Local 506 Marine & Shipbuilders represents 500 members who work down at the Vancouver docks constructing and repairing boats for the marine industry.
Not that long ago, all boats were made of wood by shipwrights, which is how this local originally became part of a carpenters' union.
Today, vessels are mostly made of steel and members of our 506 Marine & Shipbuilders get to work on a variety of projects for countries from as far away as Venezuela and the Philippines.
Building a boat is obviously no small or quick process and it involves an array of talent that Local 506 – which represents workers from 14 different classifications – is equipped to provide.
The process begins with the laying of the keel – a large beam around which the hull of the ship is built. The keel runs from bow to stern and serves as the foundation, or spine, of the structure, providing strength to the hull.
The ship is then outfitted with electrical wiring, instruments, machinery, shafts and rudders. Then the joinery work begins as the cabin spaces and wheelhouses are outfitted. And finally, there's the painting.
Throughout the process, heavy equipment is shared between the workers in an area that spans about 40 acres. To make sure the right piece of equipment arrives in the right place at the right time members call brother Joe Murracas, the dispatcher of yard's cranes and forklifts.
"I dispatch equipment according to sequence and also based on timing," says Murracas who started working for the union 28 years ago when he was only 21. "I started as a labourer, then became a helper, and I've been dispatching now for 12 years."
"I had a couple of menial jobs before I started here," he says, "but this was my first real union and good-paying job."
The job of a dispatcher requires Murracas to sit all day so in his spare time he says he likes to work out at the gym.
Other workers who make up Local 506 Marine & Shipbuilders are welders, shipfitters, painters, joiners, riggers, storesman, stagers (scaffolders), crane operators, labourers, sandblasters, loftsmen, caulkers, insulation workers and a docking crew.
Local 506 members work for Vancouver Shipyards, Vancouver Drydock, and McKenzie Barge and Marineways. Recently, the local completed building the Island Sky Ferry – a $45.5 million job.
The 125-car ferry, is the sixth new ship added to the BC Ferries fleet over the past two years, joining the Kuper, Northern Adventure, Coastal Renaissance, Coastal Inspiration and Coastal Celebration. (The plan is for it to initially sail the Earls Cove – Saltery Bay route on the Sunshine Coast.)
And by the time you read this article, the local will have also launched a massive doublehulled coastal tanker capable of carrying 32,000 barrels of fuel. In addition to commercial vessels, the local also performs repairs and retrofits on privately owned yachts. This includes refinishing interiors, decks and exteriors, and even stretching them.
"In the past few years, we've seen a few dozen yachts come through here," says brother Bob Eaton, our Marine & Shipbuilders Local 506 business manager. "Some are just in for a 'shave and a haircut' while others have been major projects that have lasted several years."