DCN ARCHIVES

February 23, 2012

Installing wick drains

ONTARIO MINISTRY OF TRANSPORTATION/WINDSOR BORDER INITIATIVES IMPLEMENTATION GROUP

Installing wick drains at the western end of the Windsor-Essex Parkway project.

FEATURE | Roadbuilding

Windsor-Essex Parkway project draws thousands of construction job applications

WINDSOR, ONT.

While 2,500 people have been trained and already have worked in some way on Ontario’s largest current road infrastructure project, thousands more have submitted resumes in a city with one of the country’s highest unemployment rates.

Based on interviews with key union and management personnel building the 11-kilometre, $1.4 billion Windsor-Essex Parkway as the new link between Highway 401 and a proposed bridge to Detroit, it would seem many if not most of those thousands of additional applicants, especially if unskilled, will not obtain jobs on the estimated three year project, which began in earnest in late fall.

Rob Petroni, business manager for Labourers International Union Local 625 in Windsor, says so far “four or five thousand” resumes have been submitted to his union office, which has expanded training for this and other long-term projects. “Few of them have construction backgrounds, most of them have zero,” he said. ”These are all local people.”

Piling activity

Piling activity for the new suburban North Talbot Road overpass.

Petroni said four or five union staff sift through the resumes. Some have been selected for the union’s joint pre-apprenticeship training program with local technical school St. Clair College. After four weeks of classroom instruction in subjects like construction math they are schooled 23 weeks at the union training facility in “every aspect” of work such as forming and pouring concrete, laying pipe and utlities.

“We put 15 pre-apprentices through last year and they all made it and they’re all going into level one this year, and we have another 15 coming in,” Petroni said.

But those numbers are miniscule compared to the enormous resume volume, although Petroni said some unskilled labour will also be used.

The union is also training members for the long term as a slew of other construction projects are expected over the next few years, including a new downtown aquatic centre and expansion of the Windsor-Detroit vehicle tunnel plaza.

The Labourers Union as well as the International Union of Operating Engineers are overseeing much of the hiring. Jim Lyons, executive director of the Windsor Construction Association, says both labour groups “will tell you they’ve got hundreds of applications from people who have walked in the door hoping they’ll be called when (Parkway construction management) run out of people,” he said.

Meanwhile project manager Parkway Infrastructure Constructors (PIC) says it has received 2.500 resumes.

“We tell anyone who wants to work on the project, skilled or otherwise, that it is important for people to submit their resumes online which will in turn be shared with sub-contractors,” Cindy Prince, PIC’s communications director said. Sub-contractors in turn will contact those “with skills and training they need to deliver the work.”

Petroni said between 100 and 150 personnel have been working on the highway on a daily basis during the project’s early going. This included demolition, tree removal and grubbing, utility relocation and construction of local detour roads. Petroni thinks that number will soon grow to “between 400 and 600” as the project ramps up. The numbers reflect workers who would be on the site at any one time and not the total volume of workers.

Labouring jobs pay a $40 an hour package for trades like form builders, cement finishers and carpenters. Everyone hired through the union so far has been local, Petroni said. Some of the early work didn’t require skills, “but all of the stuff coming up now is mostly skilled,” he said.

One out-of -own contractor, Sturgeon Falls Brush Group from northern Ontario, had to bring staff in to remove large trees. There was no local company with the forest expertise to do the work. “They’re a logging company and that’s really what you needed,” Petroni said. “And they had all the proper equipment and the safety gear.”

But while the pool of skilled or apprenticeship labour is smaller than the vast number of job applications Petroni thinks his local should still be able to find enough skilled people for the project’s overall duration.

“I’m still not panicking,” he said. “I still think that locally we’re going to be able to supply.”

Should the need arise recruiting could go into “the non-union sectors” like residential construction, and move geographically further afield to Chatham, Sarnia and London, Petroni said.

Lyons pointed out Sturgeon Falls workers were members of the Operating Engineers which is a provincial union and the union regards a firm from elsewhere in Ontario “as a local company.”

An Operating Engineers union official did not return calls seeking comment.

Lyons said most construction jobs these days are skilled labour and people “can’t just walk in off the street and get hired.” He said it “takes a lot of skill to operate some of those pieces of equipment and you can’t just hop on there and be efficient in a day and operate it safely.”

Prince said available jobs include construction vehicle operators, traffic controllers, surveyors, designers, site supervisors, engineers and office staff.

She said “the majority” of the 2,500 hires are local. PIC has an agreement with Local 625 that “ensures that local skilled workers are employed” on construction.

Prince said “wages are determined” by sub-contractors with “required skill sets.”

Between 60 and 80 subcontracts will be let over the course of the project. To date only 20 per cent have been finalized “with 96 per cent of those awarded to local Windsor-Essex companies.”

Local companies that have obtained work include Siefker, Jones Group, AMICO, Facca Inc., Black & McDonald, Chall-ENG, Coco Paving, Danshab Enterprises, Dillon and Prestressed Systems Inc.

Donna Marentette, executive director of Workforce WindsorEssex, a local jobs planning and advocacy group, said “we have heard” that total Parkway jobs could amount to 12,000 including spinoffs such as in the hotel, restaurant and realty sectors.

Marentette said it is positive that jobs “are union jobs with a union salary level” and that expanded union apprenticeship training will provide people “with the basis for a career and not just be a one-off.”

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