The Electrical Worker online
October 2012

North of 49°
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
IBEW Organizing North of 49°

At the 38th IBEW International Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, last year, delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that organizing "continues to be among the highest priorities of the IBEW."

For IBEW members in the United States facing lingering high unemployment, well-funded anti-worker politicians, corporate special interests and aggressive anti-union employers, organizing isn't an option anymore — it's a necessity.

For members in Canada, a stronger economy and friendlier labour laws mean the IBEW faces a less dire landscape, but increasingly anti-union provincial governments and the emergence of a new generation of workers with little union experience makes the challenge of growing the Brotherhood there no less a priority.

"The First District isn't taking anything for granted," says International Vice President Phil Flemming. "We are taking an aggressive and proactive approach to building the IBEW to continue to make sure it remains the right choice for the next generation of electrical workers."

And in the six years since the 37th convention voted for a per capita increase to fund organizing, the First District has been swimming against the tide of declining union ranks, growing by nearly 750 new members in the last year alone.

The Electrical Worker recently sat down with First District International Representative William Martindale, who also serves as Region 6 membership development coordinator, First District Organizing Coordinator Mike LeBlanc, Political Action/Media Strategist Matt Wayland and Lead Organizer Rod McVicar to talk about IBEW organizing in Canada.

Q: What is the state of the First District's membership development program? Are there particular areas of focus?

A: Just as in the United States, our organizing program is split in two: construction and professional and industrial. For years construction organizing was a touchy subject and not every local understood its importance. Not anymore. It is widely accepted now that we have no choice but to grow.

Out West we are focused on some of the mega-projects in the oil and gas industry — which is booming because of drilling in the oil sands — where we face increased competition from nonunion contractors.

The professional and industrial group have campaigns involving our Railroad System Council 11, technicians in wind, solar and co-generation plants as well as communications and alarm workers. We have nationwide campaigns with Sears and CP Rail and are in the early stages of a blueprint that will focus on call centres.

Q: What new approaches are being used to attract unorganized workers?

A: We're pushing to make social media an integral part of membership development. We're also trying to use technology in other ways, the best example being in New Brunswick where Fredericton Local 37 handed out flash drives containing pro-IBEW material to white-collar workers at NB Power. Our organizers are also using YouTube and special campaign Web sites to spread the word.

We're getting more into trying to share our efforts with the community and the public at large, proactively building relations with the media like putting out press releases about campaigns.

Our NextGen effort to reach younger workers is also a key component to organizing, as many nonunion workers in Canada are under 35. A NextGen committee in a local can act as a volunteer organizing committee, helping staff identify targets and provide volunteers for campaigns.

Q: Talking about politics, how important is political action to membership development efforts?

A: Provinces with labour-friendly governments are much fairer when it comes to protecting employees' rights on the job. Organizers should be aware of the political situation in their provinces and get involved in political action because anti-worker governments such as in British Columbia or Saskatchewan directly harm our efforts to grow.

Q: What is the IBEW doing to improve labour's image?

A: We've adopted the Code of Excellence, which is winning over employers and employees to the IBEW because of our public commitment to perform a hard day's work in a safe and professional manner. We're also talking about starting an advertising campaign that will brand us as protectors of the middle class and leaders in the community.

Today's labour market is changing at alarming rates and organizing remains a top priority in the First District so we are taking every possible step to ensure we are reaching the unrepresented and future workers of our industry. We are dedicated to remaining the strongest force in the electrical industry and continue to focus on our goal, to be the first choice of workers in Canada.