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May 2021

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Canadian Air Safety in a Flat Spin, Needs a Rescue

The pandemic has wreaked havoc across the economy, but few industries have done worse than aviation. In Canada, flights in 2020 were down almost 90% from 2019.

Nav Canada, the nonprofit that maintains the country's civilian aviation navigation system, is funded by the airlines through a fee-for-service agreement. When flights evaporated, Nav Canada went into free fall.

The 4,100 union workers at Nav Canada negotiated a pay and hiring freeze and watched an entire cohort of students be laid off.

Ottawa Local 2228 represented more than 650 air traffic safety electronics personnel across the country. It was already understaffed before the pandemic and an additional 15% have been laid off over the last year. Other trades were hit even worse.

If nothing is done, and soon, the loss of skilled workers, including the future of the industry, could be devastating for civil aviation in Canada.

Local 2228 Business Manager Paul Cameron and First District International Representative Matt Wayland launched a first of its kind, fully digital grassroots political action campaign to raise the alarm in Parliament and in the Labor and Transport ministries.

"We were testifying with the pilots, the flight attendants and the controllers, people with loud voices and really the faces of the industry's workforce. We need to raise our voices so we aren't forgotten anymore," said Wayland.

They also testified at a virtual parliamentary hearing on the state of the aviation industry.

Last spring, the Canadian government created an emergency response benefit for laid-off workers and a wage subsidy to help companies maintain their workforce. But it has fallen far short of Nav Canada's needs.

"They are a not-for-profit. They can only charge on a break-even basis and, look, it's not like the airlines are holding out on them," Wayland said. "They've done all they can to cut costs, but they have exhausted their reserves and I am genuinely worried about what happens next if the government doesn't step in soon."

Cameron said it takes new hires several years before they can work on equipment. If the company is forced to wait until the industry picks up — whenever that is — the existing workforce will be overworked and exhausted and the rehires and new hires won't be ready.

"These workers are in high demand. If you lay them off, they will go to work at utilities or telecoms," Cameron said. "Airlines can lay off pilots and they will come back. If you lay us off, they may not want to come back. It will take us almost a decade before we replace them and that will domino throughout the aviation system."

And equipment that is shut down can't simply be turned back on — there are safety procedures that must be run and serious questions about what happens if there aren't skilled professionals to do the work.

Cameron said that the safety of the system will never be threatened; the capacity of the aviation system will just shrink. Fewer safety technologists will translate into fewer flights and longer delays.

It also means the large number of international flights that pay fees to use Canadian air space might have to be diverted to other countries that maintain their civil aviation system better, Cameron said.

And it's entirely avoidable, he said.

Cameron and Wayland first spoke to lawmakers in April of last year. Since then, Nav Canada has been losing $1.7 million per day.

Their new campaign urges Canadian residents to speak up and the website has a boilerplate letter that will automatically be sent to their MP (based on the post code they provide), the Ministers of Transport and Labour, as well as the shadow ministers from the Conservative Party, the critic from the NDP and the parliamentary secretary.

Wayland urges people to personalize the boilerplate language they have provided, but to keep the focus simple: The future safety of the Canadian civil aviation system is in the balance here.

"They need to know they have one chance to get it right and time is running out," he said.

The First District has supported digital letter writing campaigns in the past, but Wayland said they have never organized one entirely themselves, from drafting the letters, making it accessible from all major social media platforms and email, and sending it out to the entire Canadian membership.

The impact was immediate, he said. Within 24 hours of the notification going just to locals and on social media, 460 people had signed and sent letters. They have since contacted the entire membership.

The campaign calls for the passage of a wage grant to Nav Canada to maintain the existing workforce, rehire laid-off workers and bring back the trainees. The cost is substantial: $750 million a year for two years as a grant and not a loan that would simply be passed on to airlines that are already clinging to solvency.

The only way to get it done is to make as much noise as possible, Wayland said.

"We have been working on bringing attention to this since March and it just hasn't happened," Wayland said. "Our strength is in our size and unity as a brotherhood. Our hope is that we get this support we need and then we will happily — and literally — get back under the radar."


Nav Canada air traffic safety electronics technicians Simon Premech and Andre Lenarcik and the other members of Ottawa, Ontario, Local 2228 are fighting to keep Canadian civil aviation safe and to save their jobs.

IBEW Steps in to Rescue Ohio Solar Project

When the developers of a large solar farm in Ohio needed help getting a nonunion project finished, they turned to IBEW members from Cincinnati, where Local 212 stood ready to pick up the slack.

