What Union Should an Electrician Join?

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Unions are a big deal in the industrial sector. Steelworkers, auto workers, and electrical workers are three of the most unionized professions in the United States. 

If you’re interested in becoming an electrician, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is the largest union in the country.

However, before joining, you’ll likely want to know what you’re signing up for. 

That’s why we’ve put together this article. It covers everything that you need to know about IBEW so that you can decide if you want to join it.

Let’s get into it.

What is IBEW?

The IBEW is one of the largest unions in the United States, with approximately 775,000 employed and retired members. 

Its members include electrical workers in a wide variety of fields, including:

  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Telecommunications
  • Broadcasting
  • Government
  • And more

The purpose of the union is to provide members with a means of securing superior employment terms. As with all unions, the idea is that the shared bargaining power of the IBEW will force employers to provide better wages, benefits, and rights.

Photo credit: ibew.org

HISTORY

The roots of IBEW trace back to 1890. 

At that time, linemen would spend 12 hours a day, 7 days a week risking their lives on high lines. But these workers didn’t earn a wage that reflected that.

At that time, $2.50 per day was an excellent wage for an electrical worker. But plumbers ($3.37) and bricklayers ($3.88) each earned more than that while assuming far less risk.

To fix this, a group of electricians from St. Louis reached out to the American Federation of Labor (AFL) for help. The group was chartered as the Electrical Wiremen and Lineman’s Union later that year, creating the earliest iteration of the IBEW.

The union has grown tremendously since then, rising to become the largest organized labor movement for electricians in the United States.

What are the benefits of joining IBEW?

There are lots of good reasons to join a union like IBEW, but here are five of the most important.

SUPERIOR TRAINING

If you’re just getting started with your journey to becoming an electrician, then completing an apprenticeship is a good way to gain the skills that you need to find work.

And if you’re going to complete an apprenticeship, then it’s almost always a good move to do it through the IBEW. That’s because these apprenticeships are typically more intensive and ultimately helpful than non-union apprenticeships.

So if your goal is to become the best electrician that you can be, then joining the IBEW as an apprentice could be the perfect move for you.

HIGHER WAGES

You will also likely be able to earn higher wages as a member of IBEW. 

This is because the union has worked hard to get its members the most favorable employment terms possible, and wages are a big part of that.

Employers have less of an incentive to pay non-union electricians since these workers don’t have the benefit of collective bargaining power.

MORE CONSISTENT WORK

Union electricians also tend to have more opportunities for work than non-union electricians. 

This is because the IBEW is a national network that spans the entirety of the United States. When work dries up in one area, union members can leverage that network to find employment opportunities in other areas.

This means you may not have to worry as much about dry spells in the labor market for electricians if you join the IBEW.

GREAT BENEFITS

Members of the IBEW have great pension plans and strong benefits for things like sick days, paid time off, and health care. 

You may get some of these things as a non-union electrician, but it’s tough to find an employer that will offer you a better overall package of benefits than what you can get from a union shop.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING POWER

The reason for many of the benefits covered in this section is the collective bargaining power that unions employ. 

Individual workers have only minimal leverage over employers on their own. But when individuals join forces, they have tremendous power to dictate the terms of their employment.

That’s why unions like the IBEW exist. If you join, you’ll always have your union brothers and sisters to back you up if a tough situation arises with your employer. Non-union workers can’t say the same.

Are there any disadvantages to joining?

Although there are plenty of benefits to joining the IBEW, there are some drawbacks that may give you pause. We’ll discuss those in this section.

UNION DUES AND INITIATION FEES

Two of the biggest drawbacks to joining a union like the IBEW are the dues and initiation fees

You will have to pay a lump sum amount when first joining the IBEW and then dues every month thereafter.

This money goes towards keeping the union strong, fighting for better employment terms, funding pensions, and training the next generation of electricians. So it’s definitely put to good use––it can just sometimes be hard to keep that in mind when you need the money!

LESS PROFESSIONAL AUTONOMY

Unions like the IBEW also exert a fair bit of control over their members’ working lives. 

The union leader in your area may get to determine which jobs you get to work on and how you get to progress throughout your career.

Of course, bosses get to do that too. So if you join a union, you’re really just choosing to have a union leader overseeing your career instead of an employer.

There are pros and cons to this––some union leaders are really helpful and will give you the guidance you need to reach your career goals. Others may not be as involved, and your professional growth could suffer because of that––potentially even if you’re doing great work.

THERE CAN BE LOTS OF TRAVELING

Another thing to consider is that you may need to travel a lot as a union member. That’s because, if you work in electrical construction, you need to be where the jobs are. And, unless you live in a big city, that’s probably not going to always be in the same place.

EXPERIENCES CAN VARY

It’s also important to note that, although the IBEW is a national union, your interaction with it will primarily occur at a local level through individual union leaders. 

Some of these leaders will be more supportive and caring than others. It means that whether you enjoy or dislike being a member of IBEW could come down to where you’re located.

Is IBEW right for you?

Now that you know the pros and cons of joining the IBEW, you’re probably thinking about whether or not you should become a member. 

This is a completely personal decision. Your answer should be a reflection of how you feel about the pros and cons covered in this article.

The IBEW can provide you with an incredible apprenticeship. And it can set you up with consistent electrical work that offers great pay and a strong benefits package.

But there are also some disadvantages worth considering before you join this union. If you’re worried about any of them, you may want to try talking with a representative of your local chapter of the IBEW to get a better sense of how it might impact your career.

Ultimately, only you can decide whether joining the IBEW is right for you. But there are certainly a ton of great reasons to do so.

WHEN TO MAKE YOUR DECISION

If you’re considering joining the IBEW, the best time to do that is before you begin training to become an electrician. 

That’s because you’ll be able to pursue a superior union-backed apprenticeship instead of a non-union one. So you could get the training that you need to become the best electrician possible if you join the IBEW as early as possible.

Another thing to keep in mind is that seniority is a pretty big deal in unions when it comes to your pay and the type of jobs that you qualify for. And most chapters of the IBEW don’t count work done outside of the union towards your seniority.

That means if you join the IBEW late in your career, it could feel like a step backward. It’s another reason why it’s often a smart move to join the IBEW as soon as you’re sure that you want to do so.

Find your next electrical job with Rock the Trades

If you decide that the IBEW isn’t for you, then you’ll need to search for new electrical employment opportunities on your own. Rock the Trades makes that easy to do.

Our app automatically connects you with employers who want to hire electricians with your skills. All that you need to do is create a free profile with us and we’ll begin sending you the best job opportunities in your area.

So why wait? Take the first step towards your next electrician job by downloading the Rock the Trades app today.

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