Chartered on February 8 1951, Local 1687’s jurisdiction covers northeastern Ontario, including four urban centres: Sudbury, Timmins, North Bay, and Sault Ste. Marie. With a smaller membership spread out over vast distances, they face some unique challenges with determination and hope.
Business Manager Bruce Palmer is open about the challenges his local faces. “I’ve been a member for over 33 years now, but the last few are some of the most difficult I’ve seen economically. It’s definitely been interesting,” he comments.
From 12 founding members, Local 1687 has grown to 520, 60 of whom are powerline workers. A smaller membership means less funding and fewer amenities. For example, 1687 doesn’t have its own training hall, unlike most of the other locals in Ontario.
However, unique challenges can inspire outside the box solutions.
“One of my top priorities is to establish a training program with the local colleges in our four cities,” says Palmer. “It will be a unique win-win partnership: they will provide the facility, and we will shape the program and the standards. The apprentices will benefit, our clients will benefit, and it will even benefit the Local as a whole as we open up new markets.”
The Changing Economic Face of the North
While Local 1687 maintains an 80% market share in the industrial sector (their main market), other sectors have seen hard times. “In commercial, most people are doing renovations rather than new builds these days. But it’s possible that it could come back in the next few years because the quality on non-union electrical work has really dropped. In the past, a cheap price could sometimes get you good work, but these days it doesn’t,” explains Palmer.
The mining sector, another cornerstone for 1687, has been volatile. Expansions have been announced for the past five years, but haven’t actually happened. “There is plenty of gold and other metals still in the ground up here, but whether it’s worth it to extract can change quickly. In general, the economy is slower up here – even non union work is slower.”
Bridging that gap is another one of Palmer’s main goals for the future – he hopes to expand 1687’s market share in institutional construction. “We did really well with the Lower Mattagami hydroelectric project a few years ago. There were several major dam sites with that, and we brought in about 400 travellers to help us with the work.”
The Powerline sector is one of the few areas where there’s ongoing demand, with new contracts in the queue with contractors like Powertel, who recently won the Pikangikum power line project. Local 1687 will host members from other locals who will need to be brought in to see it through.
In the Hall
In the past few years, Palmer has also been taking steps to try to bring the members closer together. A new Retirees’ Club is now two years old, and there is now also a NextGen group. “I’ve been trying to get the NextGen members to attend the Retirees meeting, so that our history gets passed down. A lot of it is unrecorded, and without that we don’t understand why we do things the way we do.”
A core team has been helping to keep the progress happening. “I am very thankful that Trevor Almenar has been doing such a great job,” says Palmer, “including taking the lead on dispatch. We also have two fantastic organizers, Chase Beaudoin and Travis Merrett. In 2017 they’ve brought in three new shops to our local, which is huge for our area.”
In spite of the difficulties, Palmer is definitely looking forward to the future. “It’s a lot of fun – I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t enjoy it,” he says.