Ontario’s Carpenters Union: Building a legacy based on 132 years of social and community leadership; adapting to the future with innovative training and co-operative employer relationships

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    CDCO Cover

    Ontario Construction Report in c0-operation with the Carpenters District Council of Ontario has published a comprehensive 20 page supplement.  You can read it online by clicking on the image below.

    Ontario Construction Report special feature

    Ontario’s Carpenters Union traces its history to the earliest days of North American organized labour – its first Toronto and Hamilton locals were established in 1882. The union has thrived through more than 132 years by adapting and enhancing its services, retaining progressive social and community values and embracing technology and healthy employer relationships.

    Today, the union, represented provincially by the Carpenters District Council of Ontario (CDCO), has about 22,000 construction members at 16 locals throughout the province (the union also represents some allied trades and non-construction carpenters, bringing the total membership to about 25,000).

    CDCO Cover

    Its training and benefits programs are among the best in the industry. The union has not lost touch with progressive social values, supporting low-income community pre-apprenticeship programs such as ‘CHOICE” and military veterans through the Helmets to Hardhats program. The union also has great training partnerships such as OYAP (Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) where they are aligned with school boards throughout the GTA, and has linked with organizations such as CBTU (Coalition of Black Trade Unionist), and CAWIC (Canadian Association of Women in Construction) to reach out to individuals looking for career opportunities in Ontario’s vibrant construction industry.

    The result: union members enjoy financial stability and a quality of life allowing them a secure working career/retirement, while the Capenters Union improves the quality of life for many who would otherwise be disadvantaged.

    “There are lot of things we’ve done right over the past 100 plus years,” says CDCO vice-president Mike Yorke. “We’ve always believed in inclusivity. The Carpenters Union has been a home for Canada’s immigrants for 130 years,” he said. “If you are a skilled carpenter, or someone who wants to learn the trade, if you speak wood, you are going to find a home in the Carpenters Union, and make a good life for your family.”

    “We’ve negotiated a good collective agreement with a good pension plan,” Yorke said. “A carpenter can come from anywhere in the world, buy a home, put his kids through university (or follow his parents in the trade), and have a good retirement.” (And Yorke makes it clear that an increasing number of women are taking up the trade and building a career for themselves. The union’s ongoing work with CAWIC and the Sisters in the Brotherhood contribute to this.)

    Employers, meanwhile don’t need to worry about work stoppages – there hasn’t been a strike/lockout for almost three decades, and recent collective agreements have incorporated a no strike/lockout arbitration process known as the “Provincial Protocol”.

    “The contractors are our partners in this industry and even though we have the occasional disagreement we always agree on a few items: jobsite health and safety, skills development and training and high productivity delivering excellence are all top priorities,” said Tony Iannuzzi, the CDCO’s executive secretary treasurer.

    “We want to make our contractors look good, because when they are working, we are working!”

    In fact, relationships with employers are collaborative enough that, while Jim Vlahos, the former long-time Carpenters Union counsel has become the labour relations director for the General Contractors Section of the Toronto Construction Association, he remains on good terms with the union and other labour organizations.

    “I tend to think of our negotiating relationship as being a round table, not one with sides,” said Jim Vlahos. “The Carpenters Union and employers work together for the common good and betterment of the industry. We certainly respect the union’s values in serving members’ interests. We also appreciate that the carpenters know that, to be successful, the businesses for whom they work must also be competitive.”

    This doesn’t mean that union and management representatives won’t speak for their own interests – but both labour and management realize that labour stoppages are harmful to their interests, especially when construction service purchasers want to be sure that their work will be completed reliably and on schedule.

    The union enables contractors to mobilize highly skilled workers as required, even for the largest and most challenging projects, many of which have received prestigious awards for their design and construction quality. The carpenters’ training program adapts to employer requirements. Today members are working on massive solar energy projects and developing bridge and infrastructure construction skills.

    These training investments are significant – members pay a $1.00 an hour check-off to support the training program.

    “This ensures that we will continue to build on our legacy in the built environment,” Yorke said. “We can look around and see the infrastructure work we’ve accomplished over the years, and how the union also has contributed to the social infrastructure of the communities where we live.”

    When such careful work is done not only to build a new legacy but to preserve what’s here from the past, it’s something that citizens, communities, and organizations alike are thrilled to see.

    “We have great respect for tradespeople who work to preserve the built environment of the past while moving into the future. Their hard work makes Ontario’s cities beautiful and liveable and enjoyable for us all,” says Heritage Toronto’s director of marketing Stacey Fowler.

    You can read about some of the Carpenters Union’s achievements and initiatives in this special report, and learn more at www.thecarpentersunion.ca, www.carpenterslocal27.ca and https://www.carpenterstraining.ca.

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