“We know how to start a party off with a bang, wouldn’t you say?”
Those were the opening remarks by emcee and Local 793 president Joe Redshaw following a spectacular fireworks show to kick off the 100th Anniversary Dinner-Dance at the O.E. Banquet Hall & Conference Centre on Saturday, December 7.
Guests poured outside and stood along the windowpane of the banquet hall to enjoy the 20-minute show.
Oakville mayor Rob Burton, special guest to the evening’s gala, later said that the show was second to none.
“I have to say, you have rivaled the fireworks on Canada Day in this town,” he told guests during his comments ahead of dinner.
Other speakers during the night included business manager Mike Gallagher, IUOE general president James T. Callahan and the Honourable Anita Anand MP.
Also attending as special guests were Canadian director of IUOE Lionel Railton, IUOE international reps Andre Chenier and Larry Richard, Local 793 dignitaries Joe Kennedy, Ron Walsh, Ron Allain, Ron Hillis and John Payne, Dr. Gail Darling of The University Health Network and University of Toronto and Baffinland’s CEO Brian Penny and manager Jason Brown.
Mayor Burton opened the evening by presenting a certificate of congratulations to the long-serving members and to the union’s 100th anniversary before reflecting on the newly expanded O.E. Banquet Hall.
“I used to labour under a great sense of difficulty in that the city of Burlington had a larger hall in which we could gather then we had here in Oakville.
“But those days are gone, thanks to you,” he said. “This is the most amazing hall in the entire county.”
Mayor Burton touched on safety in Oakville’s community and looked at Local 793 as leaders in that regard.
“This union is one of the best examples of community engagement. I thank you every day for the contributions you make to our town,” he said.
Member of parliament for Oakville and the newly appointed minister of public services and procurement, the Honourable Anita Anand spoke and congratulated the local for its centennial milestone.
She also took a moment to acknowledge the importance of the labour movement in Canada.
“Unions are the backbone of the middle class and critical to building a strong economy,” Anand said. “It is organized labour who fought for better wages and work-life balance, demanded safety on worksites, and worked tirelessly to secure stable retirement for workers.
We are so grateful for the work you do and the policies you advocate in our country.”
She continued; “I am proud to be part of a government that recognizes your legacy and the work you do in our communities. I will work hard as a partner to help you strengthen and grow the labour movement in Canada because unions matter. They represent people who work hard to support their families and contribute so much to their communities.”
General president Callahan was introduced and welcomed to the podium. He pointed out that it was on that exact day, December 7, 1896, that the IUOE was formed.
He also shared the genesis of Local 793 and the historical day on December 11, 1919, when 11 men met at the Elliott House Hotel in Toronto.
“From the founding to the present, it has always been the local members who are the heart of our union and our movement,” he said. “Every day they operate heavy equipment and perform other occupations with skill and professionalism to build the nation’s infrastructure.
“The province of Ontario owes a debt of gratitude to members of Local 793,” he explained. “Local 793 has offered career paths to thousands of men and women through an unwavering commitment to training.”
General president Callahan gave special recognition of the long-serving members who were presented with a scroll and a gift earlier in the day. The union held its annual long-service awards ceremony, honouring members who have been in the union for 65, 60, 55, 50, 40 and 30 years.
The 40, 50 and 55-year members received a special silver 100th Anniversary ring and the 60 and 65-year honourees were presented a gold 100th Anniversary ring.
“It’s your shoulders that I’ve ridden on and in your shadow that I walk,” general president Callahan said in closing to a loud round of applause.
A project two years in the making was put on display ahead of business manager Gallagher’s speech.
A 30-minute historical video was shown on screens throughout the banquet hall, paying homage to the union’s history and looking at the struggles endured and the successes earned through 100 years.
“Wow, we did all that,” said business manager Mike Gallagher to begin his remarks.
He thanked IT and communications manager Armand Dowdall for his leadership and work crafting the video.
