June 15, 2022

GREG MCDONALD IS a retired sheet metal worker. Sydney Dash is a 26-year-old heavy equipment operator. They are at opposite ends of their careers.

McDonald spent over 40 years in his trade. Dash earned her ticket four years ago. Although they are at different stages of their lives, they both rely on the same thing: benefits.

Benefit plans are one of the biggest advantages of being a unionized construction worker. Extended family medical and dental care are standard inclusions for most unions, but many are offering more than just healthcare to their membership. Sheet Metal Workers’, Roofers and Production Workers’ Local 280 subsidizes their benefits plans for retired members by 50 per cent. Members can even customize their plans to include just life insurance, or dental or extended health, or any combination of all three.

“It’s an extremely rare benefit,” said plan administrator Tara Perkins. “Members have lots of options to choose from that best suit their needs and finances. And they can use it for life.” McDonald is aware of just how lucky he and his family are to continue to use unionized benefits. He and his father–who is 91 years old and also a retired sheet metal worker–both use the extended healthcare plan.

“There’s nowhere we’re going to go now and get that kind of deal,” said McDonald. “I see a naturopath. I also use a chiropractor. It costs the unions quite a bit of money to subsidize this, but it’s well worth it. We’re very lucky to have that.”

Like McDonald, Dash also followed her father into construction. She joined the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115. After graduating high school and taking some time off, Dash asked her heavy-duty mechanic father a question: “Dad, I know you fix the equipment, but what would it take to break it? What would it take to run this machinery? And he said, ‘You know what? I think my union has a course you can take.’”

Dash enrolled in the heavy equipment operator program. The program’s price tag is $18,000 not including books. IUOE Local 115 covered the entire cost of her tuition because their members’ children and grandchildren are eligible for tuition-free training. In addition to Dash’s program, they also offer mobile crane operator, asphalt paving laydown technician, road building and heavy construction, grader, sideboom, and entry level pipeline.

The legacy of generations of tradespeople following in their family’s footsteps is one the unions encourage. “The union understands how important it is to have multiple generations, even a family belong to IUOE Local 115,” said business manager Brian Cochrane.

“Asking that one question of my dad, opened a world I never expected,” said Dash. “I was expecting to pay for a six-year university course. I did not expect my training to be free. Union benefits have helped me throughout my life. They even paid for my braces when I was a kid.”

Dental benefits are something Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Association Local 919 business manager Roy Bizzutto appreciates having. His son plays hockey and at one point needed a tooth capped; his daughter, like Dash, needed braces. OPCMIA Local 919 covers 100 per cent of provincially approved prescriptions, 100 per cent of basic dental and 50 per cent for major elective dental work such as crowns and orthodontics for members and their families. “It’s expensive,” said Bizzutto. “Invisalign can run $10,000.”

OPCMIA Local 919, like many other construction unions, also covers short-term disability. If a member injures themselves outside of work, the union will cover the one-week waiting period before Employment Insurance (EI) kicks in for up to 13 weeks. The union’s plan then continues to cover the member for an additional 14 weeks.

“When you’re young, you think you’re indestructible and you just want money in your pocket,” said Bizzutto. “The benefit of joining a union is that you get money in your pocket, and we negotiate benefits for you. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Pile Drivers, Divers, Bridge, Dock and Wharf Builders Local 2404 provides educational opportunities to members’ children, grandchildren, and spouses through six $500 bursaries offered per year that can be used towards any academic, commercial, technical, art, or vocational program/ institute. They also cover the Family Services Employee Assistance Program (FSEAP) for their membership. The FSEAP runs the gamut of mental health and wellness services including family counselling, life, financial and health coaching as well as providing professional help for substance abuse and addiction, and grief and crisis management.

The benefit plans of each BC Building Trades (BCBT) affiliate are a bit different, but all are worth exploring to discover what coverage they provide for their members and members’ families for optimal health and wellness.

By Tatiana Tomljanovic