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Meet Travis Merrett, IBEW Local 1687’s New Business Manager

September 18, 2020

On August 11, 2020, the members of IBEW Local 1687 cast their ballots for Travis Merrett as their new business manager and re-elected Brian Kitching as president.

“I’m thrilled at the opportunity to lead our local,” said Merrett. “It means a lot to me to have the support of the membership.”

Merrett replaces former business manager Bruce Palmer, who has recently retired, and credits Palmer and others in the office for encouraging him to run. 

“Susan Parks and Amy Desjardins do a great job keeping the office on track. Our dispatcher, Franco Cecchetto, always shows the kind of character and integrity that falls in line with the values we strive for in the office. Chase Beaudoin, our organizer, shows passion for his craft and for the IBEW that is second to none. Our last business manager, Bruce Palmer, was critical in pushing me to grow, and his trust and support mean a lot.”

Facing New Realities

Local 1687 is one of two locals in Northern Ontario that covers vast stretches of rugged Canadian Shield landscape. As a result, over 75% of Local 1687 members work in industrial (primarily mining) and power generation, with small amounts of commercial and residential rounding out the mix.

The boom-and-bust cycle of resource prices has historically dictated the fortunes of the local, but 2020 has seen added upheaval brought about by COVID-19, an increased pace of technological change, and an uptick in concern about racial and gender issues.

Helping his local adapt to these changes, and even take advantage of them, is the main concern for Merrett.

“My priority is forward progress for the local. I want to improve our thinking. Like it or not, the rest of the industry is moving forward, and we have to keep up. Technology change plays a huge role in our industry, and social dynamics are changing as well. If we’re not prepared, opportunities will pass us by,” said Merrett.

As with most Ontario locals, the coronavirus pandemic has made an impact on the workload for Local 1687.

“Prior to COVID, we not only had full employment, we had 22 travellers—and that probably would have continued. The pandemic has meant work stoppages at construction sites for a hospital and a casino, but overall we’ve been lucky compared to some other locals in the province.”

Merrett points out that the future looks much brighter. “Right now the price of gold is high, and that’s good news for us. There are three gold mines that have been idle for years that are possibly starting up, and between the mines and power generation we’re looking at multiple years of full employment.”

Destined for Union Life

An electrician since 2007, Merrett joined the IBEW in 2013 as a very willing part of a card signing process. 

“From the moment I became an electrician I wanted to join the IBEW. There was an air of competence that came with the IBEW name, and that’s something I always wanted to be a part of. The union made a big difference in all of our lives. Every one of that group is still an IBEW member.”

That same organization process is what brought Merrett into the Local 1687 office. “I’m really proud that I came into the union through organizing, and that’s what made me excited to participate when I was asked to come on board as an organizer.”

Merrett feels his past as an organizer will serve him well as business manager. “It has taught me compassion,” he said. “The nonunion world is a very different one, and I’m very aware of how nonunion contractors can be competitive.”

He’s also worked in almost every role in the office. “I’ve worked as a dispatcher and as an assistant business manager, so I’ve seen all sides.”

Adapting Training Processes to Northern Life

One of the many ways that the local has had to adapt to the dispersed living in Northern Ontario is in training delivery. While the locals in the southern half of Ontario have their own dedicated training facility and teaching staff, this model isn’t practical in the north.

“Our central office is in Sudbury, but the membership is spread out all over,” said Merrett. “We can’t just put a training facility here and expect the members to drive for hours and hours to come to us.”

As a workaround, Merrett plans to continue pursuing a co-operative training model in partnership with community colleges, in which Local 1687 provides the expertise and the community colleges provide the facilities.

“A lot of our members are teachers at community colleges, so we’re using the current teachers they know and trust to provide training for young members at their facility.”

Standing Together

As a smaller local of about 580 members, Local 1687 has fewer resources with which to address daily challenges and work towards long term goals. “There isn’t much time for fun here in the office,” noted Merrett.

But thankfully the office team makes up for a small number with a strong team spirit—a spirit that is perhaps helped by the need to cooperate to get things done.

Commenting on his friendships from his days on the tools, Merrett said, “When your day-in and day-out relies on trusting the person you’re standing beside, it’s hard not to develop significant friendships.”

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