Lonnie R. Stephenson, whose 47-year career at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers took him from apprentice to the union’s top position, has announced that he will retire as IBEW president, effective Jan. 4.

In a Nov. 23 announcement, the union's international executive council named Kenneth Cooper, 61, currently IBEW secretary-treasurer, to fill the rest of Stephenson’s term, which was to expire in 2026. He was appointed union president in 2015 and re-elected twice.

Stephenson. 66, joined IBEW Local 145 near Rock Island, Ill., in 1975, later taking positions as business manager, international representative and international vice president.

IBEW said that during his tenure as president, union membership increased every year, and now stands at 775,000.

The union also said that under Stephenson, IBEW “built a historically close relationship” with President Joe Biden, as an early supporter in his presidential campaign and endorsing him in May 2020.

It cites passage of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which has strong pro-union job creation provisions; as well as enactment of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act that aims to shore up the financially weakened multiemployer pension program with a substantial funding infusion.

The union also said Stephenson "deepened the IBEW's commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity," pointing to his role in the IBEW Strong program that aims to recruit more people of color and women as union members.

"We are a bigger, stronger and more diverse union than we were seven years ago," Cooper said in a statement,

Stephenson said: “As hard as it is to step aside, I am confident that the IBEW remains in good hands," adding that "it’s been the honor of my life to serve the members of the greatest union in the world and advance the cause of trade unionism in the electrical industry.”

David Long, National Electrical Contractors Association chief executive officer, praised Stephenson and noted their joint efforts to address issues facing their members. 

Long said that he and Stephenson "worked tirelessly through a worldwide pandemic to ensure our workforce was rightly recognized as essential workers—workers we help keep safe as possible throughout one of the most unprecedented periods of uncertainty and growth for our organizations."

Story updated on 11/25/2022 with statement from National Electrical Contractors Association.