Local 793 has bounced back from some tough times over the years, thanks in large part to the members, but it is stronger for it and looking towards a bright future, business manager Mike Gallagher told a 95th anniversary dinner dance held at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Dec. 6.

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“When we took over in 1996, when you first elected our team, the local was $12 million in debt, we had $200,000 in the bank, and just prior to supervision we couldn’t meet the payroll for staff.”

Today, he said, the union has a pension plan with around $2-billion in assets, $70 million in members’ equity, and a staff of 140 serving members across the province.

“That’s where we are now,” he said to applause from the audience of nearly 1,000 people.

Gallagher noted that he and his team were only able to do that with the help of all the members.

“I couldn’t have gotten here without the support of the people here in this room and the members. I really appreciate all the members who have supported me and my team to help us rebuild and then build this local into the great local that it is.”

In terms of the future, Gallagher said the picture looks bright.

He noted the province has announced it is committing $130 billion to infrastructure projects, and more jobs will be created if the Energy East Pipeline goes ahead.

In the years ahead, Gallagher said the officers and the executive of the union will continue to improve the local.

“In terms of Local 793 and the future, we’re not done yet. I can assure you of that. As long as we have breath in our bodies we are going to fight and build this tremendous organization so it doesn’t stop at 95 years or 100 years.

“We’re going to keep on building our organization and organizing our market, making jobs safer, building up our training and continuing to build this great organization. I can promise you that.”

IUOE general president James T. Callahan told the audience that Operating Engineers have been involved in building numerous projects across the province.

“As you all know, there’s not one roadway or building or dam or bridge that, when you travel around this great province, Local 793 hasn’t touched.”

Callahan congratulated members of Local 793 on the 95th anniversary, saying it’s an example for other locals to follow.

“Your determination over the years has been an example to trade unionists around North America and it’s an honour to walk with you.”

Callahan said he’s traveled extensively across Canada and has found that Canadians are loyal to their country — and to their unions.

He said it was fitting that the local held a special ceremony earlier in the day to honour long-service members because they’re the ones who built the union.

Callahan also noted that Local 793 business manager Gallagher, who is an IUOE VP, works tirelessly on behalf of Canadian locals.

“As a VP, he’s a voice with (IUOE Canadian regional director) Lionel (Railton) and all the other Canadian business managers. They come down and they fight for their people.”

The general president said Operating Engineers are now 382,000 strong in the U.S. and Canada and he doesn’t see a border when it comes to the union.

The IUOE is one organization, he said, because anything that goes on in Canada affects Operating Engineers in the U.S. as well.

Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn said in remarks that Local 793 is a classy organization that gives back to the community.

“In the Town of Oakville, you moved in a few years ago, you set up a beautiful headquarters there and the town has just grown to love this organization more and more every day.”

He said the training and work that the local has done in the community and internationally sets the union apart from other organizations.

Flynn also said that Local 793 business manager Gallagher and president Joe Redshaw have set a very high example for other labour organizations to follow.

“Any time people speak about the Operating Engineers to me as Minister of Labour, there’s a degree of reverence behind it. It doesn’t matter if there’s an argument taking place, or debate taking place perhaps around various issues, your organization and the people that lead your organization are respected in Oakville, they’re respected in Ontario amongst organized labour, but let me tell you they’re really respected at Queen’s Park amongst the members of the Wynne government.”

Flynn noted that he has been working with business manager Gallagher on mandatory training for drill rig operators, an issue that came to a head after the death of 24-year-old apprentice Kyle James Knox in a drill rig accident Oct. 11, 2011 at a Toronto construction site.

“Let me tell you, on the drill rig issue it’s been a little bit of a challenge, it’s been a little bit of a balance, but I’m proud to stand before you tonight and say it’s almost over the finish line.

“If you’re going to operate a piece of equipment like that you need training and the only place to get that from, and the proper place to get that training, I’ve found, is right here in the rooms of Local 793.”

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton congratulated the union on its 95 years.

“Oakville is very proud that Local 793 has chosen our community for its headquarters and training campus,” he said. “We have your leadership and your membershp to thank for the integrity of engineering that we enjoy in our daily lives and for the way you’ve given back to help build the broader community of Oakville.”