April 2012

North of 49°
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Ontario Municipal Workers Win Voice with the IBEW

When the largely white-collar work force for the town of Midland, Ontario, decided to organize, the IBEW — a union of mostly blue-collar electrical workers — wasn't necessarily at the top of anyone's list.

"Employees had contacted a few other public sector unions first, but never heard back," says Toronto Local 636 Business Manager Barry Brown.

Brown says the lack of interest might have been related to the small size of the unit. At only 28 workers, it wasn't the biggest organizing target around, but as Brown says: "It might not have been very big for them, but it was big enough for us to get involved."

Last January, Midland employees — mainly office staff at town agencies — became the newest members of Local 636, voting 27-1 in favor of the IBEW. Brown told Simcoe.com, "It's not just about what the name of the union is; it's about what the union can do for them."

Workers' interest in collective bargaining was piqued after a group of newly elected town councilors announced they were considering major cutbacks — all without consulting employees first. "They realized that they needed to have a voice on the job if they were to have any say about the future of their workplace," Brown says. "Over the years, we have signed contracts at towns here and there, so we were familiar with public sector bargaining."

Workers signed cards in January and the IBEW petitioned the Ontario Labour Board for an election. Under provincial law, elections must be held within one week after a petition is filed.

Helping to make the case for the IBEW was Midland Chief Administrative Officer Ted Walker, who had previously worked for another town represented by Local 636.

"We had a constructive relationship with Walker when he was at his old job, and that fact convinced many employees that they could have a similar relationship in Midland," Brown says.

The new members are currently negotiating their first contract. "It doesn't matter if you wear a hard hat or a tie to work, everyone needs a voice on the job," says First District Vice President Phil Flemming.