NL Operating Engineers exercise democracy in tough times

by Chris Gosse
H.D. Technician ILA local 1953M
Crane and Hoisting Engineer OE local 955


Construction at Muskrat Falls in 2014
Construction at Muskrat Falls in 2014

Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers are amongst the most highly trained and skilled workers in pipeline, dam, wind energy, mining, offshore oil, and critical infrastructure projects. Across Newfoundland and Labrador, some 2,200 IUOE Local 904 members are currently working in on projects such as Vale Long Harbour, Muskrat Falls, Hebron, Iron ore mines and the provinces important infrastructure.

There is a multiple employer collective agreement involved in provincial infrastructure such as roadbuilding, water and sewer, bridges, and wharves.  The current economic and fiscal situation in the province due to shrinking commodity revenue is a chief concern for employers in this bargaining unit.  It will be interesting to see how these employers and the union respond to the provincial government’s austerity budget.  Fortunately there has been some shared funding agreements between provincial and federal governments this year, which will help fix crumbling infrastructure.  It will be good for local 904 if government continues too repair crumbling roads, update obsolete water and sewer, and prevent outdated bridges and wharves from jeopardizing public health.  Key infrastructure spending will provide immediate employment opportunities to those in need during this difficult economic time.

New election
2011-11-05-08-51-56-C1 4cC VALE20 FILE
The Vale Long Harbour project under construction in 2011.

This July, the local ran an important election for the position of Business Manager/President. The local had mailed out ballots to 2105 eligible rank and file voting members from which 52% were returned for cast ballots.  There was some initial concern about a CUPW strike with the mail in ballot but was not a factor due to continue dialogue with Canada Post.

Three candidates ran. Incumbent Roy Hawco, John Flaherty and Michael Manning campaigned for the elected position of Business Manager and President this second time around.  The vote was closely split 3 ways amongst the candidates who ran in the election.  John Flaherty was deemed the winner of the election re-run after a disputed election in the fall of 2015.

John Flaherty ran his campaign on trust, transparency and accountability.  Roy Hawco ran his campaign on experienced leadership, tireless worker, and a proven track record.  While Mike Manning campaigned on a strong voice, rank and file representation, transparency and leadership.

Fall election

There was some protest around the fall election when a candidates name was mistakenly left off a number of ballots. A balloting mistake constituted an election irregularity, and the irregularity could have effected the outcome of the election, as well a possible conflict of interest in the law firm overseeing the election process.  The local 904 election committee upheld the protest and ordered a new election.

There was an appeal by the incumbent leader to the General Executive Board regarding a new election which was later denied by a panel.  The panel appointed to the provisions of the International Constitution at the International Union office in Washington, D.C. and ordered that local 904’s election committee decision to order a new election be sustained.  There was some delay by local election committee in refusing to issue notice to membership regarding reelection which the General Executive Board found unacceptable and unwarranted.

The local election committee had confusion over election procedure as a basis for their delay and had contacted the International Union for guidance.  Canadian Regional Director Lionel Railton was appointed by International Union office to monitor and oversee the re-run election.  PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP was retained to audit ballot count.

The new Business Manager/President of local 904, John Flaherty, is an advocate for national trade standards and compulsory trade certification.  He would like to expand on course offerings at Operating Engineers College in Newfoundland & Labrador and is a supporter of the (COEJATC) Canadian Operating Engineers Joint Apprenticeship and Training Council.  He also advised that he see’s potential employment opportunities for his members in Green Energy Initiative’s in the province.

Organizing in the age of austerity
NL Rising protests from this spring against budget cuts and tax hikes
NL Rising protests from this spring against budget cuts and tax hikes

The new BusinessManager/President will also have to pick the right team to be good rank and file leaders to build a strong presence on the job sites.  That strong presence starts with good job stewards who are well trained and take action when the collective agreements are violated.  It’s tough to avoid putting out day to day fires and pay attention to the longer picture but it is the only thing that will stand up too pro-capital austerity budgets like Newfoundland and Labrador’s and low commodity prices.  Rank and File who are not in power can pick their issues, but when in power the issues pick you!  John Flaherty campaigned on trust, transparency, and accountability this is what the Rank and File will be expecting despite the issues, including organizing the unorganized.

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2 thoughts on “NL Operating Engineers exercise democracy in tough times

  1. Since winning election new business manager has terminated union staff and replaced them with non union scabs! He hired his girlfriend as union office administrator and fired what many consider the best labour lawyer in the province. He is more worried about selfserving himself than the common good, an opportunist whose recent election win has gone to his brain. Organizing the unorganized? Take action good job stewards? He has scabs (company yes men) working at the union hall???

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