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ECAO Contractors And IBEW Electricians Face Pandemic Together

Supporting essential services while focusing on safety

The importance of reliable power has perhaps never been as important as it is now for overburdened hospital staff, other essential services and the increased number of people working from home.

Expansion at hospitals to address the pandemic has required electrical contractors and electricians to move quickly and effectively to help address the surge in need.

In such a challenging time, the partnership of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO) and the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario (IBEW CCO) has helped. It may seem unusual to see such a close relationship between employer and union, but that collaboration is what has made them effective in providing safe and reliable power in even the most complex situations.

“As tough as the situation in which we find ourselves might feel, and as trying as our industry might be at the moment, I am encouraged and comforted by the collaborative manner in which our community is acting,” said Graeme Aitken, ECAO’s Executive Director. ECAO represents more than 550 electrical contractors who have been responsible for wiring most of Ontario’s major infrastructure, including airports, hospitals, schools and other key buildings.

“We know the province relies on our industry to help maintain and service important
infrastructure to help support essential services like health care but we also know it’s critical we do everything we can to keep our people safe,” said James Barry, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the IBEW CCO, representing 18,000 men and women working in the electrical sector.

Both Barry and Aitken have a long history as advocates for high training standards to ensure safety for workers and the public. Now, they have stepped up their game to make sure contractors and IBEW members stay healthy in these challenging circumstances while ensuring essential services continue to operate.

Both Barry and Aitken applaud all the essentials workers who are stepping up in these difficult times, particularly health care workers but also in the many other services.

“There are so many people doing their part to help the rest of us, we are grateful for that,”

Graeme Aitken, ECAO’s Executive Director

Recently, the Ontario government announced it was limiting the list of essential workplaces, which meant the shut down of private sector industrial and commercial construction. But construction services related to health care, and other critical government and industrial sites continue.

The government also announced it was adding 60 inspectors to visit construction sites to confirm proper health and safety regulations are in place and being followed.

“This is critical to the safety of all people working in construction. I applaud the Ontario government for taking this extra step,” said Barry. He is also pressing for changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure general contractors are doing a better job with regard to overall hygiene at construction sites.

Both Aitken and Barry commend Premier Doug Ford and Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development for their efforts in addressing the challenges the pandemic has created, noting “They, along with their staff, have done a tremendous job in seeking industry input and keeping us informed while attempting to do everything they can to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Aitken says ensuring a level playing field where all contractors are abiding by the same rules is a comfort for his organization which puts worker and public safety as a priority. He was also pleased to see contractors giving back during this difficult time. ECAO member James McKellar from AM-TECH Electrical was one of the first to step up. He donated the balance of his N95 masks and P100 fitted personal respirators to the Ottawa Hospital. The ECAO also issued an appeal to other contractors to help and they have.

Despite seeing temporary layoffs of many of its members, the IBEW is also coming forward to give back. IBEW Local 105 will be donating funds to support front line workers and Joseph Brant Hospital to help fight the pandemic.

Barry wants everyone to know IBEW members are here for the public and he will continue to work with the ECAO to ensure the people of Ontario can be confident that electrical services they provide will be done safely and professionally.

“We have entered this pandemic together, looking for shared solutions and a common direction, and I am confident that our community will emerge from this closer and stronger,” said Aitken.