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Stakeholders react as Toronto retains construction employer status, Hamilton does not

Don Wall
Stakeholders react as Toronto retains construction employer status, Hamilton does not

Unionized carpenters are relieved, unionized labourers are thrilled and one open-shop advocate smells something “fishy” after Toronto city council voted overwhelmingly to retain its construction employer status.

Toronto council’s decision leaves the municipality bound to nine trade unions for municipal ICI work.

“We are very pleased with the outcome,” commented Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters’ council, on the June 19 Toronto decision. “We believe that council took a look at the overall picture in the construction industry and the various unions’ as well as the Carpenters’ union’s long-term relationship and recognized our commitment to health and safety and our commitment to training and the next generation and I believe they made the right choice.”

But there was disappointment in Hamilton for members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America as that city’s general committee voted 11 to 1 on June 19 to terminate the City’s status as a construction employer, killing its collective agreement with the Carpenters’. Hamilton council is expected to ratify the decision at a June 26 council meeting.

Toronto was the big prize for unionized trades workers and their employers given the City’s massive spending on ICI work each year — the 2018 ICI budget was $616 million. Toronto council’s 19 to 5 vote to maintain the status quo not only preserved the special status for unionized electricians, carpenters, plumbers, painters, glaziers, bricklayers, sheet metal workers, asbestos workers and ironworkers, who do all the City’s ICI work, but also opened the door for the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), which will now negotiate a voluntary recognition agreement with the City to enable its members to also undertake ICI work.


It’s puzzling, and quite frankly, it smells a bit,

— Mike Gallardo

Merit OpenShop Contractors Association of Ontario


“Toronto councillors voted in favour of safety, reliability and professionalism,” commented James Barry, executive chairman of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario, representing unionized electricians, in a written statement. “This decision demonstrates the trust that the construction unions have earned after decades of service in the City of Toronto.”

Toronto Councillor Ana Bailao, noting she was the daughter of a construction worker, issued a plea to her fellow councillors to vote to retain the City’s special status with the trade unions as she spoke in support of her own motion. Council had heard from a number of delegations arguing that open tendering would throw the ICI sector open to contractors who would not provide the array of health and safety, training and community benefits programs the unions do.

“My dad almost died on a construction site,” said Bailao. “For me, this is personal. When you get that phone call at home and you have to run for the hospital because your dad is dying, when you have those issues in front of you, two to five per cent (potential savings under open tendering) is peanuts.”

The votes were required by a provision in Bill 66 that rescinded the status of Toronto and other municipal and other public governing bodies as construction employers. The entities have three months from April 3, when the bill received royal assent, to opt out of the Bill 66 construction-employer provisions.


We think this is an excellent move by the City,

— Sean McFarling



Mike Gallardo, executive director of the Merit OpenShop Contractors Association of Ontario, said his association was “obviously disappointed” in the Toronto council vote and that he was surprised to see Bailao’s motion incorporate LIUNA, given that neither staff report prepared in recent weeks had mentioned the union’s possible inclusion in the City’s ICI agreements.

“It’s puzzling, and quite frankly, it smells a bit,” he said. “It goes from ‘city staff please report back on the following’ to bringing in a completely different motion.”

LIUNA general counsel Sean McFarling explained the union had been talking to City staff for four years about the possibility of a voluntary recognition agreement. The passage of Bill 66 represented another opportunity for LIUNA to makes its case for recognition in the ICI sector, McFarling explained.

“From our perspective, that was a chance for the city to essentially voluntarily recognize the nine existing trades and we said to the city, that’s a good thing, we support that, but if you are going to voluntarily recognized the other nine building trades, this is an opportunity to recognize us as well,” he said.

“We think this is an excellent move by the City to recognize the 70,000-plus members of LIUNA and the hard work they have contributed to building the city.”

Sean Reid, vice-president and Ontario regional director of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA), appeared as a delegation in front of both Toronto and Hamilton councillors a week apart. He said he was pleased with the Hamilton vote but not so with the Toronto decision.

“Toronto, the first thing I am going to say is that the fight for fair and open tendering will continue,” said Reid. “Cities cannot voluntarily choose to procure their infrastructure through an oligopoly and that is what the City of Toronto has elected to do with yesterday’s vote.

“It’s wrong and we will continue to fight it.”

As for Hamilton, he noted the PCA had come to Ontario 10 years ago with the Carpenters’ agreement with the City of Hamilton in its sights to attack, and so he considered the vote a victory for the PCA and a “strong endorsement of open tendering.”

Kim Wright, principal with Wright Strategies who led the Carpenters’ delegation at the Hamilton committee meeting, proposed a “compromise” during her presentation that would have enabled non-unionized contractors to bid on ICI projects as long as unionized carpenters were assigned the carpentry work. The so-called “Toronto arrangement” is already in place for City of Toronto ICI work.

“We are certainly disappointed,” said Wright. “The Carpenters’ had a good collective process in Hamilton, we had an agreement in place since 2005, and we gave council every opportunity to consider why this fell within their values as a council but ultimately they chose to walk away from the collective agreement.”

Reid, Gallardo and Wright each said potential legal challenges were being considered.

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