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June 2013

Organizing Wire
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Alberta Oil Sands Workers Vote IBEW

For the IBEW's Darrell Taylor, organizing water treatment workers at the Alberta oil sands has been a lot like the tricky process of extracting raw fuel from the soil — slow and steady, but promising in the end.

Fifty-one employees of Edmonton-based EPCOR Water who perform the crucial tasks of treating sewage and potable water at the massive sites across the northern areas of the province recently voted to join Local 1007.

"The jobs these employees do are absolutely necessary for the safety and health of thousands of workers at the oil sands," said Taylor, the regional organizing coordinator for western Canada. "By gaining union representation, they'll have more of a voice in ensuring equity for co-workers and safety for all on the site."

Due to the sprawling nature of the oil sands' processing facilities, voting in the election was extended from late March to mid-April at various sites. Many new members also voted by mail-in ballot, and results were tallied April 15.

"It wasn't really about the money," said Taylor. "But these folks do very dangerous work, dealing with hazardous materials, caustic chemicals and sewage. They knew improvements could be made."

One worker who declined to be identified said that while the organizing process was delicate, "our goals as workers will also benefit management in the long run," citing better training as one of the aims for the unit's first contract.

"In many cases, employees are the ones who have to seek out additional education to excel on the job," the worker said. "Without proper training, there could easily be safety and environmental repercussions."

The gradual climb toward the election began in 2008, when EPCOR employees who were already represented by Local 1007 began talking with their nonunion co-workers.

Taylor and others — including District Organizing Coordinator Martin Duckworth and Local 1007 Business Manager Jimmy Connor — said the touch-and-go communication with the workers culminated in a bigger push to organize beginning last spring.

But getting employees together proved challenging. While nearly all performed similar jobs, having traveled from far-flung areas across Canada and working 10-hour shifts eight days in a row left little chance for face time. A campaign Web site — — and frequent e-mail and cell phone conversations helped bridge the gaps.

"It was slow going at first, but momentum gradually grew," Taylor said. "By the time we had our most recent meeting with many of the workers, you could see that bonds were forming and these employees were really starting to get the sense of what solidarity is all about."

Duckworth, who was the former business manager of the Edmonton local, said that the campaign could not have been possible without the support of existing Local 1007 members. "They helped start the dialogue and brought the workers' concerns to us."

Organizers say they are optimistic about working with new members and EPCOR management to secure a first contract that will ensure added safety provisions and a voice on the job.

"We have our work cut out for us to now put a collective bargaining agreement in place that delivers what these folks need and have voted for," said Connor. "But isn't that the business we're in?"


Fifty-one EPCOR workers joined Edmonton, Alberta, Local 1007.