An International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) letter from the Regina local to its members and other IBEW unions listing four companies as "hot" has taken several of the companies by surprise.
"I hadn't heard a thing about it," said Myles Byrne, owner of Calgary-based CBM Projects, whose company is one of the four companies named in the letter which was sent out December 20.
Jason Dierker, technical services of JA Tech, also said he was surprised to hear his company had been designated hot when contacted by the Journal of Commerce in May.
"IBEW 2038 has declared SasCal Instrument Services Inc., Team Power, JA Tech and CBM Projects as hot contractors in our jurisdiction," read the letter signed by Moe Kovatch, business manager and financial secretary for the local. "IBEW members will be charged if they work without explicit permission from their business manager and the business manager of IBEW 2038."
The four companies have all been or are involved in the commissioning of Saskatchewan's K+S Potash Canada Bethune mine, the largest company project to date costing more than 3 billion euros. The mine, which is the first greenfield operation in 40 years, opened in May, however, several of the companies are still carrying out commissioning work.
The letter from Kovatch is not addressed to any individual or local but is copied to his own local, and IBEW Locals 529, 424, 993, 213, 230, 1003 and Larry Schell, an international representative to the IBEW.
Several companies when contacted by the Journal of Commerce queried what the designation "hot" meant.
"They don't know the meaning because they are not organized," said Kovatch.
He said the designation means the union, in its jurisdiction, will not allow its unionized members to work for those companies until the companies are organized or unless there is permission granted by the business managers. Kovatch would not comment further saying he was in attendance at a conference in Ottawa at the time of the interview.
Three of the companies contacted maintain they believe there is confusion by the union over the role they play in the commissioning process and they were not hiring trades for construction purposes.
General manager Tom Boehm, of Saskatoon's Team Power Solutions, said he was aware of the letter and on Dec. 23 corresponded with IBEW Local 2038 president Jeff Sweet via email.
"We talked to the IBEW and thought they had redacted it," he said, adding he believed there was a misinterpretation of the role the company played.
He said his company was union-friendly, advertised on the Local 529 website and had been involved with training more than 70 union members.
"We use some journeyman tradesmen but in non-traditional roles such as quality assurance and safety. They are not doing construction," said Boehm, emphasizing that the skills used in commissioning are different than those in construction.
Boehm said he understood from Sweet this was an "internal" memo that was not being made public. However, the memo appears on numerous public websites for various locals.
Sweet said he thought the order had been rescinded but later clarified it was still in place. He said there had been some individuals in jobs during the commissioning phase that had caused the union to be concerned but they had since been removed.
Sweet said the order only related to the local's jurisdiction, but had been sent to other IBEW locals as a notice. He explained when work is slow, his local allows members to work for non-union companies. "We didn't want members to come to work here and then not getting permission," he said.
He added the order remains in effect until the companies agree to use unionized labour or move out of the province.
Dierker said "this is the first I have heard of it" and expressed his bewilderment that the company should be on the list. He said the site was an open one with union and non-union workers.
"The (commissioning) work we are doing there doesn't infringe upon the unions," he said. "We are not construction contractors."
Byrne said he doesn't find it offensive or threatening. The letter simply points out that permission is needed.
"They are just looking after their own person," he said, "But we are not eating hay out of their cart."
His company's role was simply one of technical staffing for the mine's commissioning team. He advertised for skilled personnel and put the resume before the mining company to determine which skilled individuals they wanted to hire.
"We are not an electrical contractor," he said. "We do commissioning work."
But, the individuals he uses are usually brought in on a consulting basis and are individuals "who have 20 years plus experience." They may specialize in commissioning work or be individuals who are retired and undertake casual work.
They are not active tradesmen "pulling wire," he said.
Byrne, whose company is the only firm not located inside Saskatchewan, said his work is finished in June and is respectful of unions.
"I'm from Ireland and I trained as a millwright," he said. "I honestly don't have any feelings against union and am fine with all of it. I'm not looking to tick anyone off."
Calls to SaskCal Instruments were not returned as of press time.