Advocating for Democratic Reforms with New Senate Rules

IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson is rallying members to help protect the country from undemocratic forces in statelegislatures and in the U.S. Congress seeking to limit voting rights. In a call with AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) on Jan. 14, he cited efforts in 19 states to restrict voting rights, limit early voting and reduce the number of polling places. Combine these trends with the heavy-handed use of the filibuster – a procedural tool giving the minority party the power to block legislation that comes to the Senate floor – and Stephenson said democracy itself is in danger.

“As union electricians, we understand the fundamental importance of the right to vote,” Stephenson said. “IBEW members vote on contracts that impact our work. We vote for the leaders who will represent us in contract negotiations and grievance procedures. And we participate in state and federal elections. That’s why all of us should be disheartenedby the recent attacks on our democracy.”

Particularly alarming, he said, is that these hurdles specifically target working people, voters of color, and voters with disabilities.

Under filibuster rules, 60 percent of the Senate is requested to pass most legislation, thwarting the will of a simple majority in most cases. With the call to action, Stephenson echoed the forceful appeal President Biden made Jan. 11 in Atlanta.

"The right to vote and have that vote count, it is democracy's threshold liberty. Without it, nothing is possible. But with it, anything is possible," Biden said.


Stephenson and Shuler urged members to lobby their members of the Senate to pass voting rights legislation, including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would protect the right of every American to cast their vote and have that vote counted.

“It is dire; it is urgent,” Shuler told the nearly 400 IBEW members on the call – We are putting out an SOS right now on voting rights. Nothing is more fundamental than the ability to express ourselves through our vote.”

Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said there would be no better way to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. than to pass voting rights legislation. “It’s so important at moments like this for organized labor to step up and make our voices heard,” he said.

The AFL-CIO’s “Sideline the Filibuster” effort allows participants to sign a petition, make a video, share a social media graphic and more. Members can access these actions through the site.