Montreal Locals 568 and 1604 once again racked up membership gains during the province's recent open period.
“I couldn't be prouder of our locals," said First District International Vice President Tom Reid. "As always, their hard work paid off and more working people will now have the benefits of IBEW membership."
Quebec is a unique case when it comes to organizing. Unlike other provinces, unionization in construction is mandatory. Every four years during the month of May there is an open period, or "raid" as it's also known, where workers can choose to either stay with their current representation or switch to another of the province's five major unions. And members don't technically vote to join the IBEW. Instead, they vote to join the Quebec building trades, or CPQMCI, of which the IBEW is a member.
Montreal Locals 568 and 1604 racked up significant membership gains during this year's open period.
"Where other locals scrap it out with nonunion shops, we scrap it out between unions," said Local 568 Business Manager Guy Fournier.
This year's scrap went well. Local 568, which has about 700 members, lost 73 but gained 207, similar to their gains last time around in 2016. Local 1604, which mostly represents alarm technicians, lost 38 but gained 67.
"We've never lost a raid since 1995," said Local 1604 Business Manager Normand Bouchard. "We always come up on top."
The open period is the only time when unions are allowed to solicit members, though both Bouchard and Fournier noted that the best way to get and keep members is to consistently provide them with the best possible service, especially since their dues are higher than other unions. The IBEW is also the only union that provides a pension and death benefits, a selling point to many.
"If you don't give any service, you don't keep your members," Fournier said. "We might be more expensive, but you get more in return."
Normally during an open period, the locals would do tried-and-true organizing like in-person visits to job sites to hand out shirts, hard hats, pins and other items. But with the coronavirus a lot of that changed this year.
"It was quite different. We couldn't do as much one-on-one. And believe it or not, some guys will change unions just for a shirt," Fournier said.
Bouchard relied more on his email program to get the word out. Fournier had a video made. Both made a lot more phone calls. It was all about reminding members of all the work they'd done, soliciting feedback and being as visible as possible under the circumstances. For a small local like 1604, which has just under 400 members, the face-to-face interactions can make a real difference.
"It's a miracle what we do with the funds we have," Bouchard said. "I'm very proud of the effort we made."
Fournier, whose local primarily represents construction workers, noted that another recruitment opportunity lies with apprentices. The two-year program graduates electricians every six months, providing a biannual opportunity to meet with potential members and tell them about the value of the IBEW. Last year, they got 58 new members that way.
"You've got to get them off the school bench," Fournier said. "About 70% of our organizing comes from meeting with students."
Bouchard and Fournier also noted the importance of fellow members in organizing. They're the ones on the job sites, talking with other workers every day, which can make them the best surrogates for the union.
"It's a constant effort. I stay very humble about this," Bouchard said. "Anyone that laces their boots in the morning deserves fair representation."
Looking forward, Fournier says Local 568 is considering more digital organizing options, like a phone app and holding meetings by video. There may never be a complete substitute for face-to-face conversation, but there are other options out there, particularly for bringing in younger members.
"We're not in 1970 anymore," Fournier said. "At the end of the day, you want to inform your members, so you need to meet them where they're at.”