On June 29, 2020, Brian Jacobs became the new business manager and financial secretary of IBEW Local 804. He joined Dino Celotto, who was re-elected as president, and a fully re-elected Local 804 executive board.
Jacobs has been serving as the interim business manager since February 1, 2020, when former business manager Mark Watson took on a new role as Executive Assistant to James Barry.
“I feel really positive now that I have a strong mandate from the members of Local 804,” said Jacobs. “There’s a lot of work to do, and I’m ready to get on with it. Our priority is always going to be market share, it’s absolutely the key to success.”
IBEW Local 804, like most trade organizations, has faced a number of concerns since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“The situation has been changing, sometimes daily, and certainly weekly since the pandemic started—and it won’t stop changing for some time. Thankfully, we have no confirmed cases amongst our membership, and everyone who was laid off is now back at work. Certainly, health and safety conditions, especially sanitary conditions, on the worksites have improved, in some cases dramatically,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs is looking forward to continuing to work with Dino Celotto. “He’s done an excellent job in the last three years. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather work with as president. He’s a big believer in the IBEW, passionate about what we do, and the membership sees that as well.”
Building on Many Successful Partnerships
Partnership has been a strong suit for the Kitchener/Central Ontario local in the past few years. Jacobs started working in the Local 804 office in August 2011, and when former Business Manager Mark Watson joined him in 2012, they realized they shared the same goals. With the help of other key players in Local 804, they’ve made a lot of changes to day-to-day operations.
“Having worked alongside Mark Watson on virtually everything since he became business manager, there’s very little I haven’t been part of since the start. The Local 804 office has functioned successfully as a team with Mark as Business Manager, and I intend to do the same.”
In particular, both Jacobs and Watson prioritize the development of good working relationships with their electrical contractors.
“We see the IBEW-ECAO dynamic as very much a partnership,” said Jacobs. “We do our best to figure out the best possible outcome for all parties. We know that the more market share we have in the industry equates to more hours worked by our members. I really believe we have one of the best working relationships with our contractors in the industry.”
Jacobs and Watson have also been keen to leverage new technology. “We created an online app for our members— it’s how new members entering the trade prefer to interact. It allows them to bid on jobs, and access data and information from anywhere.”
Growth of Residential Market Share
But the initiative of which Jacobs is most proud was the resurgence of the residential sector in the Kitchener area prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative was one in which Jacobs played a leading role as Local 804’s organizer.
“In 2011, we had virtually 0% presence in the residential sector,” explained Jacobs. “But we knew that 70% of every new construction dollar was being spent on residential, and to not be part of that growth was unacceptable. Today, about 12% to 15% of the local is working under our residential collective agreement, and that market share has been continuing to grow. It’s been rewarding on many levels, but when members with 30-40 years experience have come up to me and said that they’re really glad I could bring this back, it really hits home.”
Jacobs was quick to share credit for this achievement with other locals that provided valuable advice. “I based my plan on what other locals have tried, and what was successful for them. I tailored it for 804 and our area. Talking to Local 353 Toronto was especially helpful.”
Jacobs’ ability to work with contractors proved instrumental in the campaign. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with union and non-union contractors, letting them know what we can do for them. I also talked to electricians and apprentices, simultaneously doing top-down and bottom-up organizing. Both were successful, thankfully.”
An IBEW Believer From the Start
It’s not surprising that Jacobs was able to grow his local’s market share, considering that he joined the IBEW as an apprentice, and helped to organize the company he was working for in 2001.
“In high school and in college, I’d been a construction labourer on summer jobs and had met IBEW electricians and other unionized trades. They told me, ‘If you’re going to go through in the trades, you’d be crazy not to join a union’.”
Jacobs said his reasons for joining were very clear. “I wanted a safe work environment, access to the best training I could get, and better pay and benefits. I’d had exposure to the IBEW and I wanted to work with the best.”
After he joined Local 804, Brian spent 6 years working for smaller commercial contractors but also worked on some larger projects. He worked on the Guelph Data Centre, the Toyota plant in Cambridge and in Woodstock, the Sarnia Solar Project (one of the largest in the world when it was built), and the Engineering Building for the University of Guelph.
But his commitment to improving the lives of other electricians didn’t diminish. “I became an organizer to help other guys like me, to give them the opportunities the IBEW has given me,” he said.
Sticking With a Plan that Works
For the time being, Jacobs’ goal is to follow the plan developed by the core team at Local 804, because it has been working so well for the local.
“We have short, mid-range, and long-range goals. Sometimes we need to deviate slightly from the plan, but the idea is always to get back on track as quickly as possible to achieve those goals. It’s what we need to be doing to be successful here in Local 804, not just for today, but for the future as well.”