May 12, 2023

THE PACIFIC REGIONAL Maintenance Council (PRMC) is celebrating an historic agreement that will secure work for its members over a six-year period with LNG Canada’s liquified natural gas facility now under construction in northwestern B.C.

LNG Canada awarded the main industrial site services contract to Gitga’at Waiward Industrial in October 2022, with members of the BC Building Trades expected to begin work at the site as early as 2024. The contract is estimated to be worth more than $100 million, with a million-plus work hours across the lifespan of the contract. These are considered to be conservative estimates, according to Miro Maras, president of the PRMC.

LNG Canada Site Construction Activities, Kitimat, Sept 2022 PHOTO: LNG CANADA

LNG Canada Site Construction Activities, Kitimat, Sept 2022 PHOTO: LNG CANADA

Luke Schauerte, a vice-president of LNG Canada, said the contract demonstrates the company’s commitment to working with local First Nations and creating economic opportunities in the region. To date, LNG Canada and its contractors and subcontractors have awarded more than $4 billion in contracts and procurement to businesses in British Columbia, including more than $3.1 billion to First Nations and locally owned businesses.

The deal is an example of collaboration among partners and sets a precedent for the PRMC whose members will be on site for daily maintenance work and not just returning for shutdowns or slowdowns, which is normally the case. Essentially, the deal represents the opportunity for PRMC members to build their careers in the industry while living in their own communities. This outcome reflects the commitments of LNG Canada to address economic reconciliation as well as requirements under the project labour agreement.

Maras said the bargaining experience was a major step forward for the council and its affiliates, who have been working hard across the province and in northern communities to ensure workers are prepared and trained, and that there are opportunities for those underrepresented in the building and construction trades. The agreement will see anywhere from 100 to 135 people employed on a day-to-day basis, with potential for up to 1,200 workers during shutdowns and outages, he said.

“For so many years we have constructed major projects only to come back to do a shutdown when needed,” said Maras. “This construction to maintenance gives the locals in the area an opportunity to maintain and have a career on equipment they helped construct. This is new technology and it’s a huge success to continue to advance skills of the local workers and prosper with great wages and benefits.”

“It will be growth for people who started with their apprenticeships, getting their Red Seal tickets and now they’re actually maintaining that piece of equipment or all pieces of equipment for six years of this agreement,” he said.

Maras said the PRMC had often talked about what they could do to expand their maintenance council, but this was the first time they’d reached out to find out what the company’s needs were. They also researched and promoted their findings before the project was finished. “It’s the first time that I can recall in our 12 years, that we’ve done something like this,” he said. “I know we’ve talked about it, but to actually have done it is a big deal.”

It was at the PRMC’s annual general meeting in 2019 that the executive board first began discussing ways to broaden their work at the new LNG facility being built in Kitimat. Maras and the PRMC council members knew they had the resources to offer such a project, but wondered if LNG Canada would know who they were.

“We said, ‘Well, if they don’t [know about us], we should make that introduction and just let them know that we are here.’ And everything kind of kicked off from that point,” he said.

In late 2019, Maras wrote a letter of introduction to Shell Canada — majority stakeholder of LNG Canada — outlining PRMC’s interest in the project and its desire to work collaboratively. It turned out that LNG Canada wanted to meet. PRMC hosted a meeting to introduce itself to LNG’s procurement and asset team and to inquire about post-construction maintenance.

From that first meeting, PRMC learned that LNG Canada wanted to focus on local workers, apprentices, Indigenous people and women in the trades. The PRMC knew they had the qualified labour force, but could they stand behind this claim?

“I remember myself and [BC Building Trades president] Al Phillips sitting in an executive council meeting. I looked at him and said, ‘What are we going to do next?’” said Maras.

They decided to conduct a labour market survey to see what affiliates were doing in the Kitimat and Terrace regions, and to promote their labour supply. By April 2020, the survey was completed and
confirmed that the PRMC could provide approximately 950 journeypersons and apprentices in various trades across the region, with significant Indigenous and female representation. Not only were the affiliates able to provide skilled tradespersons from underrepresented groups, but they had been deeply engaged in ongoing training with First Nations in northern communities and getting people ready for apprenticeships.

“We were totally transparent with the client,” said Maras. “We sent the information to the client as well as to the contractors that were bidding on that work or interested in bidding on it. We gave them all that labour market survey so they understood that this is what we have in the area.”

Maras said that council members Philips and Neil Munro were especially active in the discussions and that the council was supported by the General Presidents’ Maintenance Committee for Canada and the National Maintenance Agreements in meeting some requirements around shift scheduling.

“I think [it was] taking that extra step, and not only being vocal about it, but backing it up with all the great initiatives the affiliates do up in that area with something that was important to promote us, and not only talk about it but show that we actually do these things,” Maras said.

Kevin Nixon, director of construction and maintenance for Waiward Industrial, said that the proactive collection of membership data for the region went a long way to ensure the work was secured by a BC Building Trades contractor.

Maras said the strong relationships between all the parties were foundational from the very beginning.

“The excitement was just unreal,” he said. “Every time we got up from our Zoom meetings it was all smiles. When we finally got the finished product, we were just over the moon. It was something that was very well celebrated.”

Nixon said that Maras was a fantastic support in the process, which he said was surprising given there had been no prior relationship.

“He was available and supportive with whatever we needed, to help reassure LNG Canada that Waiward and the BC Building Trades would be up to the task,” he said.

Nixon added that the successful outcome really highlighted the advantage of a unified front and strong relationship between the contractor and union representatives.

And with that successful collaborative effort, BC Building Trades members will have good, well-paying jobs and benefits with LNG Canada for at least the next six years.

By Megan Terepocki