To the Editor;
In a recent industry perspective piece titled “Toronto’s Bill 66 Decision a ‘clearheaded and courageous’ one,” the author is just plainly wrong.
On June 19, Toronto city council decided to opt out of Bill 66 – a bill that would have rescued the City from expensive and discriminatory procurement practices that they had been stuck in for 40 years, for reasons beyond their control.
Toronto has decades-old relationships with some construction unions, but it was not until the introduction of province-wide collective bargaining in the early ‘80s that unions such as the Carpenters’ gained an ability to create a labour monopoly in municipalities, such as Toronto. Back then the province, while attempting to stabilize a very unstable unionized construction sector, caused some unintended consequences – a loophole that some unions have turned to their advantage. As the old City of Toronto was expanded through amalgamation, so too was the amount of taxpayer-funded work that some unions could claim as their exclusive domain.
As of July 4, 2019, every municipality and school board in the province except Toronto has now rightly been deemed a ‘non-construction’ employer. As a result, these public bodies are now free to consider bids to perform construction work from all qualified contractors—regardless of which union the employees of those contractors choose to be members in.
Mr. Yorke, who is President and Director of Public Affairs for the Carpenters’ union in Ontario, explains that since unions invest in workers and invest in communities, it was only reasonable that the City of Toronto opt out of Bill 66 in order to maintain the status quo relationship with nine particular construction craft unions (each representing a distinct construction trade). But if that argument is to be accepted, a city such as Toronto should have been open to all construction unions. It is not, and there are several construction unions whose members remain ineligible to work on City construction projects despite the fact that those unions invest as much or more into skills development and safety training.
In opting out of Bill 66, Toronto council disregarded the advice of its own staff. Other municipalities in similar situations – the Region of Waterloo, Sault Ste. Marie and the City of Hamilton—all accepted Bill 66 as good public policy and the right thing to do.
Hamilton staff, for instance, demonstrated that the Carpenters’ union labour monopoly in their city made construction projects 21 per cent more expensive. Hamilton, like Toronto, has a fair wage policy. These additional costs were due solely to the fact that contractors in a reduced, controlled pool of bidders, submit higher bids. The Hamilton staff also reported that the Carpenters’ monopoly kept out the type of contractors they needed for specialty work, and choked the number of bidders available making it difficult to complete the multitude of outstanding projects that need to be completed each year.
On June 19, Toronto made several irresponsible decisions. Not only did the City opt out of Bill 66, but it also directed staff to offer another union, LIUNA, exclusive jurisdiction over all construction labouring work on ICI projects. Further, it directed staff to explore a “union preference procurement” policy for non-ICI construction work. Those motions, introduced with no prior notice, no staff recommendation, and no supporting legal opinion, have been the subject of much criticism and concern to those who fear that the City is heading toward a complete and full shut out of all but a few unions.
For a City that boasts inclusivity and fairness, that desires to be transparent, and that has much need for new and replaced infrastructure, it is unreasonable to call these decisions courageous or clearheaded.
Christian Labour Association of Canada