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IBEW Local 402 Keeps Pace With the Changing North

April 30, 2018
IBEW Local 402 new training hall

Since they were chartered on May 1, 1981, IBEW Local 402 has witnessed the transformation Northern Ontario, and has been constantly changing to adapt.

IBEW Local 402 was chartered on May 1, 1981 and serves members in the Thunder Bay, Rainy River and Kenora areas. In 37 years, they’ve seen Northern Ontario transform, and have been constantly changing to adapt.

“My local is younger than I am!” laughs Glen Drewes, Business Manager. Originally represented by Local 339, 402 was chartered to serve the unique needs of construction electricians.

“Over the course of our 37 years, we’ve had to change, diversity, and continue to step up our game,” says Drewes.

The Challenge to Adapt

The economy in Northern Ontario is completely different compared to when the local was chartered. “There used to be 17 paper mills in this region, and we’re now down to two,” says Drewes. “Paper is almost a thing of the past, as are the sawmills that used to be a big part of our work.”

Other industries have moved in to replace them. “Most of the work has moved to energy, mostly hydro. Mining is a newer industry, and we’re getting into that bit by bit.”

Thunder Bay is well known for gold mining, as well as palladium, chromite, diamonds, lithium, graphite, nickel, and copper.

One of the challenges that Local 402 faces is that most mines aren’t used to unions. “We’ve been honing our skills to prove that we’re worth the extra money,” explains Drewes. “The new training facility that we opened in summer 2017 is a big part of that effort.”

Training for the Future

IBEW Local 402 team with International Vice President Bill Daniels

Touring the new facility is (left-right) 2nd year apprentice Rachel Kotanen, Journeyman Alex Polci, Journeyman Mitch Gvora, IBEW International Vice President Bill Daniels and IBEW 402 Business Manager Glen Drewes.

In fact, training is the major focus for Local 402 right now. A new network cabling program coming in fall 2018 will make Local 402 the home of the only communications training facility in the northwest of Ontario.

Other programs are in progress to meet the needs of other sectors.

“I’m proud of the steps we’ve made, but we can do better,” says Drewes. “There are a lot of contractors working for the industrial sector in our area, and our industrial electricians are very keen to prove their worth.”

It takes exceptional electricians to handle the challenges of powering an industrial facility. Drewes explains, “there’s a lot of troubleshooting for complex electrical systems, and working with variable speed drives.” VSDs are motors controlled by power frequency and voltage changes.

“We have Rockwell coming up to do some special training for our industrial team,” he says.

As Rockwell is one of the world’s leading industrial automation equipment and software manufacturers, this training will rank the members as some of top experts in the area. Training from other global industrial technology leaders like ABB is scheduled for the future.

Where possible, Local 402 also partners with local contractors to ensure members are fully trained in any new technologies.

Mitch Treichler, owner of local contracting company Park Electric, has taught an arc flash class for 402.

“We need to work together for the future of the industry,” says Treichler. “It’s vital that we pass on our knowledge to the young apprentices coming up. If we don’t leave this industry in better shape than we found it, we’re doomed.”

Powering the North

Much of the work that Local 402 does is in hydroelectric power generation, thanks to the many rivers in the area. “We’ve worked on some of the largest hydro stations in Ontario,” says Drewes. “We do most of the work on hydro stations in the area, anything from 0.5 megawatts to 10 megawatts. We’re upgrading a hydro plant right now.”

While the local has also wired some solar farms, solar power isn’t as important as hydro.

Medical Isotope Generation

While there isn’t any nuclear power generation in Northern Ontario right now, Local 402 does have experience with wiring a medical isotope reactor.

The new reactor is at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. It produces the medical isotopes that are essential for calibrating the detection of cancer cells, and will soon be used in life-saving treatments. Now that the reactor in Chalk River has been shut down, Thunder Bay’s medical isotopes are shipped around the world.

Pulling Together

Park Electric only uses IBEW electricians. “Since 1943, this company has only worked with IBEW electricians,” says Treichler. “I’ve been the full owner since 1992, and I’ve always found that the training is far superior and the quality of work is exceptional.”

An IBEW electrician himself, Treichler has no trouble balancing his business responsibilities and goals with managing a unionized team. “I’ve found that when you treat your employees like family, you’ll get the same treatment in return. It’s all about showing them it’s a two-way street.”

“Going non-union has never even entered my mind, and believe me I’ve spent many a late night thinking about this business.”

The Rewards of Giving Back

Treichler tells a story of a time he teamed up with IBEW 402 and IBEW Local 339 to help someone in need.

A young mother had spent her family’s life savings to prolong the life of her husband, who was dying of cancer. When the roof of her home was damaged by wind and was leaking where shingles were missing, she postponed repairs to avoid disturbing him.

“Her back was against a wall, so the entire team worked tirelessly to help out this lady in need,” says Treichler. “It was a very humbling experience for all involved.”

Treichler arranged for the donation of the materials, and he and his electricians did the work on a Saturday. Powerline workers from Local 339 also put in time that day to do the disconnect and reconnection.

“There is no sum of money that can replace the feeling you get from helping someone,” Treichler says.

The Challenges Ahead

Currently at 350 members, Local 402 also includes 15 powerline workers and 9 communications electricians. While they may not be the largest local in Ontario, they’re determined to keep up with with changing needs of the market.

With the possibilities the new training facility offers, Glen Drewes and his team are definitely making a solid investment in their future. Drewes sums up, saying, “I’m determined to make sure that we do everything in our power to open doors for our members.”

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