Local 793 has grown into a large and respected union because of the skills and professionalism of its long-service members.
That was the message delivered by business manager Mike Gallagher in remarks at a long-service awards ceremony Dec. 2 at the OE Banquet Hall and Conference Centre at head office in Oakville.
He said union members have built the biggest Operating Engineers local in Canada, with close to 15,000 members, and have, without question, the best reputation of any other construction union.
“And, it’s not just because of the money that we’ve spent on facilities or the equipment that we have out in the yard which looks so impressive,” he said. “It’s because of the record that you have in performing work out in the field safely and efficiently and that is known throughout North America.”
More than 150 members received awards at the ceremony for 60, 55, 50, 40 and 30 years of service to the union. Many of the honourees were accompanied by their spouses or family members.
In remarks at the beginning of the ceremony, Gallagher said he is proud of what the officers and the members have been able to accomplish over the years.
“I’m proud of the growth of the local, but the thing I’m most proud of is to be the business manager of this group of members that I hold in such very high regard. I understand what a privilege that is.”
He noted that Local 793 crane operators are in great demand and those who work in the pipeline industry can find work almost anywhere because of the reputation set by long-service members.
Over the years, he said, the union has faced a number of challenges, like when Premier Mike Harris and his government tried to undermine unions, but members fought back and continued to organize.
Gallagher, who has been business manager for 22 years, said he’s honoured to be at the helm of the union.
He said he’s seen a lot of changes over that time, one being that the membership has doubled to close to 15,000.
The Territory of Nunavut was also added to Local 793’s charter, he said, after the union requested and IUOE general president James T. Callahan approved the move.
The addition of Nunavut is important to the future of the local, Gallagher said, because there are a dozen large mines in the territory, including one on Baffin Island operated by a company called Baffinland that has more than 900 employees.
“We’re busy organizing that group right now and have been very well received,” he said, “not only by the employees but by the employer.”
Gallagher said the contractor has agreed to contract training with Local 793 for Inuit that live in the area “so that’s a very exciting challenge for the future.”
In his remarks, he said the union is doing well financially and the pension and benefit plans are in good shape.
“I’m very proud of the benefit plan, I’m proud of the pension plan. I’m proud of the union growth and the fact that our membership has grown.”
The pension plan, he said, now has assets of just under $2.7 billion and is almost 100 per cent funded on a going-concern basis.
The plan has recovered from the recession of 2008, he said, and the reductions that were put in place then have been rolled back and trustees recently, on the advice of the actuary, were able to improve the plan by making unreduced retirement at age 60 a permanent feature. Previously, trustees granted consent for unreduced retirement at age 60 on a year-by-year basis.
“A major priority for us is to make sure the pension remains there for not only you but the active members and members coming up,” Gallagher said. “I would say it’s one of the best pension plans if you look at the average amount of money that members take out of the plan on a monthly basis once they retire, compared to any of the other building trades, and that’s exactly the way we want it.
“We want it to continue to be strong and we want it to continue to provide income for you into your twilight years after you retire from the local. It’s a major, major focus for us.”
The benefit plan, meanwhile, is also in good shape and is solvent, Gallagher told the long-service members.
He said trustees have put a subcommittee together to consider improvements to the plan and members and retirees are welcome to put forward suggestions.
“We want to keep improving the plan and making it stronger and better for the members. It has to stay healthy, it has to stay solvent, but we’re not there to build a mountain of money, we’re there to provide benefits for our membership and we’re going to continue to do that.”
At the end of his remarks, Gallagher thanked long-service members for their years of service to the union.
“I appreciate every one of you in here. I appreciate you and your families and I understand how important the union is to you, how important the pension plan is to you, and how important the benefit plan is to you. I know how important all these investments have been to you. The union belongs to you and, since I’ve been there, I’ve wanted to make sure we never ever forget that you’re number one.”
During the ceremony, Gallagher read out a letter sent to him by Robert McKay, a 40-year member who was unable to make the event due to an illness. His daughter accepted the award on his behalf.
At the ceremony, winners of the Douglas H. Campbell Awards were also announced. The winners were:
- Top Tower Crane Apprentice – Dave Geno of Barrie who works for Verdi Alliance Equipment
- Top Mobile Crane Apprentice – Bruce Cringan of Stouffville who works for Thomkess Crane Rental