March 22, 2017 - After nearly 50 years of service to the IBEW and the North American organized labor movement, International Secretary-Treasurer Salvatore J. Chilia announced his retirement March 20.
“We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sam for everything he has done for the IBEW,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “He has shown an untiring dedication to our common cause and we are a stronger union because of it. He is not only my partner, but my friend as well.”
Stephenson appointed Fourth District International Vice President Kenneth W. Cooper to fill the rest of Chilia’s term of office. Fourth District International Representative Brian G. Malloy will replace Cooper. The International Executive Council unanimously approved the appointments, effective May 1.
The union’s top financial officer, Brother Chilia has responsibility for the IBEW’s many pensions, funds, and health care programs and guided them through the wreckage of the worst recession in nearly a century.
He leaves behind a growing union with a healthy general fund, pension funds that are the envy of the labor movement and a NECA/IBEW Family Medical Care Plan that not only provides care for tens of thousands of people, it lures business owners to the IBEW’s doorstep.
“Yesterday, I was talking to my wife Arlene and I said if the American dream is you work hard and get paid well for it, you have a pension and you raise your family in dignity so they do better than you did, then I lived the American dream plus,” Chilia said. “And it is because I joined this union when I was 19 years old.”
A Lifetime of Service
Chilia is a second-generation IBEW member, but unlike most, he followed his mother, not his father. His mother, Judy Chilia, worked in a generator and alternator factory represented by Cleveland Local 1377. At age 96, she still collects a pension from funds her son oversees.
Sam joined the apprenticeship program of Cleveland Local 38 in 1967 and got his journeyman ticket in 1971.
“My father died in 1956. But I always felt the union was just as special to me as it was to the proudest fourth-generation journeyman because my mother worked all her life in a manufacturing plant under an IBEW contract,” Chilia said.
“People worked hard for every dollar in those retirement accounts. You want the person looking out for that money to really know where it came from and what it means,” Stephenson said. “Sam always did.”
Chilia worked with the tools for more than 20 years before he went on staff at the local. He was elected president of his local in 1989 and then business manager in 1997. In 2001, he was elected to the International Executive Council for the Third IEC District at the 36th International Convention in San Francisco.
Then, 40 years after starting his apprenticeship, in 2007, Sam became the Fourth District international vice president.
In 2011, then-International President Edwin D. Hill appointed him to finish the unexpired term of retiring International Secretary-Treasurer Lindell Lee. Two years later, at the Vancouver International Convention, Chilia was elected by acclamation.
“Sam never spent much time blowing his own horn. He was always interested in getting things done, not getting credit,” Hill said. “The proof of Sam’s quality as a labor unionist, as a man and as a friend is there for everyone to see. In his reputation as a good worker, in his rise through the Brotherhood. He was quiet about it, but there is no trade unionist in North America who worked smarter or harder for working families than Sam.”
In addition to the FMCP and the NEBF, Chilia manages the IBEW’s general fund, the pension plans for IBEW officers and the one for office staff and others.
He is also responsible for the union’s political operations. Under Chilia’s leadership, the IBEW has stepped up grassroots organizing and member education.
“I’m fortunate to stand in the shoes of some of the giants in IBEW history: former International Secretary-Treasurers Lindell Lee, Jon Walters, Jerry O’Connor, Ed Hill, Jack Moore and so many other outstanding brothers, back to our first International Secretary, J.T. Kelly, who once mortgaged off his furniture to keep this Brotherhood operating,” Chilia said. “Every day, I have fresh appreciation for all they did to build and maintain a solid organization that has stood the test of time. All I can hope is that I played my part.”
Cooper Appointed Secretary-Treasurer
This is not the first time Cooper will succeed Chilia in an important role. He followed him as Fourth District vice president when Chilia was named secretary-treasurer in 2011. Cooper was elected vice president at the International Convention in Vancouver later that year and re-elected at the 2016 Convention in St. Louis.
“To even be considered is a great honor,” he said of his new position. “A lot of things go through your mind when asked. There’s a lot of challenges in the job, but I’m looking forward to the awesome responsibility of serving my brothers and sisters in the IBEW.”
Cooper said he’s known Chilia for about 30 years and will rely on his advice, just like he has throughout his career.
“I told him the shoes I’m filling were made for someone with pretty big feet,” Cooper said. “It will be a great challenge to fill them.”
Cooper is a member of Mansfield, Ohio, Local 688 and completed his journeyman wireman apprenticeship in 1989. He served in several leadership capacities there, including as business manager for nine years. In 2006, then-International President Hill appointed him to be an international representative for the Fourth District, which includes Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
As vice president, Cooper, 56, was a leader in an ongoing campaign that has organized nearly 1,500 workers at over the past three years at Asplundh, an international tree-trimming company. Workers voted for representation in 39 of the 42 elections at Asplundh sites across the district, he said. The campaign is expected to lead to improved safety conditions and retirement benefits for the company’s tree-trimmers.
Cooper also oversaw the successful organization of 1,400 workers at Baltimore Gas & Electric in January. Four other campaigns by the IBEW to organize BGE workers had failed over the preceding 20 years.
Malloy to Become VP
Filling out Vice President Cooper’s unexpired term will be Fourth District International Representative Brian Malloy. Brother Malloy is a Maryland native, initiated in September 1979 into Cumberland, Md., Local 307, where he served as president and business manager.
A journeyman wireman by trade, he also served on the Council of Industrial Relations, as vice president of the Maryland AFL-CIO and as secretary-treasurer of the Western Maryland Building Trades. He has served the Fourth District as an international representative since 2001.
“He can do anything he puts his mind to,” said daughter Breana Malloy, an international representative assigned to the Political and Legislative Department. “This will be great for the district as well as for him.”
In his role as an international representative, Malloy worked closely with Vice President Cooper, one of three vice presidents that he has worked under.
“I’m very happy for Vice President Cooper,” Brian Malloy said. “He’ll do a fantastic job. He’s extremely talented in everything he does. And I wish Sam the very best in his retirement. It’s well deserved.”