This op-ed is the last of two parts by Ian DeWaard, Christian Labour Association of Canada provincial director, exploring the impact of the non-construction employer status and in particular an Ontario Construction Secretariat report entitled “Just Not Credible.” In the first part the issue of savings from competition — closed versus open tendering was presented.
In its submission, the OCS cites a 2015 study that it commissioned that demonstrates that “union” firms performing ICI work are safer, with fewer lost-time injuries and lower critical injury rates than nonunion firms.
As support for its assertions that union membership equates to safety, the OCS claims that its affiliate unions take in contributions of $40 million annually for training trust funds. Its building trades members claim elsewhere that they represent “over 150,000 workers,” and that the OCS claims to represent 100,000 workers. This means that the craft unions the OCS speaks for spend approximately $267 to $400 per worker annually.
While impressive, CLAC contractors can demonstrate similar investment, to similar effect. CLAC’s affiliated contractors contribute 20¢ per hour worked by CLAC members, and this amounts to a $2 million annual budget.
While no provincial or federal subsidies are received by CLAC’s training centres, this amounts to an approximate $335 spent annually per member on safety training, skills development, and apprenticeship support.
It would seem that if the safety effect of union membership and the investment of training dollars per member were good prerequisites for access to city projects, then all unions should receive equal consideration. This is not the current reality.
In addition, municipalities can establish a robust and extensive set of parameters as part of the prequalification and tender award process. The Certificate of Recognition (COR) occupational health and safety accreditation program verifies whether a fully implemented health and safety program meets national standards.
An increasing number of contractors are COR-certified, but this is not the only means for them to demonstrate a strong safety culture. All municipalities, school boards, and public bodies set out requirements for credentials, compliance, and prior experience and must enforce them — regardless of whether they allow open competition or not.
However, if additional resources are needed for enforcement, we submit that the costs will be more than offset by the savings municipalities will receive from not having to analyze jurisdictions with tendering or having to handle jurisdictional disputes. A union membership card, while valuable, is not an adequate guarantee that a general or trades contractor has the systems and supervision in place necessary to ensure a truly safe and healthy workplace.
Access to Labour
Finally, the OCS paper argues — without evidence — that open tendering will lead to fewer young people being employed in apprenticeships and a weakening of equity programs that provide opportunities for construction careers. We fully support having a diverse and inclusive workforce and have been a partner with Indigenous and at-risk youth for many years.
While we agree that unions — ours and theirs — are typically the sponsors of diversity initiatives, open procurement does not prevent the city from creating additional social conditions for all contractors that support beneficial social and community objectives.
Further, labour force projections for the next decade suggest that Ontario needs to attract 103,900 new entrants to the skilled construction trades. That means that every employer and every purchaser will face, in very real ways, a skilled worker shortage.
With predictions of a looming massive skills shortage, it defies logic that buyers would choose to further restrict themselves from fully accessing the available workforce by limiting prospective workers to those who carry a particular union membership card. In doing so, they exclude 70 per cent of workers who don’t belong to that union.
If the cities, Toronto school board, and public agencies like Toronto Community Housing do make the responsible choice to open tendering to competition from all qualified contractors, we would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with them and the other union and nonunion organizations on how we can set measurable targets to support apprenticeship and the inclusion of under-represented groups.
We are the underdog in this situation. We are fighting for fairness for all Ontarians against the most powerful unions in the country who are determined to keep their monopolies intact. Over the past two months, we have had countless meetings on this topic with councillors and city staff. They’ve asked us, how can we fight on this issue when we’re up against such powerful connected groups?
Our answer has been simple: we are on the right side of this issue, not only for our members, but also for all businesses and for all taxpayers who fund our municipalities, school boards, and public agencies.
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