John Grimshaw will soon be starting his well-deserved retirement after a long career in the electrical trade. Most of his career has been spent in leadership roles, as he’s always been passionate about protecting electricians and the building trades as a whole.
As the outgoing Executive Secretary Treasurer, Grimshaw has worked with other IBEW CCO leaders for decades to get the union through the good times and the bad.
“There’s always challenges and there always will be challenges. Anyone who thinks that we’ll achieve 100% market share is dreaming in technicolour,” says Grimshaw.
While many things have improved for IBEW members, the industry is always changing.
Technology is changing faster than ever before, notes Grimshaw. “With pre-fabrication, things that used to take years now take months. In the old days we used to hard-wire all control systems, and now they come pre-wired. But there’s still plenty of work for us to do, and overall our person-hours have gone up.”
Grimshaw also cites competition from other unions for the right to represent electricians. He’s also mindful of the political landscape. “We’ve started building a great dialogue with Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton. But some governments have anti-union policies–– all you have to do is look south of the border to see the impact of that–– they’re down to 8% market share.”
In spite of the challenges, Grimshaw feels the IBEW is in a good position to make forward strides. “We are extremely fortunate in the level of talent we have in the business managers of the locals and the members of the executive council,” he says.
Over his 26-year leadership career, Grimshaw has never stopped fighting for safer working conditions, better programs and services for members and contractors, market recovery agreements, stabilization funds, and better wages, pensions, and benefits for IBEW members.
Commenting on the things he’s proudest of, Grimshaw doesn’t hesitate to mention building a better relationship with the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO). “I see much more respect on both sides now–– we can really talk to them more easily than in past years and decades.”
He adds, “A lot of the credit for that goes to Graeme Aitken’s leadership. He’s very open and honest and easy to talk to.”
It’s an attitude that he’s taken to heart. “When I talk to a prospective new contractor, I tell them, ‘I’m here to make your life better, not worse.’”
Grimshaw is also proud of winning a project labour agreement (PLA) with Dofasco in 2004 as president of the Hamilton and Brantford Building Trades. The agreement gave the work exclusively to the Building Trades and was a major win, considering Dofasco was a non-union steel mill. The agreement still holds today.
During the recession of the early 1990s, Grimshaw also played a large role in getting extended employment insurance (EI) benefits for Local 105 members and securing about $20 million in federal training funds and EI benefit extensions for them.
From the Worksite to the Bargaining Table
Grimshaw took a more roundabout route to becoming an electrician. “I was doing construction labour for my brother-in-law, who is a developer. He suggested I try one of the trades. So I started watching the tradespeople any chance I got, and the electrical work looked the most interesting.”
He began his apprenticeship in 1973, but it wasn’t until a few years later that he joined IBEW Local 105 Hamilton as a third year apprentice. The turning point came when he showed up for work one day to find a picket line had been set up. They were there to protest his job site being “unfair” to union workers. After talking to the picket captain he went to Local 105’s Union Hall and told them he wanted to join. A few weeks later he was sworn in as a member–– he was one of 200 new members brought in on that organizing drive.
After he earned his 309A and 442A certificates, he spent many years travelling throughout Canada and the USA as a journeyman. He eventually returned to Hamilton, and it was there that Business Manager Joe Beattie saw leadership potential in Grimshaw.
In 1993 he became assistant business manager at Local 105, and was first elected business manager in 2002. “I helped a lot of people with a lot of problems–– being a business manager is sometimes like being Ann Landers,” he muses. “But I didn’t do it alone. I got tremendous support from the members and from former Business Manager Joe Beattie. I will always feel grateful to him–– when I was starting out he saw something in me that even I didn’t see.”
The members clearly liked the work he was doing, as he was acclaimed as business manager in 2008–– the first acclamation at Local 105 in 107 years.
In 2004, he was acclaimed as president of the IBEW CCO, and again in 2007. In 2010 he was acclaimed Executive Secretary Treasurer of the IBEW CCO, a position he holds until November 28, 2019. He also went on to hold several positions with groups representing building trades as a whole.
His passion for the electrical trade has only increased over the years. “If I could get the public to understand one thing about our trade, it’s that electricity kills people–– that’s why you hire properly certified electricians and electrical contractors who know what they’re doing.”
Words of Advice
Reflecting on the lessons that the years have taught him, Grimshaw has these words of advice for the IBEW leaders of tomorrow.
“Listen to your membership. Reach out to the politicians in your area, tell them the value of using our people. Be sure they know that what we want is to go home safe at the end of the day. Reach out to local businesses, and talk to them about who we are and what we do.”
He has no problem offering advice to apprentices–– the same that he offered to his four sons when they started in the electrical trade. “Go to work on time. Drink coffee on coffee breaks, eat lunch on lunch breaks, and go home at quitting time. If you can be one of the people that your employer can rely on, then you’ll be successful.”
The Road Ahead
After his retirement comes into effect, John is looking forward to travelling with his wife. “In spring we’re going to hook up the trailer, go south, and figure out our next steps from there. I’d definitely like to spend more time with my family, but we’re all spread out all over the country.”
Summing up, he says, “It’s been a wonderful career. I’ve met so many good people and have so many good memories.”
James Barry, the newly elected Executive Secretary Treasurer, added, “I wish John the best of retirement life. I’ve very much enjoyed working with him in the last couple of decades. John was a true leader and will be missed by all.”