IR EMILE GAREAU is on a mission to introduce the Boilermakers to indigenous people across Canada by sharing his life story and his passion for the union.
“I would have never been as successful as I have been without the Boilermakers,” says Gareau, who is one of Canada’s indigenous peoples. “The Boilermakers gave me a chance in life.” It’s a message he touts from every speaking platform he can find.
Gareau has been in the Boilermakers for 40 years, with seven of those as business manager for Local 555 (Winnipeg, Manitoba) before joining staff as an International rep and also as the union’s first indigenous recruitment officer. He’s been earning his keep a lot longer than that, though. Three days after he finished grade school, his uncle woke him up and said, “The party is over. It’s time to go to work.”
And while Gareau admits he was young when he began working, he’s grateful for a career that gave him opportunities—something he wants indigenous men and women to know they can also find.
There is a lot of industrial and construction work across Canada. And with a skilled worker shortage of around 600,000, those jobs are hard to fill. Boilermakers are aiming to bolster their numbers and take on these jobs with as many new and dedicated recruits as they can reach. Gareau is hoping many indigenous people see this as an opportunity for a stable work life. He knows indigenous Canadians have faced resistance in their own country when it comes to employment in the skilled trades in the past.
“I faced it too, in my youth,” he tells them. “But I’m not about yesterday; I’m about tomorrow. I’m one of you and can’t do a damn thing about yesterday; but, I have a key that can open tomorrow.”
To find skilled recruits or even untrained young people looking to begin working in the trades, Gareau targets his visits to venues where the Nations are gathering and already collaborating on other issues. He’s been to some native communities that have training facilities he says are “just as good as ours.” Gareau says the country needs to channel more indigenous youth through these facilities, and the Boilermakers can take them even further through apprenticeship and training programs.
“The response when I speak is overwhelming. The people are welcoming me with open arms,” he says. “Most of their leaders and coordinators are excited about giving the union a chance. To give an opportunity to people who had no opportunity is fantastic.”
He also talks about the benefits he’s earned through his years in the union. He wants other indigenous people to experience those as well.
“And I know the union needs to grow, we need to change,” Gareau says. “The industry's changing. Everything is changing, and we have to change as well. I’m here because I hope I can make a difference.”