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Toronto Community Benefits hits milestone, set to grow

Don Wall
Toronto Community Benefits hits milestone, set to grow

The Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) has launched a new pilot mentoring program for black construction apprentices, and at the same time has released data that reveals positive results for community benefits hiring with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project.

Under the Eglinton Crosstown community benefits agreement (CBA) there have been 103 placements of targeted workers as construction apprentices and another 149 placements of targeted workers as professionals or in administrative, technical and service positions, the TCBN summarized in a 2018 year-end report.

And 2019 looks to be even more fruitful as the NextGen Builders mentoring program ramps up, as hiring accelerates on the Crosstown project, and as three other projects with major CBAs move forward, said TCBN executive director Rosemarie Powell.

“We are so pleased to see that over 100 people have been hired, and that the first carpenter who we referred into the system is now a year or less from being a journeyperson,” said Powell. “Some of the labourers are now journeypersons. I promise you, without CBAs in place and the support and monitoring that is happening, we wouldn’t be seeing these outcomes.

“Over 100 apprentices by the end of 2018, that is just incredible. That is 100 lives changed for the better.”

The TCBN was established in 2012 and a working group was created with Metrolinx in 2013. CBA language was negotiated into the Eglinton Crosstown RFP in 2014. Community benefits became part of Ontario law in 2015 through Bill 6 and the next year Metrolinx issued a declaration to include community benefits as part of the Finch LRT West project.

Last year saw major accomplishments with community benefits declarations or agreements negotiated as part of the Finch West LRT, Casino Woodbine expansion and West Park Health Care projects. Each of the CBAs has a goal of 10 per cent of apprenticeships coming from the targeted communities.

Underrepresented communities being targeted for recruitment include women, urban Indigenous workers, new Canadians and visible minorities.

The NextGen program, formally launched at an event in December, is starting with black youth, with a goal of pairing up 12 mentors and 12 new construction apprentices. The pilot program will run until June and then outreach will continue with the other targeted groups.

 

We can help them, so why don’t we help them,

— Rosemarie Powell

Toronto Community Benefits Network

 

Nine construction trade unions are involved in the program, contributing journeypersons to a pool of mentors.

The idea for the program came out of meetings with LIUNA’s African American Canadian Caucus.

“One of things identified in the meetings, we needed to have more support for apprentices,” said Powell.

“There were too many challenges being experienced. The African American Caucus said there is a big need especially for black youth that we need to focus on, and we have journeypeople who have been there and done that, we can help them, so why don’t we help them.”

The first apprentice carpenter supported by the TCBN, Ahmed Abdi, has been paired with fellow Carpenters’ Local 27 member Chris Campbell and has become an ambassador for the program, being interviewed on CBC radio and supporting the cause in other ways. Abdi is now a year from becoming a journeyperson.

“He didn’t know what he was going to do with his life and now look at him,” said Local 27 president Mike Yorke. “He’s a real success story.”

Yorke said the Carpenters’ have been involved in ad hoc training programs similar to CBAs going back 20 years, but it’s been proven that structured, collaborative efforts work best to bring recruiting results.

“The TCBN is much more structured and formal so it is having a broader impact,” he said.

“This program is very, very useful for us to reach out into the communities that are underrepresented.”

The Carpenters’ also work closely with school boards in formal arrangements, Yorke noted.

While the total numbers of hires under the Crosstown LRT CBA looks impressive, Powell acknowledged, one statistic is troubling — the percentage of 3.4 per cent of apprentices hired falls well short of the goal of 10 per cent.

She laid out several reasons that have been identified for that weakness, including that subcontractors have not delivered as well as the consortium Crosslinx Transit Solutions itself has, and that some of the work undertaken in the early days of the project required highly skilled and technical labour.

Crosslinx and the TCBN have been working hard on resolutions, Powell said.

“We know that people are putting out good efforts to make this a success and we as a community are doing everything we can to support the project in any way that we can, and everybody is working to get this done in good faith, and we still have time,” she said.

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