With the valuable assistance of one of its retired members, Edmonton, Alberta, Local 424 recently helped two Ukrainian men, fleeing the ongoing conflict in their homeland, find work with one of the local’s longtime signatory contractors, and it has its sights set on helping many more follow suit.
“What happens over there touches our hearts and we want to help,” said Local 424 Business Manager Mike Reinhart, who noted that much of the local’s staff can trace some of their ancestry to Ukraine.
In February, in perhaps the largest act of military aggression by any country in Europe since World War II, Russia invaded its western neighbor under the pretext that Ukraine’s interest in joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization posed a threat to Russia.
Since then, thousands of soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict have been killed, and the United Nations says that nearly 12 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland. Many made bordering countries their destination, but a notable number of others sought refuge all around the world — including in Canada, where federal government figures show that nearly 74,000 people from Ukraine have come through customs since the first of the year.
Around 7,000 of these landed in Alberta, said Local 424 retiree Bill Luchak, with nearly half moving into the Edmonton area. “We already have quite a big population of Ukrainians in the city,” Luchak explained. “We try to help in any way we can.”
Two of these newcomers, Oleksandr and Vitalii, arrived with their wives and children in early August, and Reinhart credited Luchak’s close connections with the city’s Ukrainian community as instrumental in helping the pair and their families adjust to living in Canada.
“Bill was quite emotional about it,” Reinhart said. “He heard their story and wanted to help, so he brought them in and said, ‘Can you find them some work?'”
The Boilermakers local had donated its training center as a warehouse for furniture and supplies donated to Ukrainian newcomers, Luchak explained. “Vitalii had the key to the warehouse,” he said. “That’s how I got to know him.”
Previously, Vitalii had worked as a truck driver while Oleksandr had done some electrical work, Reinhart said. Neither had a great deal of experience with labour unions.
“We started talking to one of our contractors and they said, ‘Yeah, we can use them. Bring them in,'” Reinhart said. Edmonton Electrical has been a signatory contractor with Local 424 since the 1950s, he said: “It’s a great company. The folks that work for them love them.”
The contractor placed the two Ukrainian newcomers on a project with Silent-Aire, a manufacturer of scalable modular data centres. Local 424 provided both men with the tools they would need.
“They’re both doing a great job,” said Reinhart. “They’re adjusting well.” They also have good English skills, he said, although it helps that the 80-year-old Luchak still speaks their language fluently.
“My ancestors were all Ukrainian,” said Luchak, who was initiated into Local 424 in 1962. “I didn’t know a word of English when I started school.”
“I’m thankful for the IBEW putting in the work,” he said. “Our union has been very good to me; good and knowledgeable people who trained us very well.”
Local 424’s success with the Ukrainian newcomers has other contractors checking whether more are seeking work as well, said Reinhart, who is continuing to collaborate with Luchak to help make that a reality. And in September, the business manager said, the local was set to take part in a virtual job fair sponsored by the Edmonton Chapter of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which set an ambitious goal of work placements for 100 Ukrainian newcomers.
“The IBEW continues to open its doors to hardworking people like Oleksandr and Vitalii and to anyone who has an appetite for learning a valuable skill and for true union brotherhood,” said First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk. “Our brothers and sisters in the ‘wild West’ of Alberta help us prove that the IBEW’s big tent has plenty of room for hardworking men and women from all backgrounds who yearn for a better life for themselves and their families.”