When representatives from the IBEW presented more than CA$250,000 to seven children’s hospitals across Canada, the charitable act brought closure to a turbulent chapter in the Canadian labour movement.

IBEW members presenting cheques from the Canadian Federation of Labour were, clockwise from top left, International Representative Brian Matheson, Local 586 Business Manager John Bourke (right), Local 568 Business Representative Derek Harvey, Local 254 Assistant Business Manager Karen Stoshnof (right), International Representative Brian Murdoch and International Representative Adam Van Steinburg.

“The money came from the last of the funds held by the Canadian Federation of Labour,” said First District International Vice President Tom Reid. “As one of the members of the CFL’s executive committee, I’m pleased with our decision to designate our donations to these unquestionably deserving recipients.”

Receiving CA$36,000 each in January were the British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Vancouver; the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary; the Children’s Hospital of Manitoba in Winnipeg; the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa; the Montréal Children’s Hospital; the Izaak Walton Killam Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and the Janeway Children’s Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

These gifts marked the official end of the CFL, an organization created following a series of bitter and seemingly unsolvable policy disputes that came to a head in 1982. That year, fed-up IBEW locals in Canada elected to combine their forces with several other construction trades unions that also had broken away from the Canadian Labour Congress to affiliate with this wholly separate organization for workers.

“Quitting the CLC was a tough call, but we felt that the needs of the building trades unions simply weren’t being heard by the CLC back then,” said Reid. “We believed that we simply had no alternative.” At one point, the CFL represented nearly 200,000 men and women from Canada’s building trades.

The rift came at a tough time for Canada’s workers, Reid said. Labour laws favouring workers slowly and consistently were being repealed across Canada just as unemployment in the country’s building trades began to rise sharply. Anti-labour businesses started taking advantage of this interfederation rift, meanwhile, by awarding more of the country’s available electrical and construction work to nonunion contractors.

Stung by all of these problems, not to mention the resulting raiding that had grown commonplace for unions in both federations, delegates to the IBEW’s All Canada Progress Meeting in 1995 authorized then-First District Vice President Ken Woods to decide whether to permit Canada’s locals to rejoin the CLC. Two years later, Woods declared they would do so. “The issues of raiding, representation and labour unity could not, and would not, be resolved while labour was fractionalized,” Woods said.

Gradually, the remaining CFL organizations also returned to the CLC. “It may be a lesson that many of our unions had to relearn the hard way,” Reid said, “but the ultimate message of the labour movement is that we are truly stronger when we all act together as one.”

Even so, the IBEW and other unions continued to administer the CFL’s executive committee until a few months ago, mainly to supervise the donation of funds still held in the federation’s treasury.

“That money, which had been collected from members over the years, had been slowly disbursed to various charities,” said First District International Representative Cheryl Paron. But last fall, she said, the executive committee voted to disburse the last of its funds and close down the CFL for good.

“We just started looking around for reputable and worthy organizations,” Paron said, eventually settling on the seven children’s hospitals. “Members can rest assured that the money is going to a really good cause.”

But the IBEW had a little more work to do. Reid realized there was no plan for getting the cheques to the hospitals other than simply dropping envelopes in the post. So, he tapped several IBEW members to personally deliver the money to as many of the hospitals as possible.

Making the presentations — complete with appropriate oversized ceremonial cheques — were First District international representatives Brian Matheson, Brian Murdoch and Adam Van Steinburg; Ottawa, Ontario Local 586 Business Manager John Bourke; Calgary, Alberta, Local 254 Assistant Business Manager Karen Stoshnof; and Montréal, Québec, Local 568 business representative Derek Harvey.

“We’re proud to support in this small way the hard-working individuals who work faithfully to keep Canada’s world-famous health care system running smoothly,” Reid said. “We also think it’s a fitting final act for the CFL before we turn out its lights for good.”