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UA Local 71 reports Ottawa construction industry ‘booming’

Don Wall
UA Local 71 reports Ottawa construction industry ‘booming’
PUBLIC SERVICES AND PROCUREMENT CANADA — There’s ample work for members of Ottawa’s United Association (UA) Local 71 right now including the $1.8-billion Energy Services Acquisition Program and Energy Service Modernization project from Public Works and Government Services Canada. The project will modernize five energy plant locations that provide heating and cooling to 80-plus buildings in Ottawa. Pictured, the redesign of the Cliff plant.

The latest job numbers are in and they herald good times for unionized Ottawa-area plumbers, pipefitters and welders in the ICI sector, members of United Association (UA) Local 71.

UA Local 71 business manager Angus Maisonneuve has reported the sustained growth in members and hours worked over the past decade has accelerated in the past three years.

Reported member hours are tracked by the Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) Ottawa and UA Local 71 on a yearly basis. The newest data shows a 75 per cent increase in people hours over the last decade, a 31 per cent hike between 2016-2021 and a 26 per cent increase between 2019 and 2021.

“There’s more cranes in the Ottawa skyline than ever before,” said Maisonneuve. “Our construction industry in Ottawa here is booming.

“To put that into perspective, in 2011, we reported 74,000 hours, and the number has increased to 1.3 million in 2021.”

Local 71 now has 1,453 members as of August 2022.

Maisonneuve attributed the continuous rise in member numbers to several reasons, including that UA trades are viewed as increasingly attractive, the union negotiates strongly at the bargaining table, there are good benefits and pensions, the UA training centre is modern and was recently expanded two years ago, UA partners well with project owners and MCA contractors, and there are lots of projects requiring the specialized skills of UA members.

“There’s a lot of work out there. We are recruiting at record numbers,” he said.

An important project for UA members in Ottawa is the $1.8-billion Energy Services Acquisition Program and Energy Service Modernization initiative being undertaken by Public Works and Government Services Canada.

The project will modernize five energy plant locations in the National Capital Region that provide heating and cooling to 80-plus buildings in Ottawa and represents North America’s first conversion of a large network from steam to an electric system for cooling and low-temperature hot water for heating.

The job is in the hands of a consortium of Engie Services Canada, PCL Constructors Canada and Black and McDonald. Completion is set for 2025.

“We’re removing old steam piping for miles in the tunnels and installing new chilled and low-temperature hot water lines,” Maisonneuve said of the technically sophisticated work. “Our skills and safety training is consistently evolving. Our members do training on an ongoing basis. They’re always equipped with the knowledge and skills to manage evolving technology.”

The members are also now adept at platforms such as Virtual Design Construction (VDC).

“VDC is becoming an industry standard,” said Maisonneuve.

“A model designer will model an entire mechanical system from the ground up on their computer and then send it to the site for fabrication. It saves time and money.”

There is also lots of employment on Ottawa’s Confederation Line LRT project, with piping and new plumbing systems installed at each of the stations, and also ample work for school boards with new schools opening and retrofits as well.

“Anybody that wants to work is working,” said Maisonneuve, noting the membership is working at full capacity. “It’s been unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like it.”

Maisonneuve said the local is aware of broader threats to the industry, with factors such as supply chain disruptions, a possible recession and cost escalations, but at this point those issues have not caused impacts on workloads.

“We listen to the news and we hear all kinds of things out there, but that is all beyond our control,” he said.

A key to long-term stability is working closely with project owners and contractors in the region to ensure the union is able to supply sufficient numbers of workers with the right skills to handle the stream of future projects.

“We’re working closely with our partners in the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ottawa to find people we need to meet the demands in the future,” said Maisonneuve. “We’ve invested approximately $3- to $5 million in the past five years in training.”

UA signed a new three-year deal in the spring with Maisonneuve as a lead negotiator with members winning a 13-per-cent wage increase over three years.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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