To The Editor:
I would like to respond to a letter to the editor entitled “Allow Sault Ste. Marie to procure projects openly now, says CLAC,” that was in the Jan. 4, 2018 edition of the DCN.
As business manager of Local 793 of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), which represents nearly 15,000 crane and heavy equipment operators across the province, I find the letter offensive as it contains inaccuracies and doesn’t provide a true picture of the value-added benefits provided by building trades unions like ours.
The letter was highly critical of the tendering process in Sault Ste. Marie and contains misleading statements that need to be corrected.
The author of the letter implies only companies that have contracts with the Labourers’ or Carpenters’ are allowed to bid on city projects, but that is simply not the case. We do not have an agreement with the city, but companies that are signatory to Local 793 have bid on, and been successful in winning, municipal contracts.
The assertion that unionized construction is more costly is also absurd. The information came from Cardus, a think-tank co-founded by a former representative of CLAC. The fact of the matter is that unionized construction sites are much safer than non-union construction sites, therefore leading to fewer lost-time injuries and claims.
In 2015, a study done by the Institute for Work & Health that was funded by the Ontario Construction Secretariat found workers in unionized workplaces have 23 per cent less lost-time claims resulting in time off work than their non-union counterparts. Unionized workers were also almost 30 per cent less likely to suffer critical injuries. The reason is unions do a better job of educating workers through apprenticeship skills training and have more effective health and safety programs and practices. The safety and efficiency benefits of using well-trained building trades unions may not appear on the balance sheet, but are financial benefits that can not be discounted.
Unions also bring value-added benefits to workers and communities. Provincial building trades unions like ours place a huge emphasis on educating and training members. Local 793, for example, has centres in Oakville and Morrisburg that provide top-notch training to apprentices and members. This training pays off in the form of safer and more efficient workers, which translates into lower accident rates. Having such training centres also helps address the issue of significant skills shortages in construction.
We also provide excellent pension and health benefits. The benefits are not for the unions themselves, but are for the members who are citizens of the Sault Ste. Marie community. More than two-thirds of Ontarians do not have a workplace pension. We take pension planning seriously and make sure we negotiate collective agreements that provide for our members in retirement. Presently, our pension plan assets are more than $2.5 billion.
Under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, the City of Sault Ste. Marie is deemed a construction employer. However, the author of the letter suggests that be changed. The City of Toronto crossed the same bridge in 2008 and their own staff report indicated there would be a mere 1.7-per-cent savings to the city at most if they were deemed a non-construction employer and it was recommended it not be pursued at the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Sault Ste. Marie should not attempt to change its status as a construction employer, as has been suggested in the letter. The city is a construction employer and it should stay that way, plain and simple.
Instead of spending tax dollars trying to get rid of building trades unions, the city perhaps should consider the real benefits of creating a level playing field in competitions for city work and follow the example of the province, federal government, Toronto, Hamilton, Oshawa, London and Thunder Bay in adopting its own Fair Wage Policy.
IUOE Local 793
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