New union-only regulations for BC infrastructure projects challenged in court

Aug 28 2018, 9:36 pm

One of the largest voices in British Columbia’s construction industry is challenging the NDP provincial government on its new regulations that require union-only wages and labour practices.

The Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA) has filed a petition in BC Supreme Court to request that the provincial government’s new policies be struck down.

The filing accuses the BC NDP of mandating anyone working on a provincial government construction project to join an NDP-approved building trades union, which have a history of donating to the party in previous elections.

According to the ICBA, the policy discriminates against 85% of construction workers who are not part of a union, and such forced unionization goes against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If a non-unionized worker joins a union to work on government projects, they would no longer qualify for the benefits and contributions under their current employer’s plans and be denied bonus and advancement opportunities that unions usually do not provide.

Moreover, the rules mandate 32 cents per-hour in payments to unions for various funds, including 25 cents per person-hour payment for “union administration.”

“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 Chris Gardner, president of the ICBA, in a statement. “John Horgan is attempting to direct more than $25 billion in taxpayer-funded construction to his donors and supporters in the building trades unions.”

“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 ICBA does not believe the new policies will allow a fair, open, and transparent procurement process for public infrastructure projects.

The first two projects to be carried under the regulations are the Trans-Canada Highway widening between Kamloops and Alberta and the new Pattullo Bridge, which is anticipated to see a cost increase of $100 million due to the new rules. The provincial government claims its $1.4-billion budget for the bridge replacement already accounts for the union-only policy.

Based on an analysis by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the new union-only policy could increase the costs of the already $25.6 billion infrastructure projects planned over the next three years by as much as $4.8 billion – about $4,000 for every family in BC.

Under the terms of the Project Labour Agreement, unions will decide the workers that will work on each part of the project, which means companies will not have access to their usual employees, and in turn jeopardize safety, efficiency, and productivity when workers are unable to work with “trusted colleagues” in a company system.

“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,” continued Gardner.

Other organizations that have joined the ICBA’s petition include the British Columbia Construction Association, Vancouver Regional Construction Association, Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, Canada West Construction Union, BC Chamber of Commerce, and Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Five major contractors are also a part of the petition, namely Eagle West Crane & Rigging, Jacob Bros. Construction, LMS Reinforcing Steel Group, Morgan Construction and Environmental, and Tybo Contracting. These contractors represent thousands of construction companies across BC, but as their workers are not part of a union they will be excluded from working on projects like the Pattullo Bridge.

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