Union recruits First Nations workers
Sheet Metal Workers pitch trade as a sustainable career path, not just a job
Posted: Jul 24, 2012 12:06 PM ET
Last Updated: Jul 24, 2012 12:03 PM ET
As the mining boom heats up across northern Ontario, a construction union in Thunder Bay is ramping up its efforts to attract First Nations people to the industry.
Denis Renaud, the First Nations liaison with the Sheet Metal Workers local 397, said the union is focused on building a workforce with transferrable skills.
“A lot of these projects [on First Nation land], the community members are given work, but … they're not given work that's long-term,” he said. “They're given really mediocre jobs as labour.”
The union offers free training and benefits to members. After several years of apprenticing, sheet metal workers can make about $40 an hour.
“I wanted to start making money,” Renaud said of his decision to pursue the trade.
Hundreds of jobs to be created
The Bingwi Neyaashi band member said he is encouraging others to follow the same career path. He hopes it will help mitigate the problem that arises “when these projects are finished, the communities are left without a work force.”
Currently four First Nation members of local 397 are working on the Detour Lake project in Northeastern Ontario.
The union's business manager, Dave Bradshaw, said he has another reason for wanting more First Nations union members.
He noted the Ring of Fire in the James Bay lowlands will need a solid workforce to fill the hundreds of jobs that will be created.
“There’s always this talk about temporary foreign workers coming in, but I'd prefer to employ people in Canada,” he said.
He added that, when people from the region make decent wages, they spend it in the area, boosting the entire economy.
In his first year as a First Nations liaison, Renaud said he has recruited more than a dozen new First Nation union members.
He said the biggest challenge so far has been finding people with the requisite Grade 12 education.
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