ICBA leads worker challenge to NDP’s union-only hiring model

THE Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking that the NDP government’s new building trades union-only hiring model for taxpayer-funded construction projects be struck down.

“John Horgan is attempting to direct more than $25 billion in taxpayer-funded construction to his donors and supporters in the building trades unions,” said Chris Gardner, ICBA President, on Monday. “It’s simply not fair to discriminate against the 85 per cent of construction workers who are not part of the old-fashioned hiring hall model where unions control who can work where and when. Construction workers in B.C. deserve better from this government – they deserve choice, fairness and a level playing field.”

He said that under Horgan’s plan, anyone working on a provincial government construction project will be forced to join one of the Government’s NDP-approved building trades unions, the same unions that have donated millions of dollars to the NDP over the past few elections. Gone will be fair, open and transparent procurement on public infrastructure projects.

“The choice of which union to join, if any, should be made by the workers through a secret ballot, and should not be imposed by government,” said Gardner. “No matter how a construction company organizes its workforce, in this province every construction company should have the right to bid and win work funded by taxpayers.”

The claim from government that building trades union-only hiring will somehow be the answer to increasing training and job opportunities for young people and indigenous communities couldn’t be further from the truth, he added.

“You don’t train more people in construction by cutting backroom deals with the building trades unions and giving them a monopoly on government projects,” said Gardner. “You train more people by being inclusive, by investing in more training spaces, and by working with the private sector who train workers on construction projects in every community across the province every day.”

He noted that Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says the union-only model will drive up the cost of the Pattullo project by $100 million. But according to an analysis done by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, with the province planning to spend $25.6 billion on infrastructure over the next three years, the building trades union-only hiring model, could cost taxpayers as much as $4.8 billion more in construction costs – nearly $4,000 for every family in the province. “Competition is the best way to keep costs down and reassures the public that government is being fair and transparent, and not just rewarding friends and insiders,” said Gardner.

Joining the petition are organizations that, along with ICBA, represent the 85 per cent of construction workers in B.C. who are not affiliated with the building trades unions: the British Columbia Construction Association; the Vancouver Regional Construction Association; and the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.

In addition, two unions representing thousands of construction workers in B.C. who are not affiliated with the building trades unions – the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), and Canada West Construction Union (CWCU) – are supporting the legal challenge.

Also participating are the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Five major contractors have also joined the petition: Eagle West Crane & Rigging; Jacob Bros. Construction; LMS Reinforcing Steel Group; Morgan Construction and Environmental; and, Tybo Contracting. Each is representative of the thousands of construction companies across B.C. whose workers are not affiliated with the building trades unions and which will therefore be excluded from working on projects like the $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement project, unless their workers join one of the NDP government’s approved unions.

Six construction professionals are also participating: Forrest Berry; Brendon Froude; David Fuoco; Thomas MacDonald; Dawn Rebelo; and, Richard Williams. Each faces the stark choice of having to join one of the building trades unions to work on government projects, and, by doing so, discontinue receiving benefits and contributions under their current employer plans and be denied bonus and advancement opportunities that building trades unions typically don’t provide, said Gardner.

“It’s just not right that the NDP Government is creating such a high level of angst and uncertainty for the families of the men and women working in construction in B.C.,” added Gardner.

He noted that a 336-page Project Labour Agreement (PLA), released by the provincial government a few weeks ago, was negotiated behind closed doors between the building trades unions and the NDP Government. It includes 32 cents per person-hour in payments to unions for various funds, including 25 cents per person-hour payment for “union administration.”

The agreement also makes it clear building trades unions will decide who works on each part of the project – meaning companies will not have access to their usual employees, thus jeopardizing the safety, efficiency and productivity that comes with working with trusted colleagues who know each other and their company’s systems.

“It really is crazy to imagine that a company will bid a project but will not know which, if any, of its employees will be working on the project – that’s a recipe for bureaucratic inefficiency, delays, increased costs and confusion,” said Gardner.

The ICBA petition asserts that the building trades union-only hiring model is legally flawed and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
* Forced unionization is inconsistent with sections 2(b) and 2(d) of the Charter and unlawfully restricts freedom of association;
* It discriminates against the approximately 85 per cent of the men and women in construction in B.C. who are not members of a building trades union; and,
* It is unfair and violates the principles of openness and transparency that British Columbians rightly expect when the government seeks contractors for taxpayer-funded work.

“One year ago, John Horgan promised a new way of doing business in B.C. Sadly, John Horgan has put the interests of his union donors and supporters ahead of what’s best for British Columbians. His policy agenda appears to be more about unfair backroom deals, special favors and discrimination aimed at helping NDP supporters and insiders,” said Gardner.

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