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Industry Voices Op-Ed: It’s time to stand together for B.C.’s construction industry

Fiona Famulak
Industry Voices Op-Ed:  It’s time to stand together for B.C.’s construction industry

As president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA), I am very concerned there is a perception in the construction industry that our provincial association – the BC Construction Association (BCCA), and by connection VRCA – is supportive of the B.C. government’s Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). This could not be further from the truth. 

We appreciate how Mr. Streu reached his conclusion in his Industry Voices column published on the Journal of Commerce website Aug. 1. However, we don’t support the inferences made in the column and feel compelled to provide additional context.

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced July 16 that key infrastructure projects would be built under the new CBA, which includes quotas for apprentices, preferential hiring of women and Indigenous workers and a stipulation that workers on the projects must be unionized.

The first two projects covered by the agreement are the Pattullo Bridge replacement project and widening of the Trans-Canada Highway from Kamloops to Alberta.

Fiona Famulak

Following the announcement, BCCA tweeted a link to the government news release.

Looking back, we can see how the tweet, which neither supported nor opposed the CBA, combined with the lack of immediate comment following the announcement might lead one to conclude that the BCCA was tacitly supporting the agreement.

The BCCA has confirmed this is not the case. They have also confirmed they were not at the table with the government and unions negotiating the CBA.   

The announced CBA has rattled many of us, so it’s important to be clear about what is at the root of the concern.

There has been a lack of full industry consultation. The CBA is an agreement between the provincial government and select trade unions. Only government and those unions are signatories to the agreement.    

The provincial government was not transparent in announcing the CBA. On the day of the announcement, it focused on how the CBA would bolster apprenticeship ratios and create hiring opportunities for underrepresented groups.

The union-labour component of the CBA was not referenced and only came to light as a result of media questions in the hours following the announcement.

Additionally, it took another 10 days to release the full details of the 336-page labour agreement.

Now we’ve learned the Pattullo Bridge and Trans-Canada Highway projects may not be the only projects covered by the CBA. On July 30, B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena confirmed on CBC Radio 1 Vancouver that government will consider rolling out the model to additional projects. 

The VRCA does not support this CBA because of the way it’s been negotiated and its potential impact on industry. This is not a partisan criticism of an NDP government policy. We would make the same statement regardless of which party is in power.

In fact, we believe community benefits agreements can be a useful public policy tool, provided there is adequate industry engagement prior to their rollout. This CBA did not include adequate industry engagement.

Our association is an independent, non-partisan organization with a mandate to advocate on business issues that negatively affect its union and non-union members and/or the industry at large.

While the VRCA leverages its partnerships with BCCA and the Canadian Construction Association to ensure its members’ voices are heard on provincial and national issues, these partnerships do not preclude the VRCA from making statements or taking positions on those same issues if they impact its members and/or industry at the local level.

The government’s announced CBA is one such example where, in addition to the work of the BCCA, the VRCA is actively commenting on an agreement that has been conceived provincially and will have enormous local consequences.

The Pattullo Bridge is the first project where the CBA will be applied and its implementation will directly affect the bottom line of VRCA member companies.  

Throughout its nearly 90-year history, the VRCA has championed fair, open and transparent procurement practices. This CBA is an affront to these principles. Its model is prescriptive and regressive in that it requires all individuals working under the CBA to join the prescribed union after 30 days of working on the project, and all companies working on CBA projects to secure their labour force from the new crown corporation, BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc. 

The depth of the VRCA’s concern, coupled with the recognition that large-scale industry collaboration will be required to ensure the industry’s voice is heard going forward, led the VRCA to join a coalition of business associations and non-affiliated unions to request Horgan abandon this CBA. We will continue to work vigorously with the coalition and all other partners to oppose the model and its further rollout.

This CBA model has far-reaching consequences for our industry and B.C. taxpayers. 

This is a time for industry and its associations to unite and stand together for the most basic principles of free enterprise and competitive bid processes. 

Fiona Famulak is president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association. The VRCA is the largest construction association in British Columbia, and fifth-largest in Canada, representing union and non-union general contractors, trade contractors, manufacturers, suppliers and professionals working in the industrial, commercial and institutional construction industry. Send Industry Voices comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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