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Canadian tripartite conference tackles drug use and workplace harassment

Conference participants chat at one of the booths set up at the health fair adjacent to the Canadian tripartite.

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Owners, contractors and members were happy to be back in person at the 2022 Boilermaker Industry Tripartite Conference in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick, Aug. 9-11. The Canadian conference offered a wide range of topics including opioid use, indigenous recruiting, harassment in the workplace, the rise in small modular nuclear reactors and more. Provincial ministers Monte McNaughton and Arlene Dunn addressed the tripartite, and there were breakout sessions on carbon capture, SMRs and safety. 

International Vice President of Canada Arnie Stadnick welcomed the group after a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s really good to be here together in person,” he said. “We’ve been virtual for the better part of two years, and we are very happy to have you here.” 

Executive Director of the Boilermaker Contractors’ Association of Canada Sara Scott and Point Aconi Generating Station Plant Manager Milton Howley also welcomed attendees to the tripartite.  

Samantha King, PhD, research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction spoke about drug use in the workplace, which needs attention. Chronic substance use, she explained, is habitual and impulsive. That could occur with people using alcohol, opioids or other drugs like fentanyl. She said one out of five workers in construction in Ontario and British Columbia deal with substance use disorder. 

King said that chronic substance use results in loss of productivity. A study from 2017 showed an estimated $20 billion in employer losses. “The cost is high to employees and employers,” she said.

Yet shaming and stigmatizing those with substance use disorder is counterproductive and won’t help those affected find the help they need. “We can overcome stigma through language,” King said, emphasizing education and training. 

Substance use isn’t the only social issue plaguing the workplace. As consultant Sally Wells illustrated, harassment is also a problem. 

“There have been a lot of legislative changes around workplace violence. In most workplaces, violence isn’t sexual violence,” she said, noting it’s most often disrespectful behavior and bullying of those considered “others” at work. “Are we holding space for people to be different than we are?”

She said if you see something, don’t be afraid to intervene. “We’re never going to be free of conflict. We need to learn to ask clarifying questions and understand the concept of respect and accept responsibility of conduct.

Ron Oberth, PhD, special advisor to the president and CEO at the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries, gave an overview of small modular reactors. 

“Canada is leading the way in introducing SMRs,” Oberth said. 

Canada is a successful nuclear pioneer with over 60 years of nuclear technology development. It’s a $7 billion industry with 19 operating CANDU reactors. CANDU is a Canadian pressurized heavy-water reactor designed to be used to generate electric power. 

With more than $1 billion a year in exports, Canada is the world’s second largest uranium producer. Energy needs are changing and new SMRs are a solution. Provincial governments are hoping to see enhanced economic activity with SMR global exports.

“Modular means you build them when you need them. With smaller units you build them as you need the power,” Oberth said. “It’s also easier for a smaller province with a smaller grid to add them. And it’s also lower risk.” 

Boilermakers took to the stage to update attendees about Helmets to Hardhats, recruitment, inclusion, indigenous recruiting and apprentices and training. Former IVP-Canada Joe Maloney, founder and national executive director of Helmets to Hardhats, Canada, said H2H only works with the 14 unionized construction trades when recruiting former military. Since 2012, they’ve been successful in recruiting 134 men and women into the Boilermakers. 

With more on recruitment, IR Jonathan White gave an overview of L-128’s (Toronto) recruitment initiatives and the importance of forecasting. White said that any job forecasting involves an ever evolving and endless set of variables that impact the accuracy of those projections. 

“The further you go out in any projection, the less accurate you’ll be because the greater the variables,” he said. “The trends are true, though. That’s what we can use to plan for manpower going forward.” 

He said the union is using a three-pronged approach to manpower: outreach, assessment and development. 

“This plan has resulted in a 25% increase in available manpower. It’s a number we’re proud of,” White said. 

Director of National Training j’Amey Bevan also discussed fulfilling manpower needs through apprentice development and the National Pressure Welder Program. Bevan took over as director in the spring of 2020, just as the world got wonky with the COVID-19 pandemic.      

“The pandemic, as tough as it was, allowed us to focus on other things, and we updated our [apprenticeship] program,” she said. “It’s on a new [learning management system].” 

Bevin also talked about the National Pressure Welder Program, funded with $6 million for the next five years. That money covers costs for teachers and students (including childcare). The goal is 1,800 new qualified pressure welders by the end of year five. 

Inclusion was another factor emphasized as important to the union’s growth and health. With more and more women becoming Boilermakers, the L-128 women’s committee discussed inclusion at length. Genevieve Ellis, Christine Hahn and Leah McIntyre gave an overview of the range of human differences: race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class and physical abilities. 

“Diversity isn’t just about numbers and filling quotas,” Hahn said. 

Inclusion is about involvement and empowerment of all members of these classifications and creating an environment where everyone is heard. The group went on to define the consequences of exclusion, which affects productivity and revenue and can cause mental health problems, job dissatisfaction and absenteeism. They stressed the need across the trades to educate members about inclusion and create a safer more equitable environment for all workers.

Also discussing inclusion was National Indigenous Recruiter and IR Emile Gareau. He said the union has thus far recruited between 30 and 36 candidates from indigenous communities.

“What we offer together—owners, contractors and Boilermakers—has had such an impact,” he said. “I’ve received so many positive reports.”