Watch the video here:
Business manager Gallagher then took a moment to recognize honourary lifetime member Wilf Dupuis, a 65-year member who passed away on May 3, 2019.
He also recognized the “two women” in his life, his wife Dorcas and Local 793 executive assistant Leanne Tabar.
“Leanne is another [person] that needs to put up with me,” he joked. “I think that Leanne, Heather [Hamer] and Sheila [Hutcheson] feel a great sense of relief when I don’t come in,” he joked before thanking all three for the diligent work in planning the celebration.
Leanne is the local’s longest serving employee and on March 8, 2020, she will reach 38 years with Local 793.
Business manager Gallagher then thanked general president Callahan for joining the celebration and commented on the IUOE International Training and Education Center in Crosby, Texas.
“It is the most beautiful training centre in the world, I believe, although I think ours is pretty damn good too, to be honest,” he quipped.
He shared a story of the true international bond between Canada and the United States and the stand-up character general president Callahan showed this past April.
United States president Donald Trump had visited the IUOE training facility in Crosby to sign two executive orders on energy infrastructure development. Ahead of the visit, the White House advance team requested all Canadian flags on the premises be removed and replaced with American flags.
The easiest thing for IUOE chief of staff Joe Giacin to do was to agree and nobody would have been the wiser,” business manager Gallagher pointed out. But Giacin stood his ground and said no; we are an international union. The Canadian flags stay.
“That is what really drives home why I’m so proud to be part of this international union,” business manager Gallagher said.
This decision by Giacin prompted a phone call to Air Force One mid-flight, where general president Callahan was traveling alongside president Trump.
General president Callahan told president Trump that the Canadian flags had to remain, and, in the end, they did.
Guests at the dinner-dance stood and applauded general president Callahan.
Business manager Gallagher recognized IUOE Canadian director Lionel Railton of Local 115 and spoke briefly about a frightening experience they shared on a flight to Baffin Island earlier this year.
“It’s amazing how at 37,000 feet and smoke in the plane from a blown engine really makes you fond of the people that are around you at that moment,” he said.
He also recognized Baffinland CEO Brian Penny and the efforts of working with the government and the Inuit community in creating jobs.
Former business manager Joe Kennedy was asked to stand and be recognized.
The 93-year-old honourary lifetime member has been with Local 793 for 68 years and was the man that hired business manager Gallagher as a union business rep in August 1987.
“I don’t know if you knew what you were doing when you hired me, but here I am,” business manager Gallagher said. “Seems like it turned out okay.”
He also recognized retired business manager Walsh, retired training director Allain, retired director of organizing Hillis, retired international representative Payne, as well as international representatives Chenier and Richard.
A special mention was made to the Chenier family and the four generations of operating engineers that includes Aza, Michael, Andre and Zachary Chenier.
Business manager Gallagher reflected on the union’s history and shared some of the growth it has seen since 1996 when he became business manager.
“Who would have believed back in 1996 that we would be in here. We’ve come a long way,” he said.
He announced that the union’s benefits plan sat at $74 million surplus and stated the pension plan surpassed $3 billion as of November 30. At the end of November, the 2019 year to date return on the pension plan investments was approximately 13.9 per cent.
The room applauded the good news.
“The trustees are all committed to serving the members. We want to make sure your life is enjoyable and as comfortable as possible,” he said.
“But, as many improvements have been made, there is more to do. We’ve got more gas in the tank to keep building this great union.”
Business manager Gallagher ended by thanking all the members and leaders that helped build the organization to what it is today and brought the hall to its feet with his closing line.
“You can’t divide the operating engineers. Local 793 is united, solid and undefeatable.”
Following, a blessing was given by Elder Shelley Charles from Anishinabe of Three Fires Confederacy.
Dinner was served shortly after and the more than 950 guests in attendance were treated to a gourmet meal. The band, Sound Parade, took over and the dance floor heated up.