The members of Moncton, New Brunswick, Local 1555, led by Business Manager Jeff Morash, successfully argued against a U.S.-based company’s claim that a project to rebuild a rural wind turbine farm should be classified as maintenance instead of construction.
Photo credit: Creative Commons/Flickr user Nextar

When a company used legal loopholes and technical trickery to prevent the IBEW from bidding on a project to rebuild a troubled New Brunswick wind turbine farm, the leaders of Moncton Local 1555 fought back.

“Doing nothing, not taking this fight forward, was not an option,” said Local 1555 Business Manager Jeff Morash. “If we rolled over, there would be no coming back from it.”

The problems began in September 2021, when an 80-metre-tall, 3-megawatt wind turbine — one of 50 built by a nonunion firm about an hour south of Moncton — collapsed following a storm.

After inspecting the remaining towers, the wind farm’s owner learned that the foundations for the remaining 49 — built between 2008 and 2018 — were unsafe and needed to be torn down and rebuilt.

The first contractors approached for the project backed away from it. “They said, ‘It’s not reasonable; we can’t do this for your price,’” Morash said. It would have taken three times the manpower to complete the job in the timeframe the owners wanted, he said.

A few months later, Local 1555 was surprised to learn that a U.S.-based contractor had been awarded the project. “In the span of days, there was a signed voluntary recognition agreement and a new agreement between the contractor and the [United Brotherhood of] Carpenters,” Morash said. “The contractor brought in their own people and started a union local with no members, just for this project, with an employer-driven agreement pretending to be a union contract.”

Local 1555 rushed to object. “The IBEW has an exclusive agreement for construction in New Brunswick,” Morash said. Besides, “nobody was given a chance to bid again on this project.”

The employer had made a curious claim, though. It called the electrical work maintenance rather than construction, Morash said.

In late 2022, Local 1555 filed to have the province terminate the VRA, a necessary step before the IBEW could go after the wind farm work. “Our goal was to stake the claim that this is union electrician construction work,” he said.

The employer tried several ways to delay the IBEW’s efforts and moved to have the local’s motions dismissed. “We can laugh now,” Morash said, “but in the thick of it, we were trying to sift through information, trying to understand how somebody had thought all this out.”

At a June 2023 hearing before the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board, Morash noted, the IBEW’s opposition couldn’t answer basic questions, such as when the charter for the Carpenters local was awarded and why the collective bargaining agreement had no end date and made no mention of electrical work.

Several months later, Local 1555 prevailed. The VRA was terminated, and the local’s request to allow the IBEW to go after the work was granted — without a hearing.

“You can be right and justified, but it still could have gone against us at any time,” Morash said, stressing that his 140-plus-member local had no choice but to try. “If we hadn’t, this might have become general practice.”

Morash hopes this situation serves as a warning to other locals and unions.

“It dilutes the power of labour unions and weakens our message,” he said. “As union leaders, we take these things very personally. We’re trying to raise the bar for our workers.”

First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk hopes the Local 1555 case sends a message. “When it comes to organizing workers and gaining market share, every fight is worth it, even when it feels like you’re David going up against Goliath,” Shewchuk said. “This is a small cost of doing business for these large companies.”

“We really credit Russ for changing the IBEW’s message,” Morash said. “He came in and put a real effort into organizing. It gave us confidence, his energy, looking 10 to 20 years down the road.”