Chartered on April 28, 1927, IBEW Local 586 is 91 years old in 2018. Business Manager John Bourke reflects on the challenges of an electrical industry that is seeing an increasing rate of change.
“I feel great about our 91st anniversary,” says Bourke, “and I know our members are extremely proud. We’ve been here for almost 100 years and we’ll be here for 100 more.”
Local 586 has 1,897 active members. Bourke feels the membership will need to increase to meet the demand of the Ottawa area construction industry, and plans to take on more apprentices. If organizing efforts work out, 586 will also be able to add fully certified journeypersons to its roster as well.
“We’ve been at full employment for the last 10 to 15 years, as Ottawa’s infrastructure keeps growing. Right now we have 150 members who are here on a travel card from other locals, so we definitely want to grow.”
Journeyman Brett Mac Lean reflects on his participation in the local. “I have been a member of IBEW Local 586 for over ten years. Local 586 members challenge me to stand up for my rights, do my work with pride and represent my brothers and sisters with each length of pipe I install and each wire I terminate. I’m proud to be an electrician, proud to be an IBEW member, and proud to be a part of this great family, IBEW Local 586!”
Training Expands to Meet Demands of a Changing Industry
The electrical industry has been changing at a faster rate in the last 10 years as existing technology improves and new technologies are developed.
For example, in public facilities, LED systems are adapting to save energy even when they need to be switched on 24/7. Demand is increasing for smart lighting systems that use connected LEDs to dim automatically when not needed, or transmit usage data via Bluetooth.
Sometimes known as “LiFi”, these wireless “light fidelity” systems provide great opportunities to uncover energy savings, track the location of facility assets like baggage carts, and help building managers make better decisions.
Other technologies like power over ethernet (PoE) allow data network cables to be used to power devices.
To ensure that 586 continues to provide the best standard of training as the industry continues to evolve, a new building was purchased in 2013 and set up as a full time training facility. Three full time educators and one part time educator provide training and mentoring to apprentices and skills upgrade courses to the certified electricians.
“Our fire alarm systems course, Certi-Fire (CFAE), is one of only two that are accepted to meet the requirements of the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office,” says George Kardaras, one of the educators.
The training facility also has a motor control training centre, and an area set up for programmable logic controllers (PLC). An entire trailer is set aside for teaching welding skills hands-on.
More programs are in development for communications technology training, like fibre optics, voice and data networking, and of course LiFi. “Some of these technologies are so new,” says Bourke, “that they’re not available in Canada yet. We’re sourcing equipment from California for some of our new programs.”
Current and Future Projects
Local 586 is working on a number of important projects in the Ottawa area. Recently, they’ve completed work on electrical systems with Ziebarth for the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology.
“One we’re very proud of is the recent expansion of the Ottawa Heart Institute,” says Bourke. “Everything was on time and on budget. We did that one for Federal Electric Ltd.”
Federal Electric Ltd. owner Larry St. Pierre consistently relies on the electricians at 586. “I’ve been working with Local 586 for over 37 years. It’s been a great experience – they’ve always come through for me. They have the knowledge to do what I need.”
586 is also currently working on the West Block of Parliament, where the temporary House of Commons will be located while work on the Centre Block proceeds. Local 586 is slated to work on that project as well.
Another high profile project is the upcoming work on the Lebretton Flats development, although that bid is still in progress.
“It will be like a city within the city,” enthuses Bourke. “It will be a $3.5 – $4 billion dollar project all told. The work will take place in three phases over 25 years. There will be a 618,000 square foot arena, as well as offices, stores, residential areas, plus outdoor parks and recreation areas. If we get the project, the Skilled Trades will be funding the Ability Centre, which will contain a specially designed swimming pool and sledge hockey rink.”
The Power of Union Representation
Currently, 586 is also worked on the Ottawa LRT (light rail transit) project, which has been plagued with safety issues. “I feel it’s now a much safer project than at the start,” says Bourke. “And I like to think that our consistent push for increased safety standards has been a major factor.”
Local 586 has faced some other key issues in the past few years, most recently a major default in payment by contractor EBC as a result of a dispute with electrical sub-contractor Norgau.
“Our members were owed almost $150,000 in wages, pension and benefits,” says John Bourke. “But we were successful in court, thankfully. I hate to think what would have happened if our members had been non-union electricians.”
Vital Retirees Group Offers Helping Hand in Community
The retirees group in Local 586 is very active. They volunteer and fundraise for the Shepherds of Good Hope and the Food Bank. They are also very active in ensuring that the widows of former members are cared for and continuing to cope as they age. There are even group outings, like a recent one to a local sugar bush.
“Our retirees are fantastic,” says Bourke. “Not only do we care for our own, we support a lot important causes like CHEO, our local rape crisis centre, and minor league sports in the area.”
The retirees were front and centre especially during the Bill 70 Schedule 17 protests, preparing signs, organizing pickets, and attending pickets.
Ensuring Ottawa Has Access to Safe, Reliable Electrical Work
Ottawa is a growing city, with increasing infrastructure needs. IBEW 586 is determined to do its part to help ensure that Ottawa’s future power needs are provided as safely and reliably as possible.