Local 793 has faced many challenges over the years but has managed to overcome them and continues to grow, business manager Mike Gallagher said in a speech to more than 500 people attending a dinner dance in the union’s banquet hall Dec. 3 in Oakville.

“We have had some bumps along the way and that’s life,” he said. “It’s happened with our organization but I can say we came through it quite nicely.

“If you take a look at where we are right now as an organization, we’re over 14,500 members, which is up 7,000 members from 10 years ago.”

Gallagher noted that pension plan assets are close to $2.4 billion and the fund is doing well in tough markets.

“It’s difficult now for all pension plans out there because of the low interest rates. But I’m happy to tell you that the performance of our pension plan year-to-date is 8.1 per cent.”

He said the union is also leading the way in training and is presently erecting a Liebherr 85 EC-B5 tower crane at the Oakville campus of the OETIO, which will enable students to be trained in top- and bottom-climbing procedures.

Oakville is the only training centre that offers top- and bottom-climbing training on tower cranes.

Meanwhile, Gallagher said, the local is now a very respected and strong organization and pension plan trustees have been able to build the fund despite some very rough seas, including one years when the fund lost 19 per cent of its value.

“You can imagine what it felt like to be business manager or a pension trustee that year,” he said. “It didn’t feel very good at all and we thought it was the end of the world.

“But we regrouped, we made some changes, we diversified, we changed our actuary and went around the province convincing members that we had a very strong plan.

Going forward, Gallagher noted the union will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019 and one of the plans is to double the size of the present banquet hall.

“We’ve got 500-plus people in here right now and by the time we get to 2019 we are going to be able to get 1,000 people in this hall. I don’t want to have to turn anybody away.”

Gallagher also said he also wants to build a 40- to 50-room residence for students at the training campus in Oakville. Presently, they stay at nearby hotels.

He said the union also plans to hire 12 more organizers in the coming years. Presently, there are 11.

Gallagher said Local 793 is now the largest IUOE local in Canada but he plans to continue growing the union.

“I see no reason to stop there. One day we will be the biggest local in North America, never mind just in Canada. There’s no reason we can’t have a bigger local than California or New York or anywhere else.

“Why would we have non-union contractors and workers out there competing with our members for jobs and driving wages down when we can go out and organize and bring them into this great organization and move the yardstick further down the field for all of us?”

Gallagher said he will continue to look for ways to improve the benefit plan.

“I think we have one of the leading benefit plans among all the building trades right now and I want to still make it better. We’re taking money in through negotiations so that we can give it back to the members and to their families.”

One of the challenges facing the union, said Gallagher, is ensuring that new leaders are being groomed to fill vacancies created by retirements.

“It’s very important that we hire good people, that we train them and that we impart knowledge before people leave,” he said. “That is what we are concentrating on now.”

Gallagher said he wants to ensure that those who are moving into leadership positions are passionate about the union.

“I want them to be a true believer in the labour movement like I am. I want them to be honest. I want them to be trustworthy. I want them to make sure that the things that they do and every waking moment that they have is about how they represent the good members that we have.”

Gallagher also spoke at length about the state of labour in the U.S. as a result of the election of Donald Trump for president.

“It’s brand new territory for the world, it’s brand new territory for Canada and the relationship that we have with the United States,” he said.

Gallagher said Trump has said a lot of things, including that he would scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement and build a southern wall and make Mexico pay for it.

“I got thinking about that,” he joked, “and I thought, ‘You know what, maybe we should build a wall.’ It would put a lot of us to work. We could build a great big wall between us and the U.S. I’m sure there would be a lot of union jobs there and we could make sure we keep Trump and the rest of them out of Canada because we like Canada just the way it is.”

Gallagher said a lot of working people in states in the northeastern U.S. voted for Trump because they were sick and tired of being controlled by the big banks and seeing their jobs being lost to other countries and were looking for a solution to the problem.

Unfortunately, he said, the solution that Americans picked is the wrong one.

One of the first things Trump is going to do, Gallagher said is bring in federal right-to-work legislation.

“That’s what you’re going to see over the next four years. They’re going to move to put a Conservative judge on the Supreme Court because there’s a vacancy there and they’re going to move to undermine freedom of association and freedom of being in a trade union movement by bringing in right-to-work.”

Such a move would undermine unions and destroy the labour movement, Gallagher said.

“Unfortunately, the working people in America have elected the worst possible person if they wanted somebody to look after their interests.”

Gallagher said Canada and the U.S. have never been more different than they are right now.

“Hopefully, in four years they’ll have a change and change direction. Let’s hope that Donald Trump doesn’t drag them into some kind of foreign war or some other problem.”

Gallagher said Canadians, however, must continue to build the “just society” that former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau spoke of many years ago.

“The union movement in America is going to be on life support and our job here in Canada is to keep it alive,” he said. “We’ve got to keep on fighting and doing what we’ve done and keep electing progressive governments like we have done with Justin Trudeau.

“We have to continue to fight for the right to be union because every free democracy in the world has a free trade union movement.”

Gallagher said Canada must continue on the present path.

“It’s incumbent on us for our children and our grandchildren to make sure that it stays that way, to make sure that we don’t listen to the seductive lies and propaganda and whatnot that’s put out there to convince us to sell what is most dear to us.

“I think that’s something that our labour movement in Canada, including myself and yourselves, need to pay very, very close attention to in the time ahead.”

Gallagher also noted that assistant business manager and union treasurer Alex Law will be retiring at the end of the year.

He said Law did a great job as area supervisor for South Central Ontario for many years and more recently as assistant business manager.

Law was a great help in providing insight into the crane rental sector, he said, and, in the last round of bargaining, helping to negotiate a Provincial Collective Agreement that gave Operating Engineers the highest settlement of any of the trades.

“He is one of the most dedicated people that I have ever met and I’ve been around for 30 years in the labour movement now,” Gallagher said. “Alex here has been supporting me and I’m very, very grateful for that. He will be hard to replace.

“As much as I’d like to talk him out of retirement, the respect that I have for him prevents me from doing that because I understand the toll that this job takes. It’s 24, seven, it never stops.”

Law said he is planning on spending a lot of time with his grandchildren

“That’s going to be my hobby.”

He thanked business manager Gallagher, the executive board and union members, and said he’s proud of what the local has accomplished since he started in 1976.

“There wasn’t even a pension at that time,” he said. “We’ve come a long, long way.”

Also at the dance, a cheque for $88,804 was presented to Irene Salvani of the Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation for research into esophageal cancer. The money was raised at the Gary O’Neill Memorial Golf Tournament held this past summer.