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Union-Only Construction Unfair, Bad Value and a Proven Failure

As it prepares to spend billions on public infrastructure, we are deeply troubled by the NDP government’s determination to force construction workers to join unions, to reward its political allies with public funds, and to deliver less value and higher costs to taxpayers.

All this will result from what the NDP is re-branding as ‘Community Benefit Agreements’, historically known as Project Labour Agreements.

PLAs bind contractors who win public bids to union agreements they never negotiated. They require union memberships for non-union workers, antiquated union-hall hiring, and they deliver windfalls to the favoured unions involved.

PLAs inevitably and dramatically drive up complexity and costs, and override the free choice of 85% of B.C. construction workers who abandoned the traditional building trade unions long ago. And for what? Labour peace that we already have? Employment equity and training opportunities that we know can be more effectively delivered in other ways?

While John Horgan calls it a success story, people who have actually worked under PLAs will tell you they are a miser-able failure and a massive infringement of workers’ rights. Union exclusivity in the B.C. construction industry went extinct decades ago. Today, we respect the choices workers make about workplace representation, and we expect fairness in public procurement and good value for taxpayer money.

Denying opportunity and picking favourites is no way to build a province. The fundamentally unfair and inefficient PLA approach Horgan’s been promoting needs to remain firmly in the past.

The Problem with the NDP’s Project Labour Agreements

 

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

The Island Highway Project under the last NDP government is a prime example of a Project Labour Agreement in action. Today’s NDP is counting on short memories when it claims the project was a success. Already an out-of-date model in the 1990s, there is no economic or social justification for PLAs in B.C. today.

The Island Highway: A John Horgan ‘Success Story’

John Horgan has promised his union supporters and financial backers at the Building Trades unions that public infrastructure projects will be subject to Project Labour Agreements, and one is apparently already taking shape for the $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement. He’s cited the Island Highway Project – a $1 billion+ series of upgrades from Victoria to Campbell River in the 1990s – as the ‘success story’ he wants to repeat. Here’s how that story actually turned out.

 

Sources: Vancouver Board of Trade Cost Analysis, June 1994; Barbarians In the Garden City, Milke; Report on Pension Benefits for Employees of HCL Ltd.; various press clippings

 

It’s Not the 1970s Anymore

Union-only public contracting for major hydroelectric projects in B.C. dates back to the Social Credit era. But the world and the B.C. construction sector have moved on in the half-century since then. Virtually all construction (except single-family homes) was done union in the 1970s, but today only a small and shrinking fraction is. Unions long since ceased to be the main trainers of construction workers, and labour peace and stability has been in place for decades.


Who’s Training Construction Tradespeople? 

 

Workers’ Rights Violated and Unions Unjustly Enriched

Non-union workers on the 1990s Island Highway Project had to join unions against their wishes, but often didn’t work union long enough to qualify for the pension contributions theoretically made on their behalf.

 

More at Stake Than Ever

A significant amount of public infrastructure is planned to be built in B.C. To save money, it’s urgent we insist government make the resulting construction jobs and opportunities open to all British Columbians, and not a select few of the NDP’s political allies. Government has a responsibility to get the most value possible from its spending of public funds that we all contributed to. Anything less is simply not fair.

No Public Patience with PLAs

Polling released this spring confirmed very strong public support for open and equitable contracting, and an overwhelming belief that the B.C. government has a responsibility to get best value for its construction spending. Are you listening, Premier Horgan?

 

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