Labor Union

International Union of Electrical Workers



Dayton, OH




Carl Kennebrew

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The International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) was a left-of-center labor union chartered by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). It negotiated labor protections for electrical and radio workers and organized several strikes, most notably the Westinghouse strikes of 1955-56 and the General Electric (GE) strikes of 1960 and 1969. IUE was known for its rivalry with predecessor union UE, the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, from which IUE split over political differences. In 2000, IUE merged with the left-progressive Communications Workers of America (CWA) to form IUE-CWA, a division of CWA. 1

The joint IUE-CWA promotes left-of-center viewpoints on immigration and voter ID laws, and organized a strike in support of the Marxist movement Black Lives Matter (BLM). 2 3IUE-CWA published a 2012 voting policy guide which encouraged union members to support Democrat Barack Obama‘s presidential re-election campaign and criticized Republican challenger Mitt Romney. It cited Romney’s support of privatized Social Security and opposition to providing in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants among its reasons to vote against him. 4


International Union of Electrical Workers descends from the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) founded in 1936. After initial attempts to gain a charter from the American Federation of Labor (AFL) failed, UE joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as the CIO’s first member union. The union was split between a Communist faction and those who opposed it, with communist supporters such as Alfred Coulthard, New Deal proponents including James Matles, and Catholic anticommunist James Carey, all representing differing viewpoints. 5 6

In its early days, UE ran a news outlet called UE News, which covered political and social issues relating to union interests. One 1944 article argued for federally-funded childcare because men were at war, and therefore working women needed “outside help” to raise their children. 7 Other early union activities included multiple strikes on Westinghouse, GE, and Delco, which succeeded in part due to UE’s large member base of 650,000 workers. 8

Strife between UE union factions reached an all-time high in 1947, when UE leaders refused to sign affidavits stating that they would not support communist ideologies or parties. The CIO expelled UE in 1949, calling it “a ‘Communist-controlled and dominated union.’” 9 The following day, the CIO created IUE as a replacement union and appointed former UE president James Carey its leader. 10

Within its first three years, IUE organized 300,000 new members from major companies such as GE and Westinghouse. 11 According to James P. Quigel of Rutgers University, it organized a major strike in 1969 against GE targeting vice president Lemuel Boulware, who had a practice of “take-it or leave-it” style negotiations which Quigel said was commonly known as “Boulwarism.” IUE successfully appealed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against GE, resulting in Boulwarism being outlawed as an unfair labor practice. 12

During the 1960s, IUE was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, and supported the expansion of the federal social welfare net. It hosted workshops on racial and human rights issues, lobbied for housing programs, and supported liberal economic policies such as then-president Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs. 13 Johnson gave a speech at IUE’s 1964 annual convention in which he urged union members to unite in support of Social Security, public education, and labor laws as a method of making America “the foundation of a great and a compassionate civilization.” 14

IUE merged with the left-of-center Communications Workers of America (CWA) union in 2000, creating a joint union of over 700,000 members. CWA’s membership is primarily composed of telecommunications employees, but several mergers brought members from airlines, media companies, and electrical workers into IUE. IUE-CWA supports left-of-center causes such as the DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship status to children of illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as minors, and opposes laws which require voters to present an approved ID. The combined organization is a division of its parent organization, the Communications Workers of America, which itself is a politically influential organization which donated millions of dollars in the 2016 elections to help Democrats win office. CWA president Chris Shelton participated in a 2022 roundtable with President Joe Biden to support billions of dollars in tax subsidies for the industrial microchip industry. 15


In the 1962 case Giba v. International Union of Electrical Workers, members of IUE Local 267 in Connecticut brought charges against the Manhattan-based typewriter manufacturer Underwood Corporation and IUE. The members were not content with the severance deal the union had negotiated with the Underwood Corporation and alleged that IUE had made the deal in its own financial interest rather than defending its members as stipulated. The members’ claim was rejected by the court, which stated that it could not force a private organization to provide extra severance pay solely because the members believed they were entitled to it. 16

Ron Gilvin, former secretary-treasurer of IUE, brought a 1999 complaint against IUE for allegedly going against union rules to suspend and oust him from his office. The court ruled against Gilvin and his claim that he deserved recompense for the alleged financial and emotional damages he received as a result of his termination. 17

A 2013 report for the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation accused the United Auto Workers of negotiating a profitable deal to transfer work to its facilities to keep its members’ pensions secure. IUE members and non-unionized employees were left out of the deal, prompting criticism of bailout practices. The Heritage Foundation’s reports claimed that the manner in which unions receive bailouts prevents them from ever being penalized, instead shifting responsibility onto the taxpayer. 18 19

