September 12, 2022

JOINING A UNION OPENS the door to a world of better pay, benefits and working conditions. And walking through that door and actually getting involved in union work brings even more possibilities.

There are all kinds of ways to participate in union work to gain even greater skills and opportunities.

For International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213 journey construction electrician Lauren Bowles, the journey began in 2015 when her partner handed over a copy of Tradetalk magazine.

“I audited all the websites and I looked up information for what union I wanted to be a part of. It was the IBEW that had the women’s committee so that was one of the reasons I was attracted to joining, because I knew that I would have that support there.”

Bowles completed her apprenticeship last November; the electrical skills she mastered and the jobs she worked were only a part of her training as an active member of Local 213.

Today, Bowles co-chairs the Local 213 women’s committee, is a delegate for the Vancouver and District Labour Council, and is vice-president of the BC Tradeswomen Society. She’s also the latter’s representative on the governance committee of the BC Centre for Women in the Trades, where she’s also being trained as a regional rep to help support other women in the trades.

Part of Bowles’s commitment comes from the help she received finding her way through her apprenticeship in a male-dominated industry.

“Absolutely, it’s part of the reason I stayed in trades. If I had not been involved in my trades community groups, I don’t think I would have lasted through my apprenticeship,” Bowles said.

She credits her shop steward, Becky Lupton, with guiding her through some workplaces crises.

“She was the one that got me involved. Just by getting to connect with people, I know that what I was feeling, other people feel on other sites. That is what kept me in my trade.”

On one job, the employer kept pushing Bowles into doing office work, not the electrical apprenticeship she had signed up for.

“At times like that … it’s pretty difficult, things like the women’s committee kept me there.”

Passing along the important support she received is only part of participating in the union for Bowles.

A big part of supporting the union is letting co-workers know what the union is up to, and how they can participate.

“On our job site, I talk about when our union meetings are. I talk about if we have an education conference coming up. Always trying to get people active, to do a little bit of work. To keep your union strong, your members have to be active in it.”

Being involved in the union also opens the door to personal and professional development training opportunities.

“My favourite thing is I get sent to educational conferences. Now I am taking training, more professional development, and I’ve been to the Tradeswomen Build Nations conference, too.

“It teaches you additional skills outside of the traditional apprenticeship.”

Union training opens up opportunities for careers within the union movement, supervisory positions or training others.

“If you want to get off the tools and you want to seek other options, all of that training is provided to you for free.”

By David Hogben