The Electrical Worker online
December 2013

Organizing Wire
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Ontario Building Trades Offer JMR Employees
a 'Better Deal'

What do you call a union that conspires with employers to stop another union from organizing? That negotiates wage packages that are 10 to 30 percent less than other union shops?

In Ontario, Canada, it's called the Christian Labour Association of Canada, and for years it has prevented workers at JMR Construction — a provincial-wide construction company — from having a real voice on the job.

Now the 300 JMR Construction workers have a choice.

On Oct.1, the open period for JMR Construction employees to switch unions began, and three members of the building trades — the IBEW, the Sheet Metal Workers, and the Plumbers — are working together to organize JMR employees.

"We've really come together, running a professional campaign from top to bottom," said London Local 120 Business Manager Paul Dolsen.

Under Ontario labour law, construction workers have the opportunity to switch unions every three years. During a three-month open period, any union that can get the majority of employees at a given company signed up is certified as the sole collective bargaining agent.

The building trades' campaign is a combination of door-knocking and worksite visits and sophisticated online public relations.

Twenty-eight full-time organizers from the three trades are hitting worksites throughout Ontario with informational fliers, holding one-on-one discussions with workers.

The Web site includes videos and interactive graphics showcasing the benefit of joining the building trades. These include higher wages, a better pension and more training opportunities:

In London, IBEW electricians make $8.75 (Canadian currency) more a hour than their CLAC counterparts.

JMR Construction only puts approximately 5 percent aside for employees' pensions. With the building trades, employers contribute on average between 11 and 18 percent.

Most of CLAC's training focuses on safety. The IBEW offers advanced training in more than 20 different areas, including solar and communications wiring.

The site also hosts video testimonials from former CLAC members at JMR.

"Joining the building trades was one of the best decisions I've made," said Local 120 member Gary Creek, who joined the IBEW last June. "When CLAC was my union, I felt like I was paying union dues, but getting nothing for it."

The building trades tried organizing JMR six years ago, but management brought in CLAC to head it off.

"The owner basically told employees if they didn't go with CLAC, he was going to close up shop," said John Grimshaw, executive secretary-treasurer of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario.

CLAC's reputation for weak contracts and its refusal to provide genuine representation to members has created dissatisfaction among employees. Particularly galling was CLAC's recent agreement, which let the company force workers to move to Thunder Bay — approximately 900 miles northwest of Toronto — for a job.

"Basically, we were told that if we did not take the deal CLAC negotiated, we would be treated as taking a voluntary layoff," Creek said. "We might or might not be called back to work."

CLAC has also refused to push for overtime pay.

"If you are going to pay dues, why not actually get something for your money?" said Grimshaw.

The open-period closes Dec. 31.

To learn more about the campaign go to