September 2011

Victoria Local a Key Link, Onshore and Off
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The rich history of shipbuilding is written on the shores of Victoria, B.C., Local 230. The lush, coastal capital city of the province sits three hours south of Vancouver across the narrow Salish Sea. Home to nearly 400,000 residents in the greater area, Victoria represents the lion's share of the region's marine marketplace.

That's good news for the local's 1,200 members—a large portion of whom maintain everything from battle vessels for the Canadian navy to the 35 passenger ferries that make up the largest fleet of its kind worldwide.

"We have a very busy seaway keeping us supplied," said Local 230 Business Manager Phil Venoit. "There's a huge array of different crafts in the water, from freighters to cruise ships. And if they have any problems, our guys typically do the work."

And there's plenty of it. The local recently secured a seven-year deal wiring ships for the navy—a massive job that will put 400 members to work until the close of the decade. The local is also lobbying hard for additional jobs from the navy and the nation's coast guard. Of several packages up for consideration, one boasts a $15 billion price tag.

"If we get that, we'll not only have work, but we'll be boosting our membership significantly just to keep up," Venoit said. "We're not just building ships. We're building careers."

The local is the second oldest in British Columbia and the third oldest nationwide, after Hamilton, Ont., Local 105 and Vancouver Local 213. Chartered in 1902, Local 230 began establishing itself in the marine industry during the shipbuilding boom of the late 1930s.

Construction still accounts for a vast percentage of the local members' employment. About 40 signatory contractors in the area employ hundreds of electricians at companies like Canem Systems, Houle Electric and E.H. Emery Electric, Ltd. Emery has been with the local for 80 years and has provided work for four generations of Local 230 members.

Members recently completed a two-year-long job wiring an acute care hospital facility for contractor Western Pacific Enterprises, which provided more than 500,000 man-hours for the local.

As many locals throughout North America are getting journeymen off the bench thanks to the recovery agreement program—utilizing composite crews with new classifications, including construction electricians and construction wiremen—the leaders of Local 230 have been aggressively pursuing small construction work at chains like Subway sandwich shops and Starbucks coffee stores for most of the past decade.

"In 2003, we saw something of a resurgence in the small works area," Venoit said. The local restructured its classification ratios to be more competitive and were able to bring in 250 residential wiremen over the past few years.

Local 230 has expanded into such trade classifications as communications, cable television, electrical manufacturing, utility and railway.

The second largest city in the province, Victoria is home to workers who have a history of strong allegiance to the trade union movement. "We don't forget those who helped pave our way," said Venoit.

That sentiment has rung true for generations. In a 1952 Local Lines article published in the IBEW Journal, the press secretary commended the charter members on their tenacity during tough economic times. Announcing an upcoming ceremony for those still living, the writer tells readers of "the great obligation we have toward the men who founded and carried on this local, despite the hostility of governments and employers."

The local celebrates its 110th anniversary next year. "We're proud of our history and excited about the future," Venoit said.


Read more: IBEW Alights on Vibrant Vancouver

Read more: Local 213: Electrifying Vancouver

Read more: High Wire to Hydro, Local 258 Covers Vast Territory

Victoria, B.C., Local 230 members Dale Gallis, right, and Raj Takhar wire a training vessel for the Canadian navy.