our membership to decline to fewer than 800,000 by the early 1990s. Trying to alter this course, President Barry instituted a progressive organizing program in every branch of our Brotherhood. Pundits, politicians and the general public have characterized the 1980s as the decade of greed. The beneficiaries of the largess of Presidents Reagan and Bush can hardly disprove this characterization, considering the workers who were left unemployed, many reduced to poverty and homelessness, by their political experiment of supply-side economics that made the wealthy even wealthier.