December 3, 2021

JOSH DUTRA’S NEW CAREER as an electrician is bittersweet.

Dutra is one of several International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 213 members transitioning from their work with Ledcor (LTS Solutions Ltd.) to other work, due to the ongoing strike with the company.

This is not what Dutra envisioned a few years ago when he worked as a technician installing Telus television service for the business sector. He felt his job was secure.

But there were signs of problems. In September 2019, when Local 213 members voted to strike, Ledcor responded by cutting 31 IBEW service technicians from the workforce.

“These guys did good work. They were hard workers. They were well regarded. And they were gone, just like that,” said Dutra. “Most of us were blindsided by it.”

Dutra became active on the bargaining committee and joined the picket line. As the strike went on, it became harder to keep a sense of direction. “I began thinking more about what I wanted out of a career,” he said.

The union had helped place a lot of people on the picket line into other full-time unionized positions, said Dutra. Local 213 also offered support to striking workers through the Electrical Joint Training Committee’s Netcom Vocational Training Association and the new Security Systems Technician program.

When the opportunity came along to participate in Local 213’s Entry Level Trades Training program, Dutra was one of several who chose this route. He is now employed as an apprentice construction electrician. “It would be hard to overstate how huge it is to have this opportunity,” he said.

“It’s been two long years on the picket line and four years since workers exercised their legal right to join a union of their choice, and LTS employees have come to the realization that the Canada Labour Code has been thoroughly rigged in favour of the employer,” said Local 213 business rep Dustin Brecht, himself a former LTS employee. “Any, and all federal companies could do exactly what Ledcor continues to be able to do.”

“Some members have had no choice but to retrain in other areas and we believe that’s because their Telus ID cards, which are required to work as a contractor, blacklisted them due to their involvement with the union,” said Brecht.

Telus and their contracting companies have created a gig-worker/multi-level-marketing system, he said. “They handpick company bosses who then hire their own independent contractors. These independent contractors are responsible for their own vehicle costs, fuel, insurance, tools, many without benefits, and are paid a per job, piece-rate system and pay a percentage of their earnings to the boss.”

“These members have fought for four years for simple things like a voice at work, respect, fairness rather than favouritism, proper workplace training, job security, a better workplace environment and an end to massive triennial pay cuts and hoards of taxi cabs waiting to take them home after massive terminations.

“It is truly disgusting that this has been able to run its course for this long without much quicker assistance from the federal government,” said Brecht.

“IBEW Local 213 will continue to support its members through training so they can be employed by those who recognize their worth and abilities while respecting their decision to join a union and bargain for a fair first contract,” he said.

Dutra continues to show up on the picket line after putting in a shift at his new job. “I hope there’s an agreement in the end that the union can happily accept and that is fair for members,” he said.

By Megan Terepocki