The International Brotherhood Of Boilermakers Canada

The key to success in any business sector requires the utmost in intelligent planning, thorough execution, ongoing quality-control maintenance and unwavering unity throughout the entire process.  The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Canada has always ensured they not only meet but exceed such contractor and owner expectations on all projects.

When an organization is able to name contract clients that it has continued to service for more than a century, it goes a long way in proving the calibre of work throughout the years has been nothing short of outstanding. Such is the case for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Canada.  With 36 Local lodges and about 13,000 members represented in every province and territory, the highly-respected trade union has always been known for its timely, quality work on every project it undertakes.

The boilermaker trade was first recognized as a standalone craft about 300 years ago. It was more than 130 years ago when Boilermakers and Iron Ship Builders from across North America established this union almost simultaneously in Kansas City, Kansas in the United States and here in Canada.

The primary incentive for establishing the union was to provide a working environment for trade workers to secure work projects with dignity along with improved wages, hours, working conditions and other economic drivers through collective bargaining. A merger took place in the 1890s when the international conglomerate was formed. There are two primary regional offices in Edmonton and St. John, New Brunswick with membership from coast to coast in every province and territory.  The two main North American affiliates are the AFL-CIO in the United States and the Canadian Labour of Congress here in Canada. The Boilermakers are also affiliated with the National Building Trades and proudly represent people who work for National Defense, whose job it is to prepare and repair the Canadian Fleet on both the Atlantic and Pacific.

The Canadian Boilermakers operate under one constitution for North America with an executive council, which includes a general president although some of the labour laws and pension rules are different here in Canada than in the United States. Leadership of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers is derived from its membership. Heading up the Canadian operation is Joseph Maloney, International Vice President of Canada. Born and raised in Toronto, Maloney has been a proud member of the Boilermakers since joining as an apprentice at Local 128 in Toronto in 1974. He was appointed to the top position in Canada on July 1, 2014 after holding several other important positions through the years.

The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Maloney about the evolution of the Boilermakers in this country.

“Of the 36 Local lodges, seven are in construction and maintenance,” he begins. “Those are the big Locals. They have, at minimum, province-wide jurisdiction. The remaining Locals can be shop fabrication, shipyards Locals and we also have many industrial units in various sectors such as cement and mining.”

Maloney confirms that the seven main construction Locals work solely in the heavy industrial facilities in the country. The union does not work in residential or commercial projects.

“It’s all pressure welding that we do either in shipbuilding, rail shops or fabrication. Our guys work with steel that can be four inches thick.”


The Boilermakers have a very comprehensive apprenticeship training program that takes four years to complete. Starting as a first-year apprentice requires 1,600 hours per year that an individual much achieve in order to move on to the next level.  There are three sets of academic training that typically last anywhere from six to eight weeks.

The detailed apprenticeship program consists of a national curriculum, so regardless of whether a boilermaker is taught in New Brunswick, Alberta, Saskatchewan or Ontario it’s all the same information.

This is especially useful for workers who are very transient and mobile, meaning there are no shockwaves when they arrive for work in another jurisdiction.

“In year four you write your final exam to the Red Seal level, which is the highest level in Canada. If you pass, you become a journeyperson,” says Maloney.

Employees who have the drive and ambition to move up through the ranks of the association have countless opportunities to receive advanced knowledge and supervisory training. There is a national training department consisting of three full-time dedicated staff members, whose purpose is to design, develop and implement national programs in the areas of supervision, project management and leadership. On the Boilermakers’ website you will find an innovative e-learning program called the Boilermaker Virtual Campus.

“We have 18 various subjects that people can go in and upgrade themselves online while in the luxury of their own home and go from there. To show you the interest in that, of the 18 various disciplines when we started this in 2008, we’ve had over 6,100 participants so we feel that’s quite a success story,” says Maloney.

There is a constant barrage of new technologies emerging at all times; it’s a life-long learning experience and because of that, each of the Local construction lodges has an administration and a training centre.

Furthermore, each of those centres has welding facilities where people can go for testing in order to be at the very pinnacle of what is expected and required of them within the industry. A strong reputation is fundamental and a determining factor in landing future projects.

