Local 793 is on solid footing and the financials are in great shape, business manager Mike Gallagher said at a special executive board meeting of the union Sept. 24 in Oakville.

The union recently completed an $11-million renovation project at the OETIO campus in Morrisburg and the pension plan is doing extremely well in a low-interest-rate environment, he said.

The pension plan is now closing in on $2.4 billion and it earned a return of 7.6 per cent to the end of August this year while last year the return was close to six per cent, he noted.

Those returns, said Gallagher, put the Local 793 plan in the top five-per-cent of all comparable balanced funds.

Because the plan has grown, trustees can now invest another $110 million in the OE Infrastructure Fund, he said, and the union is interviewing additional managers for the fund.

Gallagher said the fund creates jobs for members by investing in infrastructure projects like the Oakville hospital.

In future, he said, fund managers will be looking at investing in projects across Canada and the U.S.

The fund, he told delegates, has returned 17 per cent since its inception.

Gallagher said over the past year trustees have also made a number of improvements to the benefits available to both active members and retirees.

“To me as a manager, it is very satisfying to be able to increase benefits to our members out there.”

The trustees, he said, are managing the benefits fund responsibly and putting the money to work for members.

Gallagher said a catastrophic fund has been added to the plan which can be used to provide additional benefits to members if they are in dire need of a special drug or treatment.

“That’s what separates us from an insurance company. Our members are our family and we want to look after them.”

Gallagher said the union is at a “crucial and important point” in its history and he plans to keep it moving forward.

He noted the union has been successful in getting regulations changed for rotary drill rigs and may get certification soon for concrete pump operators but there is more work to be done.

Gallagher said he plans to hire a dozen more organizers over the next three years, bringing the number to 22, perhaps the most of any IUOE local in North America.

“That will put us in a position at the end of four years of having quite a comprehensive organizing program.”

Gallagher also said he plans to increase training opportunities and bring the benefits of unionization to the far north and Nunavut.

Meanwhile, the business manager congratulated all who were elected, re-elected or acclaimed in the recent union election.

“It is very humbling to be elected by the membership of what I consider the greatest local.”

He said he could not succeed in his job without the help of staff, stewards, members, reps and organizers.

“We have a great team and I do congratulate all the other members who have been elected to the executive board. I’m very happy with the board that we have.”

On the topic of social media, Gallagher said the executive board has approved a policy that was drawn up by staff and outside legal counsel.

Social media, he said, can be a great way to communicate with members but it can also cause problems if members are not careful with comments they might post or tweet.

The policy sets out how members should conduct themselves when using social media.

“I think it’s the right way to go. We’ve got legal advice on it and it’s good advice. I think more than anything else we’re protecting members’ privacy.”

Gallagher said members should be careful about what they post on social media because material can be viewed by others and political parties and used during elections.

Labour relations manager Ken Lew said in a presentation at the meeting that it’s important for the organization to have a social media policy in place.

“I see this as very much likened to our collective agreements” so members know the rules, he said. “This is all about being clear on the rules so members across the province know the benefits of social media.”

Click here to view the social media policy

In other business at the meeting:

Mike Chenier, co-chair of the 2016 union election committee, reported that 25 per cent of the election ballots were returned, the same as in the election in 2012.

He thanked members of the election committee for working in unison and said members can rest assured that the election was conducted in a fair manner and in accordance with the union constitution.

IUOE Canadian government affairs director Steve Schumann reported that the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is in limbo because of the U.S. election.

He noted that the Operating Engineers oppose the deal because a section of the TPPA will allow foreign companies to bid on construction projects in Canada and come in with an entire foreign workforce to build them.

“The TPPA, as it’s written right now, is a bad deal for Operating Engineers and a bad deal for Canada.”

He said the Canadian office of the IUOE is conducting a digital campaign to raise awareness of opposition to the TPPA and developing a plan “to stop this at all costs.”

IUOE locals will be asked to get their members to write their MPs objecting to the TPPA, he said.

IUOE Canadian director Lionel Railton provided an update on the Energy East pipeline project.

He said the Operating Engineers have hired Hill + Knowlton to do a media campaign with messages from Operating Engineers explaining why pipelines are important to Canada.

He said a ceremony held earlier this year in Ottawa to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with TransCanada was a very proud moment for the Operating Engineers.

Railton and business manager Gallagher had started talking with TransCanada in 2012 and sat down with a company official at a pipeline training media event in Morrisburg last year and indicated the Operating Engineers wanted to build the pipeline with unionized trades.

OETIO executive director Harold McBride said 2016 has been an extremely busy year.

He said the renovation and rebuild project in Morrisburg has been completed and an opening ceremony will be held Nov. 4.

He noted that the training campus in Morrisburg didn’t lose any student hours as a result of the project.

New training initiatives such as pipeline training and foundation drill rig courses were the focal point of the OETIO this year, he said.

The National Training Fund in the U.S., he said, wants to use the model for drill rig courses developed by Local 793 as a standard for its new training centre being built in the U.S.