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New Union-Only Reality for Public Construction Even Worse Than Feared

Chris Gardner, President, ICBA

John Horgan is shamelessly using tens of billions in public construction and infrastructure spending to settle political debts to his allies in the old-school building trades unions, giving these few unions a monopoly on taxpayer-funded work.

A wide cross section of the province’s business and labour community has called on him to back down, and ICBA is leading a large coalition standing up for fairness.

Horgan’s sweetheart ‘deal’ will deliver a cash infusion to the unions, create massive job-site inefficiencies, and deliver far less value for tax dollars than fair procurement practices would.

His so-called ‘Community Benefits Agreement’ will narrow the range of bidders on public projects and, even more troublingly, force member-ship in the highly partisan building trades unions.

The new reality for public construction is this: Successful bidders will have to borrow their workforces from a new government agency that will act as the centrally planned employer. This discriminates against the 85 per cent of B.C. construction workers not represented by the building trades.

Complex and productivity-killing rules about which union has “jurisdiction” over each task – largely abandoned elsewhere in the construction industry – will be in full force. And individual workers will be forced to join an NDP-approved union, with no regard to individual choice and rights.

Horgan’s gift-to-the-building- trades is copied out of the flawed Glen Clark playbook from the 1990s – which drove up labour costs on the Island Highway project by close to 40 per cent.

It’s nearly a quarter-of-a-century later, and the building trades rep-resent even less of the construction industry today than they did then. It simply defies belief that the NDP has nevertheless put us back on that same ruinous road, where worker rights and taxpayer value get thoroughly trampled.

The Dirty Secret: Forced Unionization

When it announced the new union-only regime for public construction, the NDP had nothing to say about one key feature: forced membership in government-approved building trades unions. It wasn’t mentioned in the public rollout, and the government only owned up to it later as more pointed questions were asked.

Reaction Shows Near Universal Condemnation

Reaction to the NDP-Building Trades sweetheart deal has been overwhelmingly negative, even from sources typically sympathetic to the government. There have been virtually no public endorsements from sources not directly associated with the unions that will benefit so handsomely from this deal.

The Court Challenge: Union-Only is Unconstitutional

ICBA is part of a diverse group that has launched a legal challenge to the NDP-Building Trades sweetheart deal. In a petition to the B.C. Supreme Court, it argues that the union-only requirement has no connection to any valid government objectives and that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Petitioners

  • ICBA
  • B.C. Chamber of Commerce
  • Canadian Federation of Independent Business
  • B.C. Construction Association
  • Vancouver Regional Construction Association
  • Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
  • Non-Building Trades Unions: CLAC & Canada West Construction Union
  • Five Major Contractors: Eagle West Crane & Rigging, Jacob Bros. Construction, LMS Reinforcing Steel Group, Morgan Construction and Environmental, Tybo Contracting
  • Six Construction Professionals

The Argument: Rights are Being Violated

Compelled membership in the NDP-supporting building trades unions violates construction workers’:

“The government cannot condition employment on public projects on the joining of parties, groups or organizations favoured by the government, or who favour the government’s agenda or philosophy.”

The Argument: A Bad Way to do Business

“The contractor petitioners do not want to force their employees to become building trades members in order to work for them on public projects, and they do not want to work on these projects without their own employees. They will not be bidding on public projects.

The Alternative: Let’s Work Together

“The best way to achieve these employment objectives [such as improved training and First Nations involvement] is through an inclusive approach, which would involve the Government working collaboratively with all stakeholders in the construction industry – that is, union and non-union contractors and the various construction associations and training organizations.”

How Many Millimetres Was That Again?

The union-only NDP-Building Trades monopoly will certainly be good for insiders and bosses at the headquarters of the NDP and its preferred unions, but it’s clearly a disaster-in-the-making for British Columbia as a whole.

It’s Going to Cost More 

The NDP admits its deal will increase costs by as much as seven per cent on the Pattullo Bridge, or about $100 million. But it will almost certainly be more, according to both past experience and current expert estimates. Given the full scope of work planned in the next three years, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has estimated the added labour costs could be $2.4 – $4.8 billion. (Source: The Cost of B.C.’s Community Benefits Agreement, CFIB, July 2018)

A Union Windfall 

The NDP deal guarantees cash infusions for its preferred unions. 25¢ for every hour worked goes into an “administration fund”. There will be additional payments into other union funds, including one for the “jurisdictional assignment plan”, which rigid task-based union rules make necessary. Even payments theoretically meant to support services to union members won’t do much for the many workers who will only remain members for as long as the NDP forces them to. (Source: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/331/2018/07/Community-Benefits-Agreement.pdf)

Mind-Numbing Complexity 

The 300-page+ deal is a stunning case study in micro-management – specifying, for example, menu and table arrangements in worker camps (deviled eggs and warm plates mandatory, place settings narrower than 76.2 cm verboten, etc.). It almost seems to have been designed to generate grievances. And what about splitting up the innumerable specific job-site tasks among the favoured unions? The “procedural rules” for this exercise alone run to 44 pages. (Source: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/331/2018/07/Community-Benefits- Agreement.pdf www.japlanbc.com/documents/)

It’s Going to Get Bigger 

The 1990s NDP-Building Trades deal started relatively small but grew – eventually extending to various transit and bridge projects, and to all highway projects down to a value of $30,000. Only two projects are subject to the current version of this deal as of today – the Pattullo Bridge and widening of the Trans-Canada east of Kamloops – but Transportation Minister Claire Trevena has said it will cover all transportation projects above a threshold of $500 million, and may go further on a “case by case” basis.*

*As quoted in Times-Colonist, July 26.

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