Ontario Electrical League represents some union contractors though majority are non-union

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

The Ontario Electrical League (OEL) has expressed concern about the accuracy of a report in the September issue of Ottawa Construction News about the Ontario College of Trade’s (OCOT) decisions about apprenticeship ratio reviews.

“In that article, you describe the Ontario Electrical League as a ‘non-union’ group,” wrote OEL president Stephen Sell.  “As you may know, the OEL is an organization which has members from across the electrical industry in Ontario including suppliers, distributors and contractors.  Our membership specifically includes contractors who are members of the ECAO (Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario) as well as contractors who are organized by unions, specifically organized by the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and the CLAC (Christian Labour Association of Canada.)”

The GTA Construction Report has corrected the erroneous non-union reference in online and archived databases.

In an interview, Sell said approximately five per cent of the OEL’s membership is unionized with employees represented by the IBEW.  Overall, the association represents about eight per cent of the province’s electrical contracting industry, compared to 12 per cent overall of unionized contractors represented by the ECAO.

“The biggest percentage of contractors don’t belong to any association,” Sell said. “They are typically non-unionized” and are usually smaller businesses.  This means that the largest portion of the electrical contracting industry is both non-union and not represented by any group.

Sell acknowledged that while his association represents all sectors of the industry, the predominant majority of OEL members (95 per cent) are non-union, and that many of the OEL’s advocacy initiatives reflect the interests of open shop contractors.

These objectives are challenging in the current political environment, where the NDP and Liberals have formed a coalition on most labour-related issues.

He said one of the OEL’s successes it its part in delaying the OCOT’s launch by four months.  Now the fight continues for a level playing field.

“A lot of contractors look at what’s going on in other jurisdictions and see that Ontario is not the same as the rest of Canada,” Sell said. “They’re losing labour to the west because they have lower (apprenticeship) ratios.”

Sell said, in asking for a 1:1 journeyman to apprentice ratio (common elsewhere in Canada), the OEL was at least hoping for progress to a 1:1, 2:1 ratio, similar to the OCOT’s recent change for mechanical contractors.  Instead the OCOT decided to reduce the electrical apprenticeship ratio slightly by delaying it for one journeyman.

“For the small contractors, this still doesn’t help them,” he said. “A lot of them are service contractors and work in two-man teams.”  In a healthier situation, teams could include a journeyman and an apprentice helper – now this is impossible except for the smallest contractors, he indicated.

Sell acknowledges that major changes are unlikely in the near future, and will only occur when political change takes place.

“We need to work within the confines of what we have and still try to change them to what the members would like to see,” he said.

Outside of the OCOT, OEL is monitoring the possibility of mandatory Certificate of Recognition (CoR) requirements for certain contractors.  The issue will be what size contractors will need to be certified, and for what kinds of projects and jobs.  The Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) administers the CoR certification.  “It’s not a cheap process,” Sell said.  The impact of mandatory CoR certification will “depend on who your customer base is, and what kind of work you do.”

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