“We pride ourselves very deeply on supplying the top qualified people to our contractors,” remarks Maloney. “When you are working in the boilermaker trade, you’ve got to know what you are doing. When we send people out we ensure they are qualified and can get the job done right the first time.”

One particular training aspect that annoys Maloney revolves around redundant and repetitive training.

As example, each province currently has mandated training courses, but if a worker moves on to the exact same job in another province, he or she must take the same training course all over again.

“It’s a colossal waste of time and money to the industry,” he remarks. “It eats up on productivity and the owner ends up paying for it. We are working towards developing a Boilermaker specific national certificate in several different disciplines and have industry accept this in every province so that when a Boilermaker migrates around the country they’ll have that ticket and owner or contractor will know the worker has been certified and don’t need to go through repetitive training.”


The Boilermakers are always recruiting and looking to bring new, young skilled members into the fold, but unlike some unions they are not seeing a shortage on intakes of apprentices and in fact there are actually waiting lists to get in. It is of utmost importance to be able to provide the necessary workforce when called upon, which is one of the reasons why the union has an all-inclusive workforce planning program in the union and a dedicated workforce planner, operating alongside a company from Sugarland, Texas called Info Resources, which supplies the union with available work hours for Boilermakers in Canada. The Boilermakers currently represent about 85% of the market share in their industries, which is an astoundingly impressive statistic. Much of that tremendous success can be attributed to excellent pre-planning.

“It’s a very detailed breakdown they do for us and we take that data and we are able to determine how many boilermakers we are going to need. We look at how many members we have in our active supply and that tells us whether we’re going to have a shortfall or a surplus. We also factor in how many Boilermakers are eligible to retire so we do a very detailed forecast on what we’re going to need in the future,” says Maloney.

As part of the overall recruitment process, the Boilermakers visit high schools and often partake in job fairs across the country. There are also online recruitment options and apprenticeship coordinators in every province. There are also specific programs in most provinces to entice women and Aboriginal participation within the trades.

“When you join us you are coming in for a career. We have great pension plans and health and welfare plans; it’s a great place to work,” says Maloney. “Right now the average age for us is about 43 years old”
Among the top priorities for the Boilermakers focuses on growth, so membership intake is critical. An obstacle that can arise from time to time is that it takes four years to train a boilermaker. With that in mind the union developed its own temporary foreign worker program where they have established pools of qualified Boilermakers in the United States who have experienced similar apprenticeship programs as those in Canada. There is also an established a pool of about 250 qualified Irish welders in Ireland, which allows Canada to utilize those pools when necessary if there happen to be any employee shortages.

“We’re a business union. We don’t go looking with our cap in hand looking for handouts from governments or anybody else. We negotiate with our fair contractors. If we get a dollar an hour increase, from that dollar we pay into our pension plans, our health and welfare plans and training. We take care of our own and that’s why we’re so successful,” says Maloney.

Current and future projects

The Boilermakers operate on business cycles as is the case with any organization in the construction industry. Some of the contractors Maloney and the Boilermakers work closest with have been in operation since pre-Confederation and it’s the Boilermakers who have consistently provide the primary source of labour for steel construction and maintenance.

There are a number of current projects and those on the horizon that the Boilermakers will be instrumental in developing. In British Columbia they are breaking wide open with the Site C dam that’s coming up and the possible LNG projects that are expected to move ahead.

“We’ve always got work at the dams in the hydro-electric system,” says Maloney.

In the Alberta oil patches, even with the price of oil being down the existing plants still require ongoing maintenance from the experts at the Boilermakers. Then there are the bountiful potash mines in Saskatchewan, while in Ontario the power sector is always upgrading or building on to their facilities.

“We are going to be doing the re-tubing at the Bruce Power and Darlington sites,” Maloney reveals.

“Those two jobs will put hundreds of Boilermakers to work for a considerable period of time.”

In Quebec there has been a long tradition of work for the union, much of which arises from the power plants. Further to the east the union remains busy in Newfoundland and Labrador with the offshore platforms that are being constructed.

“One thing you should understand about Quebec is that it’s the only jurisdiction in the world where if you work in the construction industry you must, by law, be in a union and 99% of boilermakers in the province are in the Boilermaker union,” Maloney mentions.

A recently completed project that Maloney and the Boilermakers are particularly proud about is the Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, equipped with the state-of-the-art carbon capture technology.

