A labour dispute over a civic centre recladding project in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. has pitted the only two unions eligible to do the work against each other.
For 30 years, the City of Sault Ste. Marie has been designated a construction employer and has only been able to accept bids and award municipal construction work to companies affiliated with two unions — the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
At the end of July, LIUNA Local 1036 filed a grievance with the city for awarding the contract for the civic centre project to a general contractor not bound to the Labourers’ Union.
“In the city’s tender they said that all contractors had to be signatory to the Labourers’ and the Carpenters’,” explained Wayne Scott, staff rep for LIUNA Local 1036. “When the tenders came in they accepted a tender from a company that was only signed to the Carpenters’ Union, they weren’t signed to the Labourers’ so they violated the collective agreement.”
Local 1036 members set up an “information line” in front of the Sault Civic Centre on Sept. 6. According to LIUNA, labourers are not being used for what is deemed labour work on the project such as perimeter fencing installation and demolition work. Scott said the siding will not be reused and therefore it is considered demolition work.
It’s a clear violation of the Ontario Labour Relations Act and we filed an unfair labour practices (complaint),
— Tom Cardinal
Carpenters’ Local 2486
“Our work is being done by carpenters and carpenters’ apprentices,” Scott alleges. “I had no alternative except to put a grievance in and put up an information line and tell people what is going on. They should have given the contract to someone who was signatory to both unions and then this would never have happened.”
The almost $7 million contract was awarded to Cy Rheault Construction of Timmins, Ont. The work, which began in June and is expected to take one year to complete, includes taking the old metal panels and the windows off the building and replacing them. Scott said before the project started he spoke to a city official about his concerns with hiring a company which is not bound to the Labourers’ Union.
“I told him that this company, I don’t have a collective agreement with them and they’re not going to hire labourers from me,” Scott claimed. “He assured me that there will be union labourers on that jobsite with Cy Rheault or else they were going to withdraw the contract and they could also charge him for failing to abide by the tender agreement and not hire union people from both locals.”
Carpenters’ Local 2486 filed for an intervention on the grievance. The also filed an unfair labour practices claim and a cease and desist order for the “information line.”
“Our position is the same as city hall, it’s an unlawful strike. It’s a clear violation of the Ontario Labour Relations Act and we filed an unfair labour practices (complaint),” said Tom Cardinal, area manager for the Carpenters’ Local 2486.
“I don’t see any violations that have occurred so far. The work that has been done is being done in accordance with the collective agreement.
“To our knowledge there hasn’t been any demolition work that occurred on the project yet and the perimeter fencing is an item claimed by the Carpenters’ Union.”
The city also said it has not done anything wrong.
“The city’s position is that it has been compliant with its collective agreement obligations concerning LIUNA Local 1036,” said Sault CAO Al Horsman in an email to the Daily Commercial News. “The city is therefore filing an application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for a cease and desist order concerning the picketing. The city’s position is that any disputes should be resolved through the appropriate grievance process.”
The grievance is scheduled to be heard later this fall after a jurisdictional challenge filed by the Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 2486 concerning the claim by LIUNA Local 1036 that certain work done by the carpenters be done by Local 1036.
Sean Reid, vice-president and regional director of Ontario for the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said this is what happens when construction labour monopolies control public infrastructure.
“It’s the latest manifestation of the problems that come with closed tendering and unfortunately nobody wins,” said Reid, adding an amendment to the Labour Relations Act would open up tendering, allowing all qualified contractors to bid on city projects based on skill and experience, not union affiliation.
“These kinds of delays and disruptions are only going to continue so long as we continue to have restrictive tendering in Ontario municipalities. The Ford government can solve this once and for all by closing a loophole in the act…so that taxpayers can be assured that they are getting the fairest and most cost-effective bids on construction projects that they are paying for.”
The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) also called on the Ford government for change.
“It is a shame that the city is getting dragged into a labour dispute on this important construction project and wasting public money,” said Ian DeWaard, Ontario director of CLAC, which is another labour union in the construction trades. “This is the result of a simple flaw in the Ontario Labour Relations Act that can be easily resolved by the Ontario legislature.”
The city is in the process of trying to change its practices so it can challenge the construction employer certification.
“This goes to show why the need and the push for decertification – we get caught up in the middle of fights that we have no business being in,” said Sault Councillor Matthew Shoemaker, who has been a vocal advocate for getting the city decertified. “The hope is that down the road we would be free from this restriction in tendering.”