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IBEW History: A Storied Past

Founded around the turn of the 20th century in 1891 as a part of the AFL, The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) emerged out of simply horrid working conditions for electrical workers.

At the time of their founding, being an electrical worker meant making about $10 a week, low even for the era and a death/injury rate that was double other industrial jobs. At one point a staggering 1 out of 2 linemen and wiremen died on the job in certain cities. Thus the IBEW was largely founded to give these workers the working conditions that all Americans today would consider a fundamental human right.

Quickly the IBEW made history when we admitted our first women members a year after our founding in 1892, and in the coming decades the IBEW largely focused on expansion of the union. The IBEW was also a trendsetter in improving employee-employer relationships. By establishing the Council on Industrial Relations (CIR) in 1919, which allows for a balanced discussion between labor and management the IBEW has been able to settle thousands of disputes without striking, earning them the title of being a “strikeless industry."

This is a model that many other unions are still trying to perfect today. Following WWI, membership struggled, but as Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed office, and pro-labor legislation was passed.

FDR's pro-labor legislation paid off when the IBEW had an action plan ready for WWII only 72 hours after a formal request had been made. IBEW members served honorably during WWII in a variety of roles both on the home-front and on the war-front.

As the modern era emerged, the IBEW's membership surged, and members are cared for with well-financed and fair pension plans. In fact by 1974, about 3,000 delegates represented over a million members at the IBEW Convention. Today the IBEW stands strong at about 750,000 members, ready to serve as needed while protecting the rights and dignity of its members.