October 23, 2023
While celebrating advances made, members of the First District’s NextGen and Women’s committees said plenty of work remains after holding their caucuses at the All Canada Progress Meeting in Toronto in August.
Leaders from both groups say they are excited by organizing efforts to grow the IBEW in Canada. Taking into consideration the perspectives of young workers and women and the unique obstacles they often face on the job will help attract more Canadian citizens to the trades.
NextGen, which is the equivalent to RENEW at U.S. locals, is an initiative that encourages IBEW members 35 and younger to become more active and lead in their local unions.
“In the 10 years since NextGen started, we’ve made leaps and bounds,” said Toronto Local 353 Assistant Education Director Chris Borgia, the First District representative on the RENEW committee. “We’re not starting from scratch anymore. We have people with much better understanding and knowledge.”
St. Catharines, Ontario, Local 303 member and Red Seal electrician Denver Kormos, who also is active in the NextGen caucus, noted that nearly 50 people attended. That showed that interest is high, he said, especially considering that not every local was able to send members.
“The culture here in Canada is changing, and diversity is important to younger people,” Kormos said. “The more we’re allowed to reach out to those communities and help them get more comfortable, the more comfortable we think they will be with the IBEW.”
Kate Buinimasi, an international representative in the Education Department who chairs both caucuses, said she was impressed by how many local unions sent members to the Women’s Committee meeting and the larger progress meeting.
Buinimasi and Ottawa Local 2228 Assistant Business Manager Meaghan Olmstead, who chaired a presentation on obstacles women face that their male counterparts usually don’t, said progress has been made but much work remains to be done.
One attendee told how she and her husband decided not to have a third child because she was afraid to lose her job as a lineman. The company offered little in paid time off and wouldn’t guarantee her job when she returned to work.
Including contractual language that guarantees things like that in agreements needs to be a priority for all local unions, Buinimasi said.
“I felt a lot of support from the international vice president,” Buinimasi said, referring to First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk. “There still needs to be a lot of work and education done for our male allies to understand what it’s like to be a woman in the IBEW.”
Added Olmstead: “We want to make sure everyone knows we’re aligned with the IBEW and the First District’s core values in continuing engagement and recruitment in our underrepresented groups. … We are looking forward to working with our leaders to ensure those underrepresented groups are engaged and play a vital role in their priorities, including organizing and retention of all members.”
Shewchuk praised both committees for their work and for making their presence known at the all progress meeting.
“The NextGen and Women’s committees are vitally important to meeting our organizing goals in Canada,” he said. “More work remains, but both committees continue to grow and show how we can make the IBEW a more welcoming place to all our country’s citizens.
“I was particularly pleased to see so many members of both committees stay throughout the All-Canada Progress Meeting, where they were able to meet and build relationships with members from sectors and regions throughout the First District.”