International Brotherhood of Boilermakers
The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Canada has been one of this country’s most successful labour organizations for decades. With origins in the U.S., there are 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 that it undertakes.
A boilermaker is a trained craftsman who produces steel fabrications from plates and tubes. The name originated from craftsmen who would fabricate boilers, but they may work on projects as diverse as bridges to blast furnaces to the construction of mining equipment.
The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Joseph Maloney, International Vice President of Canada soon after he’d returned from one of his many trips. This most recent business trip included a series of labour meetings in Wyoming. Maloney has a very engaging personality and is always willing to provide indepth information about IBB, but his busy schedule is what makes it most challenging in terms of having a discussion.
“I’m on an airplane between 65 and 70 times a year. If you multiply that out by a few days for each meeting, it quickly adds up,” he says.
A number of major projects are on the go right now, which means business is booming for IBB. Among some of the larger ones is the massive Site C dam in British Columbia where a collective bargaining agreement is in place and everything is ready to go. It’s now all in the government’s hands out in British Columbia. There are also sizable re-tubing projects at Darlington and Bruce Power. Maloney says IBB is now training boilermakers to nuclear-qualified nuclear status. This is a new structure that the nuclear industry has deemed necessary.
“When a boilermaker goes to work in a nuclear facility they will have those safety disciplines required for that particular assignment and they’ll be good to go,” explains Maloney. “We’ve got people in both those facilities right now.”
It’s anticipated that there will be up to 600 boilermakers at the Darlington facility and Bruce Power will be right in that same personnel range. It’s going to be very demanding on IBB, but it’s an opportunity that Maloney is excited about. Certified training typically takes four to five days to complete.
“We want to train about 150 people each quarter,” he reveals. “We’ll be reporting directly back to the nuclear representatives through an organization called Electrical Power Systems Construction Association (EPSCA). We will let them know how many workers have completed the course successfully.
A burden that can often slow efficiency and productivity occurs when some workers don’t have their safety certificates with them. Needless to say it can create bottlenecks in hiring because a contractor has the right to refuse them work without the proper documentation. It’s a problem that Maloney and IBB have successfully addressed.
“We developed a boilermaker phone app that can store all safety certificates, so all a worker has to do now is pull out his phone and punch in the app and there’s all of his certificates right there, which eliminates bottlenecks at the gate,” says Maloney.
As an organization IBB is always embracing innovative new ideas, which saves precious time not to mention money for the owner and the contractor. One of the primary goals of IBB is to constantly come up with new initiatives that will make life as a boilermaker as efficient as possible.
A significant training program called Boilermaker Virtual Campus began in 2008. It offers 18 different subjects and to this date more there have been more than 9,240 participants.
“It’s steady all the time,” says Maloney. “We’ve also developed a new master rigger program in Alberta. It’s a week-long program and receives a certificate upon successful completion. It’s very important on projects now because some of the lifts we make can be several hundred tons.”
IBB currently offers the program in Edmonton and will soon be designing a similar program for their office in Burlington, Ontario. It’s a perfect time to expand with lots of work available for current members and it’s also an opportunity for young people who want to be a boilermaker. Maloney says it’s a great time for them to enter the construction industry.
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.
As part of the overall recruitment process, the Boilermakers visit high schools and often partake in job fairs. 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.
“We’re continuing to recruit young people on a regular basis. We also continue to work with Aboriginal groups to see if there is interest there in establishing a stronger working relationship. The price of oil being down did not impact us. If anything we’re busier than ever out in Alberta just maintaining the existing facilities that are already built, he says. “We’re also busy in the Maritimes and Quebec and the nuclear industry in Ontario has really taken off. I’m happy to say we are very busy.”
When young people join they are told it’s not merely a job – it’s a career. IBB train new employees through an apprenticeship program right on through to becoming a boilermaker journey person. It’s a lifelong learning experience with new technologies changing the face of the industry all the time.
IBB is known for having the very best pension plans and benefits plans in the construction industry. It is also the only construction craft union in Canada that has hired professional trustees to oversee and manage its pension plan after having previously been run by a labour-management trustee.
“Now we have five professionals with backgrounds in actuarial finances and governance. We’ve redesigned our asset allocation to ensure all our eggs are never all in one basket,” explains Maloney.
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 the training location is the same in each jurisdiction.
Maloney and members of the IBB executive travel to various regions across Canada and do intakes of apprentices in order to keep a balance of supply and demand. There are qualified trainers in every province and a solid working relationship with the community colleges also goes a long way in making the process as efficient as possible. It’s a system that keeps going around and around.