There were about 300 Boilermakers on that project for just under a year.

“It is brand new technology that was installed for the first time ever in the world that helps cut carbon emissions,” Maloney proudly notes. “The Boilermakers were the priority trade on that job. We did the job accident free and completed it on time and the owner, SaskPower, was extremely happy with our work.”

Industry initiatives

While working in Ottawa, Maloney was instrumental in working with others in changing EI eligibility from weekly to hourly, which helped thousands of construction workers. He and others also worked closely with then Federal Finance Minister Paul Martin and The Interior Systems Contractors Association.

“We brought in a reporting system for subcontracting, where if I subcontract I must report it to the federal government. Just bringing that rule in alone has generated and continues to generate approximately $500 million a year in revenue to the federal government,” states Maloney.

Additionally, the acclaimed Helmets to Hardhats program was founded by Joseph Maloney in both the United States and Canada while he was working with the National Building Trades. He first joined that organization in Ottawa in 1993 where he remained until 2000, when he was elected in Washington, D.C. to serve as the International Secretary Treasurer of the Building Trades representing all construction workers in North America. He stayed there until 2006, returning to Canada and the Boilermakers where he first represented Western Canada as Vice President.

Helmets to Hardhats is designed to assimilate veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. By his own admission, the apprenticeship program started off a little slowly but it has since picked up considerable momentum. It’s a Web-based program whereby the veteran will register and indicate the type of work the person is interested in and where he lives. A dedicated full-time staff runs the program in Ottawa under the direction of retired Air Force Brigadier General Greg Matte, who serves as Executive Director.

About 3,700 veterans have registered for the program.

“We’re into our fourth year of operation in Canada. Right now I can tell you that we’re placing a veteran or reservist into a construction industry opportunity every other day. It has support nationwide. Every trade is involved as well as many contractors and owners including the likes of TransCanada Pipelines, Syncrude, Suncor and Irving. It’s getting bigger all the time,” says Maloney.

In the past few years a number of Fit to Work programs has taken form, designed to provide information on the ability of workers to carry out certain jobs that may require a fair amount of physical activity.  But Maloney and his executive team have identified a number of flaws and obvious shortcomings regarding the validity of the rating systems of those particular programs and what is known as the Physical Demand Analysis (PDA). Alternately, the Boilermakers have come up with their own Boilermaker Wellness Program.

“You start with us as an apprentice at the beginning of your career and give you a complete physical analysis. Then we know you are physically able to work at the Boilermaker trade. On an ongoing basis we have an educational program that promotes good health on an off the job and also do anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns and recommend that our workers get annual physicals.”

When workers attend their annual physical checkup they are asked to have a Boilermaker-specific form filled out by their doctor, with one of three options: either 100% good to go, can work but with certain restrictions, or not capable of working. The results allow the union to better serve the needs of their contractor and owner communities with no costs incurred by the industry whatsoever.

“Just in the province of Alberta in those two areas alone we think we can save about $2.5 million a year,” says Maloney.

The Boilermakers are also advocating the abolition of pre-access drug testing, which Maloney says their data indicates less than 3% are identified through that method.

“It’s a colossal waste of money. What we’re promoting is to do away with pre-access drug testing altogether and have drug testing instead for post-accident and cause. We’re always looking at ways to improve the industry and the lives of our membership. Working with our fair contractors who are all affiliated with the Boilermakers Contractors’ Association, all work is performed under the same collective agreement. They are the safest and best contractors that work in the heavy industrial facilities throughout the country and we’re very proud to be able to work with them on a regular basis.”

Community involvement

Each of the 36 Local lodges contributes strongly to their local communities whether it happens to be for a hospital initiative or perhaps a children’s foundation. On a national level the Boilermakers participate in the DAD’s Day Campaign, which is Dollars Against Diabetes. The Boilermakers also teamed up with Air Canada to send a group of underprivileged children from Edmonton on a trip to Disney World, which they most certainly would not have been able to do without such generous support.

Among some of the other initiatives to which the various Local lodges are engaged includes: Ride to Conquer Cancer, supporting a cure for diabetes, gift certificates for Christmas programs, hospices, food banks, KidSport and providing food, shelter and clothing to citizens in need.

As Maloney nicely sums it up, “We’re union people; we’re giving people and we support people.”