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January 2017

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Ontario Legislation Could 'Make My
Apprenticeship Useless'

Toronto Local 353 Business Manager Steven Martin isn't just dismayed the Legislative Assembly of Ontario passed a measure that might compromise public safety and harm the livelihood of trade unionists.

He's equally upset that it was pushed by the majority Liberal Party and Premier Kathleen Wynne, whom the IBEW once saw as political allies.

"We were quite hopeful the government would have taken it seriously when we told them this needed more study and told us, 'We need to sit down and have a consultation with the trades on this,'" Martin said. "They didn't do that."

At issue is Schedule 17 of Omnibus Budget Bill 70, which gives the government-run Ontario Labour Relations Board sweeping powers over compulsory and non-compulsory trades, taking those responsibilities away from the industry-run Ontario College of Trades. The budget bill, along with the attached schedule, was passed on Dec. 8.

IBEW leaders and members fear it will undercut the value of apprenticeship. It also would take work away from IBEW members and others skilled in the trades. The unlicensed workers that could replace them likely would command lower wages.

"It will make my apprenticeship useless because anyone will be able to do my trade," said Sam Lapierre, an apprentice member of Ottawa Local 586, in an interview with the CBC.

The IBEW and other trade unions knew such a proposal was possible after the release in November 2015 of the Dean Report, which recommended that when two or more trades are allowed to do the same work, employers can hire anyone to do it, not just compulsory certified trade workers.

Union leaders thought the proposal would be considered as part of a separate bill. They didn't expect for Wynne and other Liberal politicians to attach it to the provincial budget bill, which was virtually guaranteed to pass. She would be required to call for provincial elections if her majority government failed to do so because it would be seen as a vote of no confidence in her.

The matter now looks to be headed to court.

"We didn't see this coming, that's for sure," said First District political action and media strategist Matt Wayland. "You're talking about public safety and the livelihood of people who work in the compulsory certified trades."

A rally on Nov. 30 just outside the provincial legislative building in Toronto drew about 4,500 people, many of them IBEW members, who learned about it less than a week earlier. They carried signs that read "Wynne: Stop Attacking Skilled Trades" and "Public Safety Over Corporate Profits."

"I was pleased to see the turnout considering the short notice," First District Vice President William F. Daniels said. "It's something that came together fast and let's face it, the trades recognize that this is a real attack on our way of living."

John Grimshaw, secretary/treasurer of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario, said the College of Trades sends inspectors to jobsites to assure licensed workers are doing the work in areas that require compulsory certification. If the worker or contractor receives a citation, they can appeal it to the provincial courts.

Schedule 17 sends those decisions to the labour board instead and takes the college out of it, Grimshaw said. It also opens areas for non-licensed workers to work in areas that previously required compulsory certification.

"This is not a labour-relations matter," Grimshaw said. "It affects everybody. It's the integrity of the trades."

Or, as Martin put it: "You don't hire a jack-of-all-trades guy to install a fire alarm in a public building. You hire someone that has been trained to do it. It's a public safety issue."

"We [Local 353] spend 9,000 hours in our apprenticeship programs teaching our craft," Martin added. "We are the largest trainers of apprentices in Canada. The next step here by the government is to deregulate the trades and get rid of the apprenticeships."

The trade unions have traditionally been strong supporters of the Liberal Party, helping it regain its majority status in the 2014 provincial elections. But Local 353 has declined to offer financial support or attend party events since the release of the Dean Report, Martin said.

"If this passes, it would be very difficult for us to support Liberal candidates," Wayland said before the vote. "Our members would be mobilized. We would be doing our best to unseat them. Our members mobilized in the last election to put a lot of Liberal MPPs in the seats they have."

Martin said he expects Local 353 members to lose about one-third of their work.

"We need to tell this government that this is not the end," Grimshaw said during the Nov. 30 rally. "It's the beginning and we're not taking this."


Trade union members, many of them representing the IBEW, rally at Queen's Park in Toronto, home of Ontario's Parliament, on Nov. 30.