A Look Back
Since confederation, Carpenters have been an essential part of Canadian life; constructing houses, boats, commercial buildings, government buildings and ships. The carpentry trade first organized in the United States in 1878 when 36 carpenters from 11 American cities decided to meet and form a national union. The mission was to achieve higher wages and better conditions for carpenters across the country. This union would come to be called, the ‘Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America’ (later renamed, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America).
The brotherhood expanded into Canada, when carpenters in Hamilton organized but unsuccessfully demanded a wage increase from 17.5 cents a day. Upon unsuccessfully negotiating the agreement, Hamilton Carpenters met with Carpenters from Toronto and as a result, started Local 27.
Local 27 was formed on April 18th, 1882 by Peter J. McGuire and was established as an officially chartered Local of the Brotherhood. Immediately upon its formation, it began to fight the good fight, successfully striking for four weeks to try and achieve a higher wage for its members. The Local was successful and achieved a wage of 25 cents per day.
In the years and centuries to come, there would be significant ups and downs for Local 27. As the population of Toronto grew bigger, more construction began to take place and more members continued to join the Local. Various strikes over the years brought increased wages, weekends off and standard work hours. The Local, and the world would be met with hardships during and after World War 1, with countries left ravaged from the war, and depression on the horizon. Throughout the great depression, the local struggled to maintain members and protect wages, as the construction industry struggled. Soon after the great depression, the world went to war again, and Local 27 mobilized to determine how members could best serve the country. This time was an especially difficult to maintain members, with many carpenters leaving the brotherhood to join the war efforts.
Post-war, Toronto experienced a construction boom and welcomed many new immigrants to its shores. As a result, Local 27 became a home to many newcomers who left their homes, in search of a better life. Joining the union guaranteed newcomers a steady wage, overtime pay, and a pension plan.
With uncertainty and disorder in the labour movement in the 1970s, the provincial government introduced legislation which standardized apprenticeships, in order to ensure high quality workers entered and remained in the industry. New legislation also divided the construction industry into seven sectors and required single trade bargaining. Upon this legislation being enacted, numerous Toronto based Locals merged into Local 27, and formed the ‘New’ Local 27.This move boosted membership to 4,000.
In the early 1980s, there was dissension in the ranks, which emerged between younger members with fresh ideas and the old guard. A coalition of young carpenters, who are still well-known and prominent figures today including John Cartwright, Ucal Powell, Frank O’Reilly, and Mike Yorke emerged and were elected into various leadership roles within Local 27 and the brotherhood more broadly.
Since the original days of the ‘brotherhood’, Local 27 has made great strides towards carpentry becoming a craft which all members of society can participate and prosper in. Today, training centres are headed by Cristina Selva, who is the Executive Director of Training. In addition, hundreds of women have become members of Local 27 since its inception. The ‘Sisterhood within the brotherhood’ continues to be a growing force! Many members from racialized communities have also risen through the ranks and thrived within the local, and on the international stage. This includes Ucal Powell, who became Executive Secretary Treasurer, and Chris Campbell who is currently the Equity and Diversity representative for the union. More recently, the union has worked with Mayor John Tory and stakeholders in the construction industry to craft an Inclusive Workplace Declaration in order to combat racism and hate and promote a more inclusive environment within the construction industry.
Local 27 has also mobilized to become a political force to be reckoned with in the GTA. The first concerted effort to elect someone who shared the union’s values came when the Local successfully backed the election of Bob Rae for Premier in 1990. The union also successfully mobilized its membership to replace the Mike Harris government by backing Dalton McGuinty in the 2003 provincial election. In addition, the local has also supported many mayoral candidates including David Miller and John Tory as well as the federal governments of Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, and Justin Trudeau. Local 27 continues to support candidates who best address the needs of its members.
Carpenters build cities and are an integral part of any modern day society. In thinking about the future, it is important for young people to understand that carpentry has and always will, remain a viable trade to learn. When training with and/or joining Local 27 as a skilled tradesman, you’re joining a strong organization that has persisted through wars, pandemics, recessions, and depressions, while not wavering to ensure its workers receive better wages and adequate protections.