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Millwrights picket wind turbines in Port Alma

About two-dozen unemployed millwrights set up a picket line Thursday to slow trucks delivering massive wind turbine parts from Windsor to the $200-million Kruger Energy project.

Rick Anderson of Millwright Local 1244 said the erection of the 80-metre-high steel towers and 45-metre-long blades should be done by his union’s skilled trades workers.

He warned that if bolts loosen because of improper tightening techniques the towers could topple.

But a disappointed Ironworkers Local 700 business manager Mark Dugal said the dispute really reflects the hard times in the local economy with one union chasing another’s work.

“We traditionally do 100 per cent of all the wind turbines,” said Dugal, based in Windsor.

Dugal said the 30 ironworkers erecting the Kruger wind farm are basically the same group who built wind farms at Port Burwell, Kincardine and Long Point. “They go from job to job,” he said.

Anderson, a trainer for the millwrights, said his union shares an education centre in Las Vegas with carpenters and joiners, which provides training for wind turbine erection.

With more wind farms planned in Chatham-Kent and Essex County, Anderson said their members – hard hit by the auto industry slowdown – hoped to get some of that work.

Ironically, millwrights and ironworkers recently joined forces to protest how the tendering was done for the Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority’s new recycling centre.

Dugal said the ironworkers and millwrights have traditionally split similar work in local auto plants on a 50-50 basis. But decades of wind turbine erection have been done solely by ironworkers, he said.

Jean Majeau, vice-president of public affairs for Kruger, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The protest didn’t hold up work on the wind farm as the trucks carrying turbine parts had an OPP escort of vehicles in front and behind.

The millwrights handed out flyers to passing drivers, but the county road along the Lake Erie shoreline wasn’t getting much traffic.

About seven truckloads of turbine parts are sent daily from Morterm Windsor docks. Ships from Denmark and China bring in the turbine sections.

Gary Rennie

The Windsor Star

5 June 2008