The union is doing well financially and the pension and benefit plans are on solid footing, business manager Mike Gallagher told a general membership meeting Sept. 24 at head office in Oakville.

“The health of the union is excellent,” he said in his remarks, noting that the number of active and retired members has surpassed the 14,500 mark, up from 8,500 11 years ago.

“That growth opens up opportunities for us to do other things because it brings more revenue into the local so we can expand. It won’t be long before we surpass 15,000.”

Gallagher said the union’s consolidated assets were $103 million, and members’ equity was $96.7 million as of June 30, up 10.2 per cent from the prior year.

Members are working on a number of large projects in the province, he said, one being the $5.3-billion Eglinton Crosstown in Toronto.

He said work is also under way on the $1.2-billion Highway 407 East extension project and a $12.8-billion refurbishment project at Darlington, work is expected to start on the Gordie Howe International Bridge project in 2018 and on a $13-billion refurbishment at Bruce Power in 2020, and a road into the Ring of Fire has been approved.

Gallagher said the pension plan, meanwhile, has surpassed the $2.5-billion mark and is on stable footing.

“Our pension plan is very solid and as strong as any of the government plans that are out there.”

While it took several years for the plan to fully recover from the recession in 2008, the plan is now doing well and on track to have another positive year, he said.

In 2016, the plan earned 10.7 per cent, up from 5.8 per cent in 2015.

Gallagher said trustees, acting on information from the actuary that advised the plan is in good shape, have made unreduced early retirement at age 60 a permanent feature. This means members can retire between age 60 and 65 with an unreduced pension.

The change has been approved by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.

“It does not need trustee consent and isn’t based on whether we have a good or bad year,” said Gallagher.

The benefits plan, meanwhile, he said, collected $64 million in contributions and investment income in 2016 and paid out $62 million, while costs of the plan increased by 5.6 per cent in 2016 over 2015.

Gallagher said prescription drugs account for 30.9 per cent and dental procedures account for 24.8 per cent of claims and the top prescribed drugs are Humira and Remicade for arthritis.

Gallagher said the executive board recently approved the purchase of 6.14 acres of property next to head office from Procor Ltd. and eventually will tear down an existing building on the site.

For the time being, he said, Procor has leased half of the space back until December and another company is also renting space for two years.

Gallagher said construction will start in the spring on expansion of the banquet hall next to head office and, when completed, the facility will be 70 per cent larger with capacity for 750 people.

On the training front, he said the OETIO has erected a Liebherr 85 EC-B5 tower crane at the Oakville campus, which will enable students to be trained in top- and bottom-climbing procedures.

“There’s no other training institute in the world that offers this training,” he noted.

The OETIO, he said, has also completed a simulation lab at the campus in Morrisburg and has added to its fleet of simulators with various training scenarios.

Gallagher said the OETIO has purchased a 50-ton Liebherr duty-cyle crane that is scheduled to be delivered to Oakville by the end of October.

On the organizing front, he said the union is attempting to organize Baffinland, a large mining company in the Territory of Nunavut.

He said the union charter was expanded to include the Nunavut and it is incumbent on Local 793 to represent workers in the area.

He said staff and organizers have been at trade shows and are getting to know the people and lay of the land in Nunavut.

“It’s not one of those things that’s going to happen overnight,” he said. “But we’re determined.”

Gallagher said the union has been training Inuit on a fee-payer basis for more than 10 years and found they are very hard-working people and excellent operators.

“I’m hopeful that it will all come together at one point. This is going to be an ongoing thing.”

As for the future, Gallagher said a provincial election is on the horizon for next spring and, although some members might be frustrated at Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, PC leader Patrick Brown and the Conservatives are very dangerous.

“A lot of them seem to be the same as the extreme Republicans in the U.S.”

Gallagher said Ontario needs a government that does the right things, not a government based on an ideology.

“We want people that are rational in government.”

Gallagher advised members to vote for a Liberal or NDP candidate who is friendly to the Operating Engineers in the upcoming election.