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CLAC calls for level playing field for Manitoba projects

Richard Gilbert

The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) is calling on the Manitoba government to stop the practice of requiring workers to join a union affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Council on major public sector construction projects.


“We passed a resolution at our national convention, so now we can press the government in Manitoba,” said CLAC Manitoba director Geoff Dueck Thiessen.

“What we want is the type of legislation they have in Alberta, where we have workers on projects that have inclusive agreements, which involve building trades unions, non-building trades unions and non-union workers. We are all about being inclusive and won’t exclude anyone.”

At the recent national convention in Vancouver, CLAC members voted to adopted a resolution to petition the Manitoba Government to stop using project labour agreements that favour unions affiliated with the trades council.

According to Thiessen, these project labour agreements are a violation of workers’ rights because they exclude certain unions.

Instead, he proposes the government permit competitive bidding of all qualified construction contractors for public sector projects.

“The Manitoba Labour Relations Act allows workers to be represented by a union of their choice,” said Thiessen.

“When a project owner enters into a project labour agreement with a union requiring workers to be members of that union as a condition of employment, that’s a violation of the act, as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association.”

According to the Manitoba Building Trades website, project labour agreements set out overall working conditions for large-scale construction projects and cover a huge range of details expected to come up during the life of the project.

The agreements are negotiated between the organization undertaking a project and an organization representing labour for the project, and guarantee certain things that each organization wants.

For example, a project labour agreement was used for the massive Red River floodway expansion project, which was negotiated between the Manitoba Floodway and East Side Road Authority (MFESRA) and the Manitoba Building and Construction Trades Council.

Under this agreement, the MFESRA is the Crown agency responsible for the construction of expansion of the Red River Floodway and the construction of an all-season road on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

The Manitoba Building Trades has the authority to act as the exclusive and irrevocable agent of the unions for the bargaining and administration of this agreement on behalf of the members of each of the affiliated local unions.

One of the terms of the agreement is that the Manitoba Building Trades and their affiliated unions agreed to waive their legal right to strike.

Another term states the contractor shall make deductions from wages of all employees covered by the agreement for union dues.

The Manitoba Government uses project labour agreements to guarantee labour stability or increase the chances of the project being completed on time and on budget.

In response to this argument, Dueck Thiessen said CLAC workers have worked under different collective agreements on large industrial and infrastructure projects across Canada, including massive oilsands facilities in Alberta.

“We’ve been part of different models that ensure labour stability, while at the same time respecting workers’ right to choose which union they want to belong to,” he said.

“Workers, industry, and society are better served when unions have to compete for the hearts and minds of workers.”

Dueck Thiessen said CLAC is asking Manitoba Hydro to adopt a model that is based on the project labour agreement used for the construction of the Horizon Oilsands project.

Under this agreement, the principal contractor for Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. negotiated with CLAC to allow access to the project and the participation by Building Trade unions, alternative unions and non-union contractors.

The following labour organizations signed the agreement in September 2004: CLAC, Construction, Maintenance and Allied Workers, Communication, Energy and Paperworkers and the Building Trades of Alberta.

Five construction workers and Merit Contractors Association of Manitoba filed a statement of claim against Manitoba Hydro in Court of Queen’s Bench on June 27, in order to challenge the legality of the collective agreements, which are enforced on all major hydroelectric construction projects.

These collective bargaining agreements cover all large-scale hydroelectric construction projects undertaken by Manitoba Hydro, including the Wuskwatim Generation Project, the Keeyask Generating Station and the Bipole III Transmission Project. The court document claims the requirement to secure and maintain union membership as a condition of employment, which is contained in these agreements, infringes on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It claims the requirement in these agreements, providing for the mandatory payment of union dues as a condition of employment, also infringes on the charter.

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