Applying the tools of the trade, from one pipeline project to another

Labor brokers key to Enbridge’s strategy of maximizing Indigenous employment on L3RP

If you’re a qualified, hard-working tradesperson, if you’re good at your craft, if you live in Western Canada and are willing to travel, at some point you may find yourself working for an Enbridge pipeline contractor—maybe on more than one occasion.

So it is with Ricky-Lee Whitford, a Red Seal certified, journeyman B-pressure welder who hails from Red Pheasant Cree Nation, 33 kilometres south of North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

Now, and since September, Whitford has been working 12-hour nights—5 p.m. to 5 a.m.—as part of an O.J. Pipelines’ utility welding crew on Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement Program (L3RP) in western Saskatchewan.

Whitford is part of a four-man crew—two welders, two helpers—whose job is “corking” the treads of sidebooms, trackhoes, dozers and other heavy equipment on the right-of-way each evening. Steel bars or “corks” are welded onto the treads in a staggered pattern to ensure optimal traction when the equipment goes back to work the next morning.

“They’re a bunch of good guys – we all get along good,” Whitford says of the crew, adding the Line 3 work will wrap up soon which will see him off to the next job in Alberta or northern Saskatchewan.

Whitford is involved in Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement through the Battleford Agency Tribal Chiefs (BATC), one of four Indigenous groups providing labor brokering services to Enbridge on the project.

Labor brokers manage many aspects of a worker’s employment, such as recruitment, interviewing, administration and transportation—and their involvement is a key component of Enbridge’s strategy to maximize Indigenous employment on the L3RP.

Whitford started his welding career in 2006, then landed a gig as a welder’s helper on Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper project in 2008. Three years later, he found himself working for a Kerrobert welding company as a laborer doing pipeline maintenance for Enbridge and beginning an apprenticeship.

A couple of years later he was at work on another Enbridge project—welding piles, splicing and capping them for a new pump station at Herschel.

The journeyman and a partner recently established their own company, Yellowford Welding Services Ltd., in late 2016. They have two rigs and have just leased a new shop space in Wakaw, northeast of Saskatoon.

“It was a tough go for the first nine months, then we finally got a break running the welding truck for a native service company in Bonnyville, Alberta,” he says. “We were all over this summer—Alberta, Vancouver (welding a 10-foot-diameter culvert under Highway 1) and the potash mine in Allan, Saskatchewan.”

After the potash work wrapped up, Whitford was brought aboard the Line 3 replacement via BATC.

“I went and renewed a bunch of my safety tickets with the BATC last October,” says Whitford. “They said they’d keep me in mind for any jobs coming up out here and Line 3 came along so I jumped at the opportunity to work closer to home.”

(TOP PHOTO: Ricky-Lee Whitford has been working the night shift as part of O.J. Pipelines' utility welding crew on Enbridge's Line 3 Replacement Program.)