Staffing changes are always difficult. It means that years of hard-won experience and wisdom leave the organization and new staff come in without that expertise. Luckily, for IAM District 250, the two staff leaving (one through retirement and the other through career change) have gladly shared their knowledge with the newcomers.
One of those newcomers is Jeff Smith, 51 years old and a member of IAM Local 692. He is one of two new Business Representatives (BRs) with the District.
Jeffrey Smith worked at Avcorp Industries Inc. starting in 1996, before being laid off in 2013. Fortunately, he was hired that same day by the Vancouver Shipyards. District 250 Business Representatives Walter Gerlach and Paul Pelletreau both called and let him know about the opening at the Shipyards, so he applied – and was hired! Jeff had a commercial Aircraft Structures Technician Certificate, so it was a good fit. He had heeded his mother’s advice: “if you have one trade, get another trade.” It was good advice.
After starting at Avcorp, he met Directing Business Representative Brian Brown, as well as Senior Shop Steward Keath Wilde, and he was well on his way to becoming a union activist with the IAM. Members at Avcorp were initially part of IAM Local 764, but gained their own local in 1996 – IAM Local 11.
Smith comes to his activism honestly – his mother was a Teamster and stepfather was a Boilermaker, so he was raised with a union consciousness and awareness. He became Shop Steward in the first month because he spoke out against things that weren’t right and gained the trust of his fellow members.
He ran for, and became President of the local in 2006. He says his most memorable moment during the election was that members weren’t getting information. After initially declining to run, he ultimately did. As the election results were a tie, a runoff was held and those members who didn’t vote in the first round came to vote in droves. It was a landslide victory and remains a treasured memory. Members also knew he wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense from the company.
After starting at his new job at the Vancouver Shipyards and Local 692, Smith became a senior steward almost immediately and kept up his involvement in the union and the working lives of his members.
DBR Gerlach called in January 2021 and asked him to consider replacing the soon-to-be-retired Reo Elkin. He agreed and assumed the duties on 01 February, 2021. After having attended many courses in union education, having worked with Walter Gerlach., he felt he had the necessary tools to embark on the journey as a BR.
After almost two months on the job – and a lot of reading and research, Smith feels better prepared for the job ahead of him. He’s getting lots of help from the other District 250 BRs Al Cyr and Paul Pelletreau to prepare him for the 15 contracts he will be servicing. With six of those contracts up for negotiations this year, it will be a busy and challenging time. “I’ve been to most of my shops already, so I think I’m ready to take anything on,” he said. “My old workplace, Avcorp, is one of those places.”
The union movement in BC: we need to get younger, organize more, and we need to advertise ourselves more. Younger people should know that union jobs are possible employment and that they can get a better quality of life for themselves and their families. “I’ve seen what members go through and I want to make sure they’re protected.”
Smith helps out with the United Way to give back to the community. His son is now a General Supervisor at SeaSpan at the Vancouver Shipyards.
Walter Gerlach, “With the addition of Jeff Smith as a Business Representative, Northwest District 250 and our members will benefit from his many years of experience being active within the IAM & AW. Not only was Jeff a Shop Steward while employed at Avcorp since 1996, he also served as the President of IAMAW Local Lodge 11 from 2009 to 2014. After being laid off at Avcorp during a downturn in the Aerospace industry, Jeff took a dispatch to Seaspan Shipyards. Jeff was an active shop steward at the shipyards, before ultimately becoming the Senior Shop Steward for our members at Seaspan. In his role as the Senior Shop Steward, Jeff had the opportunity to participate in the Poly Party Council of Unions Collective Bargaining process, for both the Vancouver Shipyards and Vancouver Drydock Company Collective Agreements. Not only did the Senior Shop Steward position at Seaspan provide Jeff with the opportunity to deal with challenging issues on a daily basis with his no-nonsense approach to problem solving, it also provided him the opportunity to mentor and create a strong network Shop Stewards in the yard.”
In many ways, Jeff has come full circle: from speaking out for members on the floor, to fighting on behalf of members across the British Columbia! We wish Jeff the best of luck.