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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

A DAY ON THE JOB - Part 1 of an ongoing series focusing on the skilled trades

Electrical workers light the way


Drive the Gardiner Expressway, ride the subway, or walk around the block, and you're likely to have your path illuminated by a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
LONG BUT WORTH IT: An intensive apprenticeship program means that Electrical Workers are the most highly trained electricians in North America. Business Manager Joe Fashion (centre) reviews plans with Electrical Workers Paul Damiano (right) and Vince Gaudet.

As members of the oldest and largest electrical union in the world, Electrical Workers have installed and maintained Toronto's lighting for roughly a century. The union was founded in 1891 and expanded to Canada in 1899. Two years ago, IBEW Local 353, which covers the Greater Toronto Area, celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The union is as old as the first commercial distribution of electricity,and its work is as diverse as the varied uses of electrical power. "If it shines, moves or heats, then our members are probably responsible," says Joe Fashion, business manager for IBEW Local 353. "Electrical Workers literally power the city and light up Toronto."

Toronto is the site of numerous Canadian "firsts," and Electrical Workers have participated in them all.

The country's first electric elevator, inside the 1894 Gooderham Flatiron building on Wellington St. East: Electrical Workers did that.

Canada's first subway, the 1954 Yonge line: A Local 353 project.

Maple Leaf Gardens, Highway 401 lighting, Ontario Place, Canada's Wonderland: Every last one was the work of IBEW members.

Local 353 has grown with the city. During the 1930s, its members brightened Toronto by replacing the gas lighting on our streets with electric street lights. Today, its work includes not just new construction, but also maintenance,communication cabling,networking, residential construction, line work, street lights and traffic signals. Increasingly, IBEW members are installing fibre optics and voice/data/video equipment.
IBEW MEMBER Paul Damiano performs maintenance on Toronto's street lights.

"When you join the Electrical Workers of Local 353, you are choosing to make a real difference in people's lives and in your own community," Fashion says.

Part of that difference is keeping pedestrians, cyclists and drivers safe. For example, the installation and maintenance of all traffic lights and pedestrian signals in the GTA are covered under the jurisdiction of Local 353. Electrical workers also install and maintain the lighting along Hwy. 401, the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, look after the overhead electronic information signs on the 401 and are responsible for street lights in the eastern part of the megacity.

Keeping pace with rapid technological change requires a highly skilled and trained workforce. Through a joint partnership with members of the Greater Toronto Electrical Contractors Association, the IBEW produces the most highly trained,best qualified electricians in North America. The standards surpass Ontario government requirements.

In Toronto,a state-of-the-art Technical Education Centre (Fashion's brainchild) offers certification exams and 34 trade-related courses. The transition from apprentice to journeyman takes roughly five years of on-the-job training and classroom education. It's a long but rewarding process. The result is that IBEW members receive the best training and the most education of any electricians on the continent.

Excellent training is just one advantage of joining the IBEW. Also important are the extremely attractive pay and benefits, which are second to none.

Next year,the total pay package for Electrical Workers in the Industrial,Commercial and Institutional and Residential High-Rise sectors will hit $47.10 per hour, representing an 87% increase since 1987. Pay in the Residential Low-Rise sector follows closely behind at $43.66, the result of a 157%pay hike over the past decade.

"Build a future on"

"We've worked hard to secure excellent wages,pensions and benefits,"says Fashion,the lead negotiator for Local 353. "These are jobs you can raise a family on.Jobs you can build a future on."

Fashion says that in addition to fair wages and enrolment in a proper apprenticeship program,other advantages of belonging to the IBEW include job placement through the union dispatch office; a safe workplace, including safety training; skills upgrading courses and representation on the job.

Most of all, Electrical Workers inherit a sense of pride and self-esteem as members of the largest electrical union in the world. Local 353 itself is 6,000 members strong.

That union's size means that members are offered a variety of work experiences and challenges.

"It's the new opportunities that excite me, "says Vince Gaudet, a journeyman since 1988. "I can be working on city street lights this week, then inside an office tower next week. These constant challenges keep my skills sharp."

At the same time, Local 353's size and its members' skills means its affiliated contractors can offer flexibility, high quality and competitive pricing for those looking to engage Electrical Workers. Municipalities and companies can save money and achieve higher quality by using IBEW contractors, instead of their own workforces,to perform electrical work. And that's good news for everyone,from the new homebuyer, to the small business owner, to the municipal taxpayer.

For more information on a career as an Electrical Worker, visit

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