The Electrical Worker online
November 2012

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

Go to
IBEW Sees Growth in Quebec

IBEW organizers in Quebec are feeling hopeful that a new era is dawning in Canada's second biggest province. Last summer, more than 100 electricians voted to join the Brotherhood in industry-wide elections, making it one of the union's biggest victories in Quebec in many years.

"It's monumental," says First District International Representative Mike LeBlanc, who serves as the organizing coordinator for Eastern Canada.

"It is a sign that many Quebecois electricians are looking for an alternative to the provincially-based unions that have historically dominated the construction industry," says First District International Vice President Phil Flemming.

Quebec's uniquely worker-friendly labour relations law means that nearly 100 percent of construction workers are unionized, dispersed among nearly a half-dozen separate unions.

The labour code gives all construction workers the opportunity to switch unions every three years in provincial-wide elections. The union that gets the most support has the right to bargain with the contractors' association, setting wage rates and working standards for all employees.

IBEW organizers, who had a month in the lead-up to the vote to campaign for new members, fanned out through the province, leafleting work sites and knocking on doors to win new members to the union.

"Our guys were on the road a lot, hitting every place we could," says Montreal Local 568 Business Manager Laurent Talbot. "We put a lot of sweat and effort into publicizing the benefits of joining the IBEW."

The IBEW's national jurisdiction proved to be a big selling point. "An IBEW card means you can work anywhere in Canada because we're part of an international union," says Talbot. "A rival union's card is only good here." Organizers also talked about the union's stronger retirement and death benefits, he says.

Despite the IBEW's recent gains, the union still remains a distinct minority among electricians, dwarfed by the rival Quebec Federation of Labour-Construction (FTQ). The FTQ represents more than 80 percent of the work force in the construction industry, and has used its market share to create a discriminatory job market that gives the union a near monopoly over hiring and placement on construction projects.

"Traditionally it was the FTQ that ended up deciding who got to work, which was unfair to members of other construction unions," says Talbot.

However recent reforms to the labour relations law could help break the FTQ's hold on jobs, giving other unions, including the IBEW, access to new projects. Bill 33, which was passed by the provincial legislature last year, took away the FTQ's near-exclusive power to staff construction jobs, allowing rival unions the right to make manpower recommendations to the public agency.

"If you weren't FTQ, it was hard to get work," says Mike LeBlanc.

The legislation also streamlines the election process, allowing workers to vote by mail instead of having to drive to a polling place, as well as extending the term of the agreement from three years to four.

The IBEW's growth comes at an important time for Quebec's economy. The new Parti Québécois government says it will continue its predecessor's commitment to investing in industrial and transportation infrastructure in the province's northern region, home to a booming mining sector. Northern Quebec has seen a 62 percent increase in commercial investment since last year, which means more construction jobs and a tighter labour market.

Both the Montreal and Quebec City commercial markets are also booming, with Local 568 boasting near-full employment. In addition to two big hospital projects in Quebec's largest city, IBEW members are building wind farms for the province's growing green energy sector.

Bill 33 goes into full effect in December. Local 568 Business Representative Guy Fournier says the transfer of staffing responsibility from local union halls to the province's construction commission poses new challenges in getting IBEW members on the job at some of Quebec's biggest projects, but says Local 568 is working with contractors to prepare for the transition.

"We're not sure how it will work, but we will continue to push to make sure IBEW members — including our 115 new brothers — will find work throughout Quebec," he says.


More than 100 Quebec electricians joined Montreal Local 568 in provincial elections last summer.