While “fake news” is a phrase coined south of the border, it’s being propagated right here in B.C. Not by a U.S. president, his favoured networks or opponents, but by select unions that chum with the province’s NDP government.
They’ve been working hard to convince British Columbians that the John Horgan government’s so-called Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is good for workers, underrepresented groups and taxpayers. Now, after months of propaganda, it’s time to separate fact from fake.
First, the public has been led to believe that B.C.’s CBA is all about benefiting local communities, women, Indigenous people, youth and local workers.
Here are the facts: The NDP agreement sets no target for hiring women or Indigenous people, yet it’s very clear that 100 per cent of all workers hired will be forced to join one of a select group of Building Trades Unions. Given that these unions constitute only 15 per cent of B.C.’s construction workforce, it’s easy to connect the dots.
Horgan’s union buddies stand to gain the most by collecting union dues forced from workers who have no choice but to pay up if they want to build public projects.
It’s also worth noting that B.C.’s construction industry has been making progress and is committed to increasing opportunities for women, Indigenous people and youth. Member companies of our association have a strong record of working with First Nations, including the Squamish, Haisla, Saulteau, and dozens of others.
More can always be done – but forcing people to join select unions does nothing to advance the cause.
Secondly, the contention that CBAs are designed to increase construction worker training is a stretch.
In fact, Horgan’s CBA excludes two of B.C.’s top three apprentice-sponsorship groups. The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) ranks first in terms of the number of apprentices sponsored and trained, and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) is number three. How does excluding two provincial leaders in job training and sponsorships help more workers get trained?
Thirdly, there’s the claim that B.C.’s CBA will increase the number of apprentices by setting a 25 per cent apprentice-journeyman ratio. The reality is that a 25 per cent apprentice-journeyman ratio target may be difficult for the Building Trades Unions (BTUs) to achieve. For example, on the Waneta Dam and Brilliant Dam Expansion projects, just 15 and 10 per cent of the project workforce was comprised of apprentices. The apprentice ratio was 16 per cent on the Kitimat Modernization Project, another project delivered exclusively by the BTUs.
One reason for the low ratio is because BTU’s rigid hiring hall rules privilege workers with the most seniority – typically journeymen.
By contrast, Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) companies, together with their labour partner CLAC, regularly achieve 30 per cent to 40 per cent apprentice ratios on their jobsites.
We’re already meeting and exceeding the 25 per cent goal identified in the CBA. In truth, Horgan’s restrictive CBAs will result in fewer trained apprentices. That’s nothing to brag about.
Another falsehood: CBAs are needed so that workers aren’t exploited and paid minimum wages. The fact is that no one is making minimum wage on public infrastructure projects. These are jobs that require workers with significant skills. For instance, a standard wage for PCA member companies’ carpenters is in the range of $30 to $33/hour, often more than equivalent to BTU workers. The reality is that average hourly wages for construction workers have been increasing since 2013, according to Statistics Canada. This has happened without the NDP’s restrictive CBA.
Here’s another misleading claim: Any company can bid on work under the Horgan government’s CBA rules. That’s like saying the Vancouver Canucks are welcome to play in the NHL, but only if they bring half their players with the other half given to them at game time. The reality is that successful companies build high performance teams of workers. B.C.’s CBA will take away a huge proportion of their workforce team and force them to play by entirely different system requirements. Really, the only companies that might benefit are those with pre-existing relationships with the NDP’s favoured unions. This leaves all British Columbia taxpayers in the penalty box.
Lastly, forced unionization is not OK. B.C.’s CBA tramples on workers’ basic rights. It forces the vast majority of provincial construction workers (who’ve chosen not to be part of the BTUs) to join them, in order to build public projects. Not only is this unfair, it’s a violation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The B.C. government should be doing all it can to ensure that the rules for building public projects are working in the broader public interest. That requires a process that’s fair, open and transparent. The fact is B.C.’s infrastructure rules are far from it.
Paul de Jong is president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.
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