On June 19 Toronto city council made the clearheaded and courageous decision to opt out of Bill 66. By doing so, council decided to maintain the status quo and to uphold its freely negotiated collective agreements with construction unions. In the case of my union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Local 27, that relationship has been in place for almost 60 years.
Some commentators (in other newspapers) have claimed that by doing so, the city has given up the chance to save money on its construction contracts. However, when seriously examined unionized construction work is generally not significantly more expensive. As the city’s own reports establish, there is simply no guarantee that abandoning Toronto’s unionized construction workers would result in a single dollar saved.
What the critics of city council’s decision don’t want to talk about is all of the added value which Toronto gets from its relationships with construction unions.
Firstly, and most importantly, unionized construction in Ontario has proved to be safer. According to a study conducted by the Institute for Work and Health, completed in 2015 for the Ontario Construction Secretariat, lost time injury rates are 23 per cent lower in unionized firms. In terms of critical injuries, it is approximately 30 per cent safer than non-union construction. This industry is one of the most dangerous ones to work in. As many of the councillors who voted with the majority pointed out – how many dollars would the city have to save to make such savings worth the life of a construction worker. I for one am grateful that my city council chose to prioritize workers’ health and safety over speculative and illusory cost savings.
The unionized construction workforce of Toronto is one of the best trained in the entire country. This did not happen by accident. Toronto’s construction workers, through their unions, fund the training for their industry. The hourly contributions which Toronto’s unionized workforce makes to construction training centres across the GTA add up to millions and millions of dollars every single year. As council recognized, without the unions and the training which they provide, it would be virtually impossible for Toronto to produce the next generation of skilled construction workers that this city so desperately needs.
Finally, keeping its relationships with the unions allows the city to maintain and increase a host of community development programs. The Carpenters’ Union, for example, has worked actively with both the city and its agencies, along with numerous non-profit organizations, to help improve the lives of our fellow Torontonians through union apprenticeships and skills training. Young people from at-risk neighbourhoods, visible minorities and women, along with veterans of the armed forces transitioning to civilian life, have all benefited from the chance to become skilled trades persons.
Programs such as Hammerheads, CHOICE, CRAFT ( Creating Real Apprenticeships For Toronto), CRAFT Women and Helmets to Hardhats all ensure that access to well-paying construction jobs is open to the widest most diverse field of Toronto ‘s citizens – youth, women, new Canadians and those transitioning from Canada’s military.
In this way, the city gets its money to work twice. Not only does Toronto’s infrastructure get built but city projects also become the catalyst for building social infrastructure, allowing people to transform their lives through decent paying jobs with pensions and benefits.
Toronto is a great and caring city which makes it a wonderful place to live in. As a Torontonian, a unionized construction worker and a representative of the many thousands of carpenters who are members of Local 27, I am extremely proud that our city council has chosen to maintain its decades long relationship with its construction unions to ensure that the men and women who work on construction projects, from Scarborough to Etobicoke, continue to do so on jobsites which are safe and with working terms and conditions which allow them to live in the city which they work so hard to build.
Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario
President and director of public affairs