Opportunities for advancement are tremendous. In fact, Maloney says he encourages people who have the drive and ambition to move up the ladder within the organization.
“There are project management programs – intensive five-day programs that we deliver once a year. The class is always full. We also offer supervisor programs for boilermakers who would like to move into supervisory roles. We’ve had many boilermakers over the years that have started on the tools and ended up with their own companies and they’re now multi-millionaires,” says Maloney.
It’s vitally important that IBB dispenses the best, properly qualified personnel to each job to ensure everything is manufactured to the highest quality standards and done safely.
“Every one of these jobs, no matter how big it is or how small it is, we take it extremely serious because we know the importance of it to the owner who has hired us,” noted Maloney.
The U.S. government has signalled a desire to increase the use of pipelines for the transportation of oil and gas. Members of IBB don’t work on pipelines per se, but they do work on each end of them. If there is forward movement on the pipeline initiative it will mean even more work for the boilermakers. But it’s not just dependent upon the U.S. as Maloney notes.
“We’re mostly focused on pipelines here in Canada going east and west and dealing with our federal government,” he remarks.
A global concern for IBB centres on international trade agreements, which is something Maloney says must be monitored closely. What many people don’t realize under the Comprehensive European Trade Agreement (CETA) is that there is language in the agreement that actually allows a foreign company from Europe to come into Canada and successfully bid a project and bring in their own workforce, which obviously doesn’t sit well with Maloney.
“We are bringing it to MPs across the country and have written to the prime minister. We’re going to hold a lobby day when Parliament resumes in the fall. Now NAFTA is going to be renegotiated and we want to ensure labour protections are included. We are not opposed to trade agreements. We just want to make sure that when they do these things that are not going to displace Canadians when they are in place,” explains Maloney.
As a point of reference, Maloney mentions a case in Alberta several years ago where a Chinese firm was building oil storage tanks in Northern Alberta and the tanks collapsed, resulting in the deaths of several Chinese workers. “They were unqualified. We don’t want to see that kind of tragedy happening. We have enough qualified boilermakers in other construction workers in this country that can do the jobs. We don’t mind if a European company wants to bid on work, but they better hire Canadian workers.”
Climate change is an issue being faced by the entire planet that requires both business organizations and individuals to do their part in offering up practical, affordable solutions.
“We’re promoting a carbon capture technology to address climate change. We want to do our part.
To get the energy demands we need in this country Maloney says it’s become plainly obvious that it cannot be done through the likes of solar and windmills alone. There needs to be power plant energy. Implementation of carbon capture technology into new facilities has reduced the emissions dramatically.
“They worked at Boundary Dam and there’s no reason they can’t work elsewhere. We’re really promoting that as best we can,” states Maloney.
Each of the union’s Locals contributes to their local communities in a variety of ways while on the national level the Boilermakers participate in the DAD’s Day Campaign, which is Dollars Against Diabetes. Among some of the other initiatives to which the various Local lodges are engaged includes: gift certificates for Christmas programs, hospices, food banks, and providing food, shelter and clothing to citizens in need.
“We also promote local and regional hockey teams and there is the ongoing commitment for the Ride to Conquer Cancer as well as contributions to food banks,” says Maloney.
A young up-and-coming competitive BMX mountain biking star named Adicus (Adi) Bird received generous support from IBB to compete at the World BMX Championships in South Carolina, a vital step towards her riding for Canada in the Olympics. Boilermakers Lodge 359 Business Manager Martin Nicholson enlisted the help of Joe Maloney in asking for support from the international executive. Maloney responded in kind by generously donating $5,000, which was then matched by members of Lodge 359. That $10,000 will go a long way to covering costs for the teenager as she chases her Olympic dream.
“We are very community driven and love to help families and individuals whenever we can,” says Maloney.
The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers is more than just a labour union. It’s a family that takes the time to pay homage to those members who are no longer with us.
“There was a worker’s monument that was unveiled in Ottawa specific to the construction industry and we’re very proud to be part of that. Every April 28 we have a place to go pay our respects to our fallen,” says Maloney.
With a number of comprehensive, exciting projects on the go from coast to coast, it’s a great time to be a boilermaker. For Maloney and his team it’s all about providing top quality tradespeople to supply their contractors and maintain their current market share.
“We represent our membership as best as possible,” he says. “As proof of that we’re averaging between 82% and 85% market share on a national basis. There are lots of employment opportunities with an ability to earn a great living.”