Russell N. Shewchuk
A four-term business manager of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085, Shewchuk brings a lifetime of IBEW experience to his new role. His father, Peter, was a Local 2085 electrician for more than 40 years, and the younger Shewchuk grew up sitting in on union meetings and attending the local’s social events.
“Dad’s fellow IBEW members were like family,” he said. “My mom and dad were both very strong union people.”
As a teenager, though, Shewchuk didn’t think much about electrical work, he said: “I went through high school as kind of an academic.” After graduating, he studied political science and labour at the University of Manitoba.
But after working an electrician job during a summer break. “I really got into it, especially the camaraderie,” he said. “You can see something be created with your own hands.” He was initiated in 1990 into Local 2085 — a local that claims the honor of being the IBEW’s largest, geographically, covering Manitoba and the Territory of Nunavut and reaching as far north as the Arctic Circle.
The Red Seal-certified journeyman wireman worked the tools and was a foreman and shop steward. He quickly got active with Local 2085, serving on its Executive Board and often holding leadership roles on local, provincial and international committees, as well as working as a trainer.
But at his core, Shewchuk is an organizer. In the decade leading up to his becoming business manager, Shewchuk was an organizer/Membership Development representative, bringing workers from more than 40 companies into the IBEW. “I talked to contractors as much as I could,” he said. “You talk to the head of the company, lay out a plan, and tell them about the IBEW and how there are benefits for both parties.” His efforts led to Local 2085’s growth from 500 members to its current level of around 1,400. He also helped the IBEW gain steady, reliable work through the development of a provincial condo/residential collective bargaining agreement.
Organizing was why he ran to represent all of Canada as international vice president. “I wanted to do it because I think I can help us move forward. I thought there was an opportunity here,” he said. “I don’t think we’re where we should be in Canada. We have to build our numbers and build a stronger IBEW across the country.”
He credits his political science background for helping him build a supportive coalition. “People said, ‘We hope you can do this; we’ll help you,'” he said. “It was the right group, the right time, the right moment.”
“Russ won the election with a decisive victory involving all sectors of the First District,” said James Barry, executive secretary-treasurer of the Construction Council of Ontario, which represents more than 17,000 IBEW members. “I have known Russ for many years, and I am extremely confident that he will be a fantastic international vice president for Canada, bringing creativity, enthusiasm and intellect to the First District office.”
Moving forward, Shewchuk said, “We’re going to grow the district to where it should be. It’s all about getting a fair deal for our contractors while creating a good work-life balance for our members with good benefit plans for our families.
“Look at the work the IBEW has done for our folks,” he said. “Lots of people before us worked for that. The IBEW is progressive, looking at the next generation. I’m honored and humbled to be in this position.”
“I’m personally looking forward to working with my close friend to make the IBEW in Canada stronger,” Barry said, “through hard work and dedication to our existing membership and to those we will welcome into our union over the coming years.”
Shewchuk will serve his fellow Canadians from the First District’s office in Mississauga, Ontario. But during winter vacations, the avid snowmobiler hopes to spend some time with his fiancée, Katerina, at their home near Lake Winnipeg. “It’s not unheard of to ride 200 miles a day there,” said Shewchuk. “Everything just goes away in the snow and pine trees.” His son, Brendon, is a fourth-year Local 2085 apprentice working for signatory contractor Abco Supply and Service, and his daughter, Devon, works for Bell MTS. His stepdaughter, Elisa, works for VIA Rail and is in her final year of university, and his stepson, Felice, is a third-level UA pipefitter apprentice.
Please join the entire IBEW in wishing Brother Shewchuk the best of luck as he assumes his new role.
Tom N. Griffiths
But he turned a 24-hour campaign into victory when the candidate he was backing for the Eighth District seat on the International Executive Council was deemed ineligible and asked Griffiths to take his place.
“It is an honor of a lifetime,” he said in remarks to delegates afterwards, offering “gratitude and respect” to predecessor Phil Venoit and praising the job he did.
A journeyman wireman, Griffiths worked with the tools for 25 years until 2002 when he joined the staff of Local 625, which covers mainland Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada. He was elected to lead the local five years ago after nearly a decade as assistant business manager.
“He will be a great voice for Canada,” said First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk, who was elected alongside Griffiths. “Tom has networked with a lot of the business managers across Canada. He’s well known. He’ll bring up the conditions and concerns we face in our country.”
He’ll also be a strong advocate for growth, Shewchuk said, recalling how he and Griffiths got to know each other as like-minded young organizers working in different regions of Canada.
“When you have that organizing spirit within you, you never lose that,” he said. “Tom will bring new ideas to the IEC and open some eyes. He’s a mentor, and he’s got a great young organizer named Brad Wood, who’s going to be another shining star.”
Griffiths was born in Boston and has dual citizenship in Canada, where he spent summers with his mother’s family in Digby County in southwest Nova Scotia before moving there at age 16. He applied to be a Local 625 apprentice after two years of trade school in Yarmouth.
Until the local called with good news in 1979, Griffiths worked for low pay and no benefits for several nonunion contractors. He relishes the memory of returning to one of those employers in 2004 and organizing its workers.
Cordell Cole, the business manager who hired him, sensed right away that Griffiths was the right person for the job.
“I was looking for a special type. I knew that the car salesman approach to organizing didn’t work,” said Cole, now a First District international representative. “Tom had the patience of Job. It was baby steps at first, small successes.”
For two years, Griffiths visited job sites and laid the groundwork. “People got to know him and knew they could trust him,” Cole said. “I can’t even tell you the stream of nonunion electricians who would come to his office and vent for three hours. He’d listen, and every once in a while he’d get a question in.”
Over the course of six and a half years, the local nearly doubled in size — from about 700 members to 1,300. For Griffiths, it was a daily adventure.
“Every day was different. You never knew what might happen,” he said. “People always ask me, ‘What’s the next company you’re going to organize?’ You’d have three or four pots on the stove, not sure which one was going to blow first. Sometimes it was one you weren’t even thinking of.”
Griffiths kept things exciting away from work, too. For years, he competed in the BF Goodwrench professional off-road circuit in his Jeep, even helping to organize races and knock out trails. “I did all kinds of events — hill climbs, slaloms, rallies,” he said.
In his leisure time these days, he restores classic cars and is an avid golfer. With his wife, Doreen, he’s also been renovating a cabin at a lakeside camp that’s been in his family for decades. “I’ve spent every weekend on it for the past couple of years,” he said. “I think I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The IBEW congratulates Brother Griffiths and welcomes him to the IEC.