Local 793 is on solid financial footing, but there are many challenges ahead, business manager Mike Gallagher told a special executive board meeting of the union at head office in Oakville on March 24.
“This organization is in great shape,” he said, noting that members have decent pension and benefit plans, the work situation remains favourable for members across the province, and that the defence and reserve funds of the local are in good shape.
However, he told delegates, it would be a mistake for the union to become complacent as there are clearly some obstacles ahead, namely the infiltration of the right-to-work movement from the U.S., large foreign consortiums bidding on work in Ontario, and a federal Conservative government that is intent on undermining the rights of unions.
“There are reasons for us to be vigilant,” he said. “There are storm clouds on the horizon.”
Gallagher said the Koch Brothers – architects of the Tea Party in the U.S. – have moved into Alberta and Ontario and are “intertwined” with the Tories.
The Kochs, he said, helped put in place anti-union legislation in America and are intent on bringing their agenda to Ontario.
He said the wages that workers enjoy in Ontario will be fleeting if the Koch Brothers get their way and unions like Local 793 need to be actively involved in fighting against the movement.
At the federal level, he said, the Conservatives are trying to bring in Bill C-377, legislation that would increase the bureaucracy and compliance costs for unions because they’d have to file more detailed financial statements that could be viewed by the public.
“It would increase administration costs to unions by 20 per cent,” he said. “It would be like having a forensic audit done on you every year.”
The legislation would also require the union to disclose any disbursement to a member in excess of $5,000, he said, and that information could be posted on a government website.
Local 793 and other building trade unions are fighting the legislation, but the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is intent on getting it passed, he said.
“We need to be a strong organization and politically active, as we have been,” noted Gallagher. “If we allow the right wing to roll over us, it won’t be long before jobs are eroded.”
Gallagher said members only have to look at what happened at the Caterpillar plant in London to see what’s on the agenda for unions in Ontario.
“It’s disgraceful what happened there,” he noted.
Caterpillar locked out workers at its Electro-Motive Locomotive Factory after they refused pay cuts of up to 50 per cent. The company is moving the work to Indiana.
Gallagher touched on a number of other topics during his remarks.
He said an Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) signed by all first ministers has basically undermined training programs as it allows a crane operator with a licence from another jurisdiction to work in Ontario without writing a demonstration of skills test (DOST).
He said there was an instance recently where an operator came to Ontario and went to work without doing the test.
Gallagher said he wants the province to recognize that the DOST should be done in such cases. Otherwise, operators could go to work on a 25-storey building in Toronto without being tested.
“We have to continue with the government to get them to recognize we want the best on such sensitive pieces of equipment,” he said.
Gallagher also told the audience that Local 793 is working to convince the province that an operator of a drill rig should have a 339A crane licence.
According to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, that licence is not required, he said.
“We are working urgently to get the government to change this,” he said, noting that Local 793 has always dispatched operators with a 339A licence when a contractor calls for a drill rig operator.
Gallagher said he has had a couple of heated meetings with representatives from the ministries of labour and training, colleges and universities over the issue, and intends to continue pressing them.
“This is extremely high on our radar to get this righted,” he said.