GTA Construction Report staff writer
Organized labour representatives put a different spin on a St. Catharines meeting to promote new legislation to designed to protect municipalities from construction labour union certification legislation when the union representatives packed the round-table event.
The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada co-ordianted the Aug. 13 meeting with Niagara region Conservative MPP Michael Harris to discuss Harris’s proposed private member’s bill, the Fair and Open Tendering Act.
However, when union representatives learned about the meeting, they showed up in force. “There were 35 people there,” said Ian DeWaard , CLAC’s Kitchener-area regional director. “It was an interesting meeting. There was such a diverse opinion – (with) good debates and healthy discussion.”
Union representatives disputed Harris’s assertion that union certification could close the door to non-union contractors. The Bill 73 proponents say current certification rules can force construction labour law on unwilling municipalities, reducing competition,and resulting in higher municipal costs approaching 40 per cent or more.
“This (proposed) bill doesn’t really benefit anyone as far as I’m concerned,” said Matt Creary, financial secretary of Carpenters Union local 18. He said the arguments that costs really would rise as much as asserted by the Bill 73 proponents are based on faulty and incomplete information.
He said the City of Toronto, which is signatory to several collective agreements, has analyzed the cost savings from potential decertification and determined the savings would be only 1.7 per cent.
However, other municipal leaders, represented by the Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario (MARCO) have asked for the labour legislation to be changed to exempt municipalities from construction labour legislation.
Ian DeWaard said situations can arise where just a couple of construction employees working on a Saturday or Sunday can force certification on a municipality and, as a result, close out opportunities to non-union contractors and workers.
He said CLAC has no objection to municipal workers achieving union status, but these employees should not be subject to the province-wide certification requirements designed specifically for construction workers.
Kitchener-Waterloo is currently battling the unions over certification, following similar challenges in Hamilton, which has been certified.
Creary said he learned from a Hamilton Spectator reporter that Harris had purportedly invited him to the round-table discussion in Hamilton. “I learned about it first from the reporter,” he said.
So, Creary asked about other events, and on learning about the St. Catherines gathering, co-ordinated with other labour union representatives to attend the event in force.
DeWaard said the issue is fairness and cost. “In Waterloo, there were 27 contractors who had performed and were pre-qualified to work on water plants,” he said. “Because of certification, that list goes down to two.”
DeWaard said the reduced competition inherently increases costs—adding to taxpayer burden.
Creary said the cost savings are exaggerated, especially when reliability and quality are factored into the equation. “Municipalities are getting best bang for (their) buck, making out better” with unionized labour, he said.