"An abundance of residential and utility-scale solar work is coming to our entire area," said International Vice President Gina Cooper, whose Fourth District covers Ohio plus the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. "Our business managers and international representatives are going all out to capture as much of it as they can, but it's always a compliment to our members when someone comes to us directly to do the work."

The IBEW worked with Open Road Renewables, which developed this project and then sold it to Innergex Renewable Energy for construction and operation. Despite ORR's support for the IBEW, Innergex chose a nonunion shop to build the project and, in March 2020, broke ground on a 1,350-acre, 200-megawatt solar farm called Hillcrest, near Mt. Orab, about an hour's drive east of Cincinnati.

Innergex is among the many solar energy development companies that have come to Ohio to take advantage of the state's skilled workforce and its "payment in lieu of taxes," or PILOT, program, a special taxing arrangement enacted more than 10 years ago by the state's Legislature. PILOT creates a steady stream of revenue from these projects that flows to local communities, requires a local workforce and brings certainty to developer and community alike.

"PILOT has helped spur this explosion in renewable energy interest," said Fourth District International Representative Steve Crum. The arrangement was developed with an eye toward granting localities stability and confidence when calculating tax revenues from solar and wind installations, he said.

"For projects like Hillcrest Solar, developers expect to contribute $7,000 to $9,000 per megawatt directly back into local communities," he said. PILOT also gives developers certainty as it provides an alternative to traditional, and often fluctuating, tax rates. Once Hillcrest is operational, it could send an estimated $60 million into Brown County localities over the life of the facility, thanks to PILOT.

But developers and communities can't claim any of PILOT's financial advantages unless developers can first guarantee that at least 80% of workers on a given project officially reside in Ohio. This is where Deltro, the nonunion company Innergex contracted to work at Hillcrest, ran into trouble, said Local 212 Business Manager Rick Fischer.

"They weren't meeting their marks," said Fischer, whose jurisdiction includes the Hillcrest site. So, Deltro asked Innergex to seek a residency waiver from the state, he said. Innergex countered that Deltro should instead ask for help from Ohio-based IBEW signatory contractor ESI Electrical, with whom Innergex had worked on other projects.

Naturally, ESI and its IBEW electricians from Local 212 were more than capable of assisting Innergex and Deltro to get the job done, Crum said. "Working together, we found a solution and helped them meet that 80% requirement," he said.

Not only was the IBEW asked to help get the project back on track, but the journeyman wiremen and apprentices on the job so impressed Innergex that Local 212 was able to carve out more pieces of the overall work, Fischer said.

"We've still got 30 members working 7-10 [shifts] on it," he said. "I'd say we've done pretty well with Hillcrest."

But the growing opportunities in this industry are at risk, with two bills pending before the Ohio Legislature that could halt such projects. If passed, these bills would allow for a local township referenda process, where a vocal opposition group could vote its disapproval of these projects, blocking their construction, even if the state's Power Siting Board had approved a permit.

"It sometimes takes 18 months for developers to do various site and environmental studies," Crum said, "spending millions of dollars per site to consider the effect these facilities could have on neighboring properties. It doesn't make sense to let townships wave all that away with a vote."

IBEW leaders agree with the Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition of Ohio that energy generation is best regulated by the Ohio Power Siting Board. The union has supported efforts to keep these bills from becoming law, with Crum and other IBEW members testifying against them before Ohio House and Senate committees.

Now, Crum said, there's less than 1,000 megawatts of solar and wind energy being generated in the state. But he cited an Ohio University study that estimated renewable energy projects currently in the queue could require 18,000 to 54,000 electricians and other construction workers and, under PILOT, deliver $3 billion to $10 billion to Buckeye State localities.

"In Ohio, there are more than 30 major solar projects in the pipeline," Crum said — mostly utility-scale solar farms like Hillcrest that generate 50 megawatts or more, typically in rural areas hard hit by economic recessions and COVID-19. "A lot of construction work is expected to start in the next two years," he said.

These 30-plus projects total around 6.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar power. "You can see the potential opportunities for our members," Crum said. "We fully expect to put battery storage under existing solar farms over the next few years, too."

Vice President Cooper said the IBEW welcomes such projects. "We have 21 locals throughout Ohio and nearby West Virginia that sponsor training centers for apprentices and journeymen to learn about power generation and transmission, energy efficiency, instrumentation and of course electrical construction," she said. "We're very well positioned to meet the manpower needs."


The IBEW recently saved the day for a utility-scale solar project in Ohio, just one of the scores of such projects being planned for rural communities throughout the state.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user UDExtension