Driving success and solidarity

By Marco Procaccini

Gene Sloan has a message for workers who think they can be successful by being timid and doing whatever you’re told. The first 50-year Teamsters Local 213 member, who retired at 68 last fall, has driven almost every type of road vehicle.

“I was going to retire at 65; but then I figured my health was still good and all the hours I worked were still pensionable,” he said. “So I stayed on and worked. That way I could get my 50-year pin.”

“If they’ve built it, I’ve probably been on it,” he said, driving “50-ton Euclids, rockers, Hiabs, boom trucks–you name it, I’ve run it.”

One of the most interesting vehicles he drove was a “mule,” a non-hydraulic site transport vehicle completely controlled by the brakes. “I was doing stockpile crushes for Emil Anderson on job sites. I would back up a hill with three yards of load and ‘bang.’ I’d dump the load.”

A similarly challenging vehicle was a tractor-trailer “belly-dump” hopper truck he drove while working on the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in northeastern BC in the late 1960s. “It was an earth-filled dam, so we needed to move a lot of loads,” he said. “I would run a 90-100 ton belly-dump that the cats [bulldozers and excavators] would fill and move it to where we needed it and dump it out the bottom.”

Sloan, who spent the last 15 years of his career working for Island Concrete and the largest cement contractor on Vancouver Island, has seen as many changes in the construction sector as the number of projects he’s worked on. And for the most part, he said, they aren’t positive for union members.

“Unions aren’t as strong anymore and people don’t help each other like they used to,” he said. Crews were not afraid to engage in “wobbles,” on-the-spot job actions. A term related to the Industrial Workers of the World, an international workers’ movement that flourished in B.C. in the early 20th Century when workers’ rights and concerns were often brutally suppressed.

“We all worked together and stuck together. Everybody was trained and knew what they were doing on the job. And we helped each other. If there was a problem we would shut the job down and get it resolved.”

The industry, facing a sagging global economy and the eventual end of low interest rates, will create great uncertainty for new members entering the construction trades. “They talk about Site C and pipelines, but I don’t know if I’ll be around to see them.”

Sloan is glad he has his union pension to help give him and his wife a secure retirement in their home town of Campbell River.