Notable Leaders

James B. Carey served as the first president of United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America after its founding in 1936. Carey was best known for his opposition to Communism and his left-progressive social ideology which took inspiration from Catholic social teaching. Due to the rising communist element within UE, Carey departed the union in 1941. Nearly ten years later, Carey was given charge of the CIO-founded International Union of Electrical Workers, which once again led to significant disagreements with his political opponents in the union. During the 1965 union elections, Carey and his opponent Paul Jennings accused each other’s campaigns of foul play. Carey’s election was overturned, and he left the union shortly afterward. 20 21

Edward Fire was IUE’s fifth president during the 2000’s merger with the Communications Workers of America, which he supported and led. Fire previously worked for 14 years as secretary-treasurer of IUE before being elected as president of IUE in 1996 and re-elected in 2000. 22 23 Fire led IUE in political action during the campaigns of multiple Democratic candidates, including former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter. Fire also served as vice-president in the AFL-CIO and a member of its executive council. 24

Carl Kennebrew has been as IUE-CWA’s president since 2018. Kennebrew previously served in a variety of leadership roles in IUE-CWA, including as a local president and on the union’s diversity board. He has also served as an executive board member of local AFL-CIO chapters and of its Industrial Council. 25 Kennebrew is a supporter of President Joe Biden‘s policies, including the “Buy American” executive order, which is intended to put restrictions on offshoring federal contracts. 26


  1. IUE-CWA. “About.” Accessed July 30, 2022.
  2. IUE-CWA. “What is the IUE-CWA Political Action Fund?” Accessed July 30, 2022.
  3. IUE-CWA. “The Bolt.” Fall 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.
  4. IUE-CWA. “The Bolt.” Fall 2012. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  5. UE Union. “UE History In Brief.” Accessed July 30, 2022.
  6. Encyclopedia. “Electrical Workers.” Accessed July 30, 2022.
  7. UE Union. “UE Fought for Child Care as “Infrastructure” as Far Back as WWII.” May 9, 2021. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  8. Encyclopedia. “Electrical Workers.” Accessed July 30, 2022.
  9. Halil Evren Damar. “Social Roots of Trade Union Radicalism: Local 610 of the United Electrical Workers.” Carnegie Mellon University. December 31, 1997. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  10. James P. Quigel. “An Inventory of the Records of the President’s Office of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, ca. 1938-1965.” Rutgers University Libraries. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  11. IUE-CWA. “About.” Accessed July 30, 2022.
  12. John Terry. “’A Union’s Work Is Never Done:’ A History of IUE District Council Three.” Rutgers University Libraries. 2007. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  13. John Terry. “’A Union’s Work Is Never Done:’ A History of IUE District Council Three.” Rutgers University Libraries. 2007. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  14. Lyndon B. Johnson. “Remarks at the Annual Convention of the International Union of Electrical Workers.” University of California Santa Barbara. September 23, 1964. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  15. Communications Workers of America e-newsletter, “CWA President Shelton Joins President Biden to Urge Passage of the CHIPS Act.” Communications Workers of America. July 28, 2022. Accessed July 31, 2022.
  16. Casetext. “Giba v. International Union of Electrical Workers.” May 21, 1962. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  17. Gladys Kessler. “Gilvin V. Fire.” Casemine. August 15, 2002. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  18. James Sherk. “Auto Bailout or UAW Bailout? Taxpayer Losses Came from Subsidizing Union Compensation.”  The Heritage Foundation. August 26, 2013. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  19. Rachel Grezler. “Congress’ Vote on Delphi Pensions Bailout Shows Problem With Putting Unions Above Law.” The Heritage Foundation. July 26, 2022. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  20. Loftus, Joseph A. “Carey’s Election Is Ruled Illegal; Labor Department Disputes Electrical Union Votes.” The New York Times. The New York Times, April 6, 1965.
  21. John Terry. “’A Union’s Work Is Never Done:’ A History of IUE District Council Three.” Rutgers University Libraries. 2007. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  22. The Plain Dealer. “Edward Fire.” Cleveland. July 5, 2015. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  23. Executive Council Statement. “Vice President Edward L. Fire.” AFL-CIO. March 12, 2004. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  24. The Plain Dealer. “Edward Fire.” Cleveland. July 5, 2015. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  25. LinkedIn. Carl Kennebrew. Accessed July 30, 2022.
  26. Communications Workers of America. “Biden Takes Executive Action to Create Jobs, Raise Wages, and Protect Workers.” January 28, 2021. Accessed July 30, 2022.
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International Union of Electrical Workers

2701 Dryden Rd.
Dayton, OH