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February 22, 2011

Bargaining agreement a highlight for retiring International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers executive

With a leadership change underway at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario, its departing executive secretary treasurer cannot say enough about the workers he has represented.

“I have the greatest respect for the people who get up every day in this province, strap on tools and get to work,” said John Pender, the newly retired IBEW construction council executive secretary-treasurer. “They support the whole framework for negotiation. They are the people who make it all go.”

John Grimshaw has replaced Pender as the council’s new executive secretary-treasurer after six years as its president. Pender said that after 15 years at the helm of the council a major highlight was the establishment of the joint proposal bargaining process between IBEW and the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario.

“That is the shining star for me,” said Pender. “Basically, we needed to resolve our issues without going out on the streets and we came up with the joint proposal. It has worked for us really well. Not all the trades may like what we are doing, but we have brought a great deal of stability to the unionized construction industry with it.”

In the joint proposal process, bargaining starts early in the final contract year, away from the “heat of bargaining” later in the year when all trades are in talks with employers. From 1986 to 1990 there were two strikes that Pender recalled but once the joint proposal was used after 1990, electrician stoppages have been avoided.

Grimshaw said Pender’s leadership style is a lasting legacy on how to do business moving forward.

“John is an inspirational person and has been the glue that kept all 13 locals together,” said Grimshaw. “He has been very good at getting people to work together. We will miss him for sure.”

In trying to represent 13 locals for IBEW, Pender’s fair and respectful approach was key when working with representatives from Thunder Bay to Toronto, said Grimshaw.

“With 13 locals you have 13 different dynamics. Different types of works bring different challenges,” he noted. “What may be good for you may not be for someone else. John was always very good at pointing things out and finding some common ground.”

Pender said he was cognizant that one “cannot have favourites” when representing 13 locals across Ontario.

“My idea was that no one local was special and that when I acted, I acted for all.”

Looking ahead Grimshaw said a top priority for IBEW is market share and union density in new and existing markets, from commercial and residential to renewable energy. The new Ontario College of Trades, tasked with promoting and professionalizing the trades, also remains a priority.

“With the college we are trying to get our point across that compulsory trades, such as ours, need to be protected,” said Grimshaw. “We need certain ratios to have properly trained people for worker and public safety. It is important to us that integrity of the trade is upheld. You want people to have something to aim for that will have value.”

James Barry of IBEW Local 586 is now president of the IBEW construction council and he considers the IBEW having prominence, in an advisory capacity, in the trades college structure as a priority.

“We want to make sure compliance with tradesmen qualification act is paramount and we continue to push the envelope on health and safety,” he said. “Also, issues regarding potential changes to the electrician-to-apprentice ratio are a concern.”

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