Toronto city council’s recent decision to add LIUNA to its ICI roster has observers scratching their heads, curious about how it all came about.
Council voted June 19 to stay the course as a construction employer in the ICI sector, thus retaining binding collective agreements with nine trade unions, with LIUNA to become the tenth.
The decision also had Mike Gallardo, executive director of the Merit OpenShop Contractors Association of Ontario, wondering how longtime rivals the Carpenters’ union and LIUNA (Labourers’ International Union of North America) would work together given their notorious jurisdictional disputes of the past.
On the first point, how LIUNA came to be included, Gallardo noted there had been no indication in the staff report being considered by Toronto councillors that LIUNA would be coming on board.
We would have hoped they would have had more consultation
— Mike Gallardo
Merit OpenShop Contractors Association of Ontario
But coming out of an in-camera session, two resolutions were presented by Councillor Ana Bailao, one to negotiate a voluntary recognition agreement that would add LIUNA to the ICI roster and the other to support the city continuing as a construction employer.
The first passed 20-4, the second 19-5.
“It was, ‘Wait, what just happened?’ ” said Gallardo, referring to LIUNA’s inclusion.
“The industry is scratching their heads.
“We would have hoped they would have had more consultation before getting into another agreement. The decision was opt in or out, now they are into a grey area. It smells funny.”
During discussions before the vote, Councillors Stephen Holyday and Jaye Robinson quizzed Bailao on how LIUNA came to be included.
“This is a union that does a lot of work for the city,” said Bailao. “People are talking about not having enough competition and contractors and so on so I thought it would be important to add those.”
Asked how she knew LIUNA does good work, Bailao answered at one point,” I see a lot of work they do in my area so I am happy for that.”
She later noted LIUNA has a good track record of work for the city and that city staff has evaluated the work done and consistently invited the union to participate in more projects.
Robinson said she had never heard of any meetings where LIUNA’s participation in ICI work was discussed leading up to council consideration of the issue, and it looked as if supporters had just “plucked one group” without discussion.
Bailao declined a request for an interview.
LIUNA general counsel Sean McFarling explained LIUNA has been advocating with city staff for four years to be included in the ICI sector and when the Ford government’s Bill 66 required some public entities to take action, to signal they wished to keep their status as construction employers, it was seen by LIUNA as an appropriate time to reiterate the request.
On the issue of LIUNA and the Carpenters’ cooperating given their history, Gallardo asked, “How do you determine scopes of practice — the unions are going to determine that?”
Both McFarling and Mike Yorke, president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, said they anticipate no significant problems between the unions with LIUNA now participating in the Toronto ICI sector.
Yorke acknowledged there was a joint strategy.
“There was a level of cooperation, it’s true,” he said. “The Carpenters’ and Labourers’ over the years have had our issues but on this issue there was a like-mindedness and an acknowledgement that this was much bigger than one union.”
McFarling said it’s important to seize any chance building trades have to show solidarity.
“It doesn’t mean all issues are solved,” he said. “Jurisdiction in other sectors is something we will continue to struggle with, but when there is an opportunity to co-operate and protect unionized jobs for all the trades, we are happy to embrace that and be a part of it.”
McFarling and Yorke said those who warn their unions would fight over jurisdiction within the city’s ICI sector do not understand the unique nature of ICI work in the city. The city will not be involved in assigning jurisdictions, McFarling pointed out, rather it will be left to the unions.
“Most disputes occur outside of the GTA,” said McFarling. “The practices here are well established. It is very rare for us not to sort out an assignment of work in a meaningful way.”
Yorke pointed to the unique nature of designation orders in the ICI sector in the city.
“In the scope of work for the jurisdictions, there are demarcation lines and they are very strict and very clear so we don’t foresee major issues with the city vis-a-vis LIUNA at all,” he said.