The newly-appointed BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc. (BCIB) board, which took office Jan. 30, hits all the high notes that the current NDP government wants to promote in construction, but is raising sour notes from some in the construction industry who claim they have been bypassed.
“The question is, why no consultations with the industry?” said Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.
De Jong said the construction industry is 85 per cent non-union or belonging to unions that are not party to the 19 trades inclusive of the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council of B.C. which signed the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the BCIB, the new crown corporation initiated to handle public construction projects.
The 336-page CBA document makes all workers onsite union employees of the BCIB and, if not, a member must join the applicable union within 30-days.
The document plus addendums also set out terms for the BCIB and its board’s first two public projects, the new Pattullo bridge design-build replacement and the four-lane upgrade of Highway No. 1 from Kamloops to the Alberta border.
According to the CBA, the highways project will consist of a number of smaller contracts with the government able to option design-build, design-bid-build or day labour contracts.
The infrastructure board is being chaired and run by people who have nothing to do with the broader sweep of the industry
— Paul de Jong
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
The board’s role, according to a NDP news release, is providing corporate leadership and governance as well as bolstering the trades.
“There should be broader representation — open shop, closed shop and there is a whole space in between,” said de Jong, adding construction associations and non-council unions are bypassed on the board.
“The infrastructure board is being chaired and run by people who have nothing to do with the broader sweep of the industry.”
There is also concern the CBA framework will extend to other public projects such as those where municipalities have received funding from the B.C. government.
“We are concerned that this is the thin edge of the wedge,” said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association. He said the federal government has had community agreements in place but they do not force individuals to join a union.
The new seven-person board is chaired by Allan Donald Bruce, who started in the industry as a crane operator, is a retired International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) international representative and former member of the national Operating Engineers Joint apprenticeship and Training Council.
He is a current director of Skills Canada BC, a former director of BC’s Industry Training Authority and vice-chair of the Asian Pacific Gateway Skills Table.
In 2014, Bruce received the Darryl Cruickshank Memorial Award, a national award for his contribution to skilled trades and apprenticeship training.
Board director Gary Kroeker is a retired IUOE business manager, past BC Federation of Labour board member, and has also served as president of the BC Building Trades Council. He is listed as an advisory member of Resource Works, an organization that promotes resource development. His bio said he has “advised Social Credit, New Democrat and Liberal governments in B.C., and supports pipeline development through the Canadian Pipeline Advisory Council, a collaboration of employer and labour organizations.”
Workplace lawyer Anita Kaur Atwal, a former president of the South Asian Bar Association and serving on the Kwantlen Polytechnic University Foundation Board, works with HHBG Lawyers, which advocates for employees and unions. Her workplace bio said she advises on contract reviews, terminations, severance packages and non-solicitation or non-competition agreements.
HHBG’s website said: “Advocacy for employee rights is a core value of HHBG Employment Lawyers and one we support in all areas of our practice. This includes the support of workers represented by unions as well as supporting the unions themselves.”
Clyde Hill Scollan is president of the Construction Labour Relations Association of B.C. which, since 1969, has provided professional labour relations to unionized contractors.
It negotiates and administers approximately 50 agreements for unionized contractors as well as offering other programs for contractors. Scollan, like Bruce, has been involved with Skills Canada BC where he served as board member and is past-president. He is a board member of the BC Centre for Women in the Trades, a two-year federally funded organization.
Kirsten Wilson is the only corporate construction company member on the board and also one of the few women in construction heading a major company.
Wilson is the granddaughter of Jack Cewe, who used an inheritance left to his wife Ginger 60 years ago to build one of the province’s largest paving companies.
Wilson, who presides over the family business Jack Cewe Ltd., is also a past director of the BC Stone, Sand and Aggregate Association.
First Nations interests are represented by Michael Alan Bonshor, a chartered professional accountant and a member of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation of Kingcome Inlet. He touts over 20 years of working with First Nations across Canada in key areas of economic development, finance, business governance and investment.
He is president/CEO of Ki’mola Indigenous Capital, a newly formed project finance and investment firm. Bonshor also provides advisory services through Visions First Nations Financial Services.
ITA chair Roberta Ellis is the seventh member. She