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Step backwards for labour relations in B.C.

 Simple reality: No open shop contractor, including members of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCAC) and the BC Construction Association (BCCA) would support special status for any contractor based on union affiliation, especially when bidding on taxpayer-funded projects.

Not only was it disappointing that BC Hydro signed an MOU with the building trades unions (BTU) that gives added weight to those bids that include BTU contractors for work on the Site C project, but it was surprising that the leaders of the PCAC and BCCA came out in support of the MOU. In doing so, these organizations have declared to their membership that they no longer support fair, open and transparent tendering. And, BC Hydro has effectively granted preferential treatment for a set of unions ahead of fair competition.

This is a step backwards for labour relations in B.C.

40 years ago, in order to bid on a public project, the NDP mandated that contractors needed to be affiliated with the BTU. The result was significant labour unrest, project delays and cost overruns, which were passed onto taxpayers.

For the benefit of every British Columbian, over the past four decades, the construction industry has turned its back on this closed shop labour approach. It has been replaced with a more efficient and more inclusive open shop model that is based on equal treatment for all contractors, regardless of how their employees choose to be represented in the workplace.

Today, 80 per cent of the construction market uses the inclusive open shop approach. It’s the norm here. The Port Mann Bridge, the Canada Line, 2010 Olympic construction, Gibraltar and Copper Mountain mines, BC Hydro facilities are all examples of an inclusive open model. These projects were delivered on time, on budget and special labour deals were not required.

Experience has also shown that making backroom under the guise of labour stability gives the BTU the leverage they need to flex their muscles and impose their inefficient work practices on their clients. Just look at the Rio Tinto expansion. This closed shop has proven to be a dismal failure. Rio Tinto has blamed labour for cost overruns and delays, which is subject to the type of building trades unions project agreement proposed by Tom Sigurdson and his BTU colleagues.

The BTU are now so insecure about their ability to deliver good quality work at competitive prices that they have resorted to lobbying governments and clients to give them an edge rather than simply winning projects in the open competitive marketplace.

BC Hydro’s special deal with a small segment of the construction industry is offensive to many. Instead of trying to curry favour with BC Hydro or the government, the leaders of PCAC and BCCA should be standing up for its members and taxpayers by demanding an end to union preference policies that compromise fair, open and transparent public tendering.

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