Major select public-sector infrastructure projects in British Columbia are now required to pay workers union wages.
This means non-union companies, if they are able to win a provincial government contract, are required to hire only unionized workers.
The BC NDP provincial government announced the new framework for the Community Benefits Agreement, called Project Labour Agreement, which will be managed and regulated by a new crown corporation called BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc. (BCIB).
BCIB will be responsible for hiring the project’s construction workers, and will work with unions and contractors to dispatch labour and manage payroll and benefits.
“With this agreement, we’re not just investing in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, we’re investing in good jobs and new opportunities for people who live in BC,” said Premier John Horgan in a statement.
“And with our focus on expanding apprenticeships for young British Columbians, we’re helping build BC’s next generation of construction workers.”
The new policy is also intended to maximize apprenticeship opportunities on major public infrastructure projects, focus on hiring and training Indigenous peoples and women, coordinate access to existing training programs, prioritize hiring for qualified individuals who live near projects, and provide hiring flexibility for contractors.
The first projects that fall under this framework are the new $1.4-billion Pattullo Bridge and the $470-million project to widen the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and Alberta to four lanes.
However, these policies already have critics, including those in the construction industry, who are warning of steep cost escalation for taxpayers.
According to the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), just 15% of the provincial construction workforce is unionized, which means many non-union workers will be forced to join unions for their employment. They would also be required to pay union dues and pension funds they may never benefit from.
“For years, John Horgan has promised his political allies in the old-fashioned building trades unions that he would tilt the playing field in their favour,” said ICBA president Chris Gardner.
“Today, it appears he will try and force that to happen through a restrictive and regressive PLA model for tendering government projects. Unfortunately for the taxpayers paying for provincial projects, this will mean much higher costs and it will give 15% of the construction workforce – the ones who gave millions of dollars to the NDP – a monopoly on work.”
A new report released today by Cardus, an Ontario-based think tank, coinciding with Horgan’s announcement, projects BC’s public infrastructure costs could balloon by up to $6.4 billion with these restrictions on construction contracts.
It estimates BC has $25.6 billion worth of bridges, roads, hospitals, schools, and BC Hydro projects planned over the next three years, and contract prices for these projects could go up by up to 25%.
“Restricted bidding isn’t in the public interest. It plays favourites with a small group of firms, placing specific corporate interests over the interests of the public paying for the projects, the interests of construction workers, and the interests of the construction industry,” said Brian Dijkema, the Work and Economics Director of Cardus.
“At its heart this is about whether the government will respect the diverse choices of all of its citizens, or stack the deck for those who align with the government. Union, alternative union, and non-union labour are all deeply embedded in BC’s public construction industry, and have been for years. Government’s role is not to pick winners in a diverse labour landscape; it is to ensure a fair, transparent, and competitive procurement process for all of its citizens, for the public interest.”