There’s a fire burning in the Region of Waterloo as the issue of construction labour monopolies continues to spread into other sectors of the industry, says Karen Renkema, senior manager of public affairs with the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).
She was part of a joint delegation made up of the PCA, the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA) and the Conestoga Heavy Construction Association (CHCA), who recently urged the Region of Waterloo Council to ensure construction projects are fairly and openly tendered to all qualified contractors.
“We held a roundtable in September with contractors to look at what has happened since the region was certified by the Carpenters’ Union in 2014 (for ICI projects). One clear, resounding message that we heard at the roundtable was that what is happening is scope creep,” explained Renkema.
“The certification language that the region is required to follow for ICI projects is finding its way into what is traditionally heavy civil and roadbuilding contracts.”
A review of several recent contracts shows the restrictions have been applied to more work than necessary, the parties argue.
“Our biggest issue right now is that projects that are not ICI — roadworks, parking lot works, watermain chamber work — the region is tendering them as such and thus the Carpenters’ Union requirement is in play and we are not able to submit a bid on those projects,” explained Mike Doupe, vice-president of McLean Taylor Construction Limited and a member of the CHCA.
The three groups, which represent local contractors, jointly proposed two recommendations to regional council including that council work with regional procurement staff to consider how projects are characterized within the defined sectors of the construction industry and initiating sector determination applications at the Ontario Labour Relations Board if necessary.
They also asked that the region work to ensure the issue of reforming the Ontario Labour Relations Act to address the issue of certifying municipalities as construction employers be made a high-priority advocacy issue on the Association of Municipalities of Ontario agenda leading up to the 2018 election.
There is a fire in the region with the Carpenters’ certification. They all know it’s a problem
— Karen Renkema
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
“We said we would pass along whatever they had to our staff. However, at the end of the day their issue is really with the Province of Ontario and we really suggest that they need to deal with the province because we are bound by the labour act,” Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling told The Daily Commercial News.
Renkema said increasing competition can lower construction costs by up to 30 per cent. As an example, she pointed out one contractor who bid on the Waterloo Airport parking lot rehabilitation was not certified by the Carpenters’ Union but decided to bid anyway.
“His price was $130,000 less than the winning bid, which was from a general contractor certified to the Carpenters’ but historically has never done any sort of civil work,” said Renkema. “As one contractor put it, there is a fire in the region with the Carpenters’ certification. They all know it’s a problem. It’s recognized that they are getting less and less bidders on jobs. The fire is in the ICI world, but its spreading and they need to do something about it.”
The Carpenters’ Union did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.
Patrick McManus, stakeholder relations manager for OSWCA, said the association decided to get involved when a sewer job was tendered in the region with the Carpenters’ requirement.
“From the OSWCA perspective, all we want to do is make sure that our 36 member companies that are local contractors in the Kitchener-Waterloo regional area can still do the work that they’ve been doing down there for decades,” he said.
“The Carpenters’ certification that has been placed on the region was never meant to include heavy civil construction work and for whatever reason we’re seeing these requirements creep into civil construction contracts. Our concern is that with every one of these requirements being put on civil contracts we’re setting precedents so that future contracts…are going to include these carpentry requirements because it happened before. What that’s going to do is that’s going to screen out these sewer and watermain contractors or road contractors from continuing to do work for the regional government.”
Doupe explained the CHCA had legal counsel review four separate tenders that were issued by the Region of Waterloo this year with the requirement for the general contractor to be signatory to the Carpenters’ Union. The legal opinion showed in these four tenders, where the region inserted the Carpenters’ Union language, they did so wrongly because they weren’t ICI projects, he claimed.
“The problem with that is in asphalt paving there is no carpentry work, its heavy civil work,” claimed Doupe. “Regional staff are classifying this as ICI when it is not. Traditionally this type of work is performed by either an open shop contractor or it can be a union contractor…but for some reason the region is only permitting the Carpenters’ to claim this work.”
Legal counsel created a memorandum on how these projects should be applied and how they should determine what sector should be able to claim it, Doupe noted.
“We have sent the memorandum, forwarded it onto regional procurement staff for review and hopefully this spurs them to make adjustments or to take a second look on how they are proceeding,” Doupe stated.