A vote on the construction employer provision contained in Bill 66 looms today at Toronto council and Ontario’s unionized carpenters hope they will not be severed from a longstanding collective agreement with the province’s largest municipality.
A Toronto city staff report recommends the municipality choose to abandon its status as construction employer. The decision faced by Toronto council is similar to the one Hamilton city council faces as it too received the same recommendation from its own city staff. In both Toronto and Hamilton, seeing through those recommendations would kill ICI agreements in which the Carpenters’ union is a signatory.
The votes come at a time when it seems certain councils in two other jurisdictions where Carpenters’ have enjoyed collective agreements, the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the Region of Waterloo, will not take steps to opt out of measures in Bill 66 that rescind their status as construction employers before a July 3 deadline.
“We see it as not over till it’s over,” said Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario president Mike Yorke. “We are still working hard and our call to action is that our members reach out to city and regional council members, which they have been doing, with a message to stay with the union.”
The provincial government’s Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, received royal assent April 3, terminating the status of Toronto, Hamilton and other municipal and public governing bodies as ICI construction employers. The measures freed the public entities from agreements with various ICI unions and created open bidding.
The bodies were given three months to opt out of those provisions.
Toronto is currently bound to province-wide collective agreements with nine ICI trade unions representing carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, glaziers, bricklayers, sheet metal workers, asbestos workers and ironworkers. The City awarded $616 million in ICI contracts in 2018.
At its June 6 meeting the City’s executive committee considered a staff report in which city manager Chris Murray recommended the City take advantage of Bill 66 to terminate its construction employer status. Murray noted numerous benefits from the City’s relationship with the unionized ICI employers and unions but argued, “The City stands to gain significant commercial maneuverability by becoming a non-construction employer.”
The committee, faced with conflicting claims from delegations including five representatives of Carpenters’ Local 27 as well as alternative-union advocates including Sean Reid, vice-president and Ontario regional director of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, voted to ask city staff for more information on the implications of Bill 66 on the delivery of ICI projects.
Commenting days before the council meeting, Reid said, “The main thing here, it is going to come down to principle versus politics.
“The City of Toronto has a choice. They can endorse principles of fairness and responsibility, and embrace open tendering, or they can choose political expediency.”
Yorke said he was optimistic Toronto council would vote to remain a construction employer.
“I think the day went well,” he commented about the executive committee meeting. “In my observation we have had an extremely positive relationship with the City.”
On June 19 the City of Hamilton’s general issues committee is scheduled to debate a recommendation from the City’s human resources department that the City take no action with respect to Bill 66, confirming the City as a non-construction employer in the ICI sector. The City has been bound to the Carpenters’.
“The change in law will arguably broaden the pool of bidding contractors and subcontractors, expedite some procurement processes, and is anticipated to result in cost savings through increased competitive pricing,” the report argued.
Any resolution voted on at the June 19 meeting would then proceed to a full city council meeting.
SAULT STE. MARIE
Sault council voted in May to merely accept a staff report outlining the City’s options. The City has been bound to provincial agreements with Carpenters’ and the Labourers’ International Union of North America for over 30 years. The staff report noted the City has initiated two unsuccessful challenges to be deemed a non-construction employer pursuant to the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
The vote meant the provisions of Bill 66 are set to take effect as legislated.
“Some municipalities, we have great history with and others are more uphill than that. We see the Sault as one of those uphill struggles,” said Yorke.
REGION OF WATERLOO
The Region of Waterloo has also resisted its status as a construction employer, regional chair Karen Redman said in a statement.
“The Region had lobbied the province for this change for a period of time and will not be opting out of the provision,” she said.
The Region supports “open and fair tendering of regional projects,” as promoted by Bill 66, Redman said. After the Region became a construction employer, bound to the Carpenters’, the number of companies bidding on ICI tenders dropped by 50 per cent, she said.
“As infrastructure dollars are always in short supply, I believe this process presents the Region with the capacity to stretch taxpayers’ dollars further,” stated Redman.
TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD
It is uncertain if or when the Toronto District School Board will make a determination under Bill 66, said board communications officer Ryan Bird. The board has a complex series of agreements with trade unions associated with the Maintenance, Construction and Skilled Trades Council including unionized carpenters.
Bird said discussions relating to Bill 66 are currently taking place as part of the negotiations steering committee and as they involve labour negotiations, they are held in camera.
Delegations addressed both sides of the issue at a June 12 committee of the whole meeting.