Local 793 has come a long way over the years and will continue to grow and take care of its members, business manager Mike Gallagher told a special ceremony Nov. 19 to honour the union’s long-service members.

“We’re committed to continuing to grow and organize, and to make sure we remain a progressive trade union,” he told an overflow crowd at the union banquet hall in Oakville.

Gallagher delivered the keynote speech at the event and thanked long-service members for their dedication and commitment over the years.

At the ceremony, long-service members were honoured for 30, 40, 50, 55 and 60 years of service.

Former business manager Joe Kennedy received his 60-year award. He was at the helm of Local 793 for 18 years.

Gallagher said he was glad to see Kennedy at the union hall, as it was Kennedy and his team that put Local 793’s pension plan in place.

He said the union now has a very strong pension plan with more than $1.5 billion in market value.

Gallagher told the audience that the union has grown in size over the years and now has approximately 12,000 members, double the number from 15 years earlier.

He said the numbers have grown because of the strong economy, enhanced training offered by the union, and because an organizing department was set up that now has eight organizers.

The result, he said, is that Local 793 has grown its membership by more than any other local in North America.

Training, in particular, has expanded over the years, he noted, from 2.5 acres to 170 acres, while the union has about $25 million worth of equipment and 16 simulators on hand.

The union also has a social services department that is “second to none,” he said.

Gallagher said the union is well respected by other trades and the government, largely because of the members.

“It is because of what you have established out there that the politicians are listening.”

However, Gallagher said that more still needs to be done and the union can’t rest on its laurels.

With the world economy at a tipping point and right-wing politicians trying to strip unions of bargaining rights, Gallagher said the labour movement has to remain on its toes.

“We in the labour movement really have to keep our eye on the ball,” he said.

Gallagher noted that safety on construction sites is still a concern for the union, especially in light of an Oct. 11 accident at a construction site in Toronto that resulted in the death of Local 793 member Kyle Knox.

“He (Kyle) was days away from reaching his dream” of becoming a crane operator, said Gallagher. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure what happened to Kyle doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

He said the union is establishing an award in memory of Kyle Knox. The award will go to union members who go beyond the call of duty.

The first recipients of the award will be Local 793 members Kirk Winter of Caledon and Ryan Blyth of Bradford. The two men rescued a union member involved in the Oct. 11 accident.