Local workers at mint short-changed: union

January 28, 2013

From the Winnipeg Free Press

By: Murray McNeill

A union official is crying foul over 15 foreign workers being brought in to work on a local Royal Canadian Mint expansion project instead of using unemployed local tradesmen.

Heiko Wiechern, business manager for Local 254 of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union, said the Chinese workers have been seen installing piping systems for a new coin-plating line being installed at the Mint’s coin-making plant on Lagimodiere Boulevard.

“I have about 50 guys laid off right now who could do that work,” Wiechern said. “It’s not a union issue,” he added, noting there are likely non-union tradespeople available who also could do the work. But it would be nice to keep that work here, locally, and have those tax dollars being circulated here.”

A spokesperson for the mint said the foreign workers are employees of PAL Surface Treatment Systems Ltd., the Chinese firm that won the contract to provide all of the design, fabrication, delivery, installation, testing and training work for the new plating line.

“The complexity of the design of the plating equipment requires that the installation (including the installation of pipes and exhaust ducting), commissioning, testing and training services be provided by the vendor of the equipment,” Christine Aquino said. “The work provided by PAL technicians at the mint’s Winnipeg facility is limited to the provision of such services.”

Aquino said a total of 130 local tradespeople will have worked on the project between the time it started — October 2011 — and the time it’s completed in June of this year, including about 100 people currently working on the site.

“The investments being made in the expansion of the mint’s plating facility are over 75 per cent Canadian-based,” she added.

She said installing piping systems is just part of what the Chinese workers are doing. They’re also doing other specialized work local tradesmen would not have been able to do. She said PAL also obtained all of the federal approvals required to bring temporary foreign workers into the country. 

Wiechern said the union realizes there are times foreign workers are needed, but it questions why they’re needed for something such as installing pipes. “That’s definitely work we can do.”

He said he remembers past projects where local tradespeople installed the pipes and the company that designed the equipment only brought in an engineer and a supervisor to oversee the work.

“But now they’ve taken it one step further,” he added. He said there was a similar situation in 2010, when a Chinese company working on Winnipeg’s airport terminal project brought in unlicensed electricians to help install some loading bridges. A union official complained, the province issued a stop-work order, and the Chinese company hired a local firm to do any work requiring licensed electricians.

The plumbers union doesn’t plan to file a formal complaint or stage any kind of protest at the construction site.

Read the story in the Winnipeg Free Press