Membership in the IBEW’s Telecommunications Branch has significant growth potential during the coming years via the Biden administration’s $42 billion broadband expansion plan.
“It’s the largest broadband investment by the federal government in history,” said Telecommunications Director Robert Prunn. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment, and the IBEW is proud to be a partner as it happens.”
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, brokered and signed into law in 2021 by President Joe Biden, included billions of federal dollars for programs to fund a buildout of high-speed internet. During a June 26 White House event, the president announced that the distribution of that money via the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, or BEAD, was underway.
“For today’s economy to work for everyone, internet access is as important as electricity or water or other basic services,” Biden said. “With this funding, we’re going to be able to connect every person in America to reliable, high-speed internet by 2030.”
This push to expand broadband means a lot of good-paying, largely unionized jobs are on the horizon, Biden said. “Just ask the folks at the IBEW,” he said. “They’re putting thousands of people to work laying fiber-optic cable across America.”
It’s not just telecom workers; broadband cabling and equipment will be made in the U.S., so the coming work also could bring IBEW manufacturing jobs.
“There’ll be a significant impact for U.S.-based businesses and workers,” said Telecommunications International Representative Steve Murphy.
Prunn noted that IBEW members have been involved alongside the Biden administration since BEAD’s earliest planning.
“Our access is like never before. This project puts the IBEW in motion at every level,” Prunn said.
BEAD will be implemented over the next several years, but Prunn encouraged business managers of all U.S. telecom locals to contact their state’s broadband offices now to advocate for IBEW members throughout the process.
Prunn also urged business managers to use BEAD as an organizing tool, loaded as it is with labor-friendly policies plus incentives for companies to allow workforce organizing.
“Regulations call out how states must consult with unions,” Prunn said, adding that states must prioritize companies that have good labor-law compliance records.
BEAD encourages “labor peace agreements,” too. Business managers can’t ask companies to support their organizing efforts, but they can ask for neutrality during organizing drives and for voluntary recognition should more than half of workers sign union authorization cards.
Thanks in part to the ongoing IBEW-Biden administration relationship, BEAD incentivizes implementation of union priorities like project labor agreements and prevailing wage. BEAD funds can also be used for apprenticeships and similar workforce development programs.
BEAD is led by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which supervises the funding. The program’s rules put union contractors on a level playing field.
“If a company’s workers are represented by a union, the NTIA basically views them as already highly skilled,” Telecommunications Department International Representative Kevin Curran said.
That can make it easier for contractors and employers having IBEW members to get BEAD work. Nonunion companies that want that work must show the NTIA their plan to staff their projects with appropriately certified workers — and to retain them.
“BEAD is another great example of partnerships between the Biden administration and the IBEW, working hand in hand,” Prunn said. “This administration proactively reached out to unions on BEAD, and that’s what will make this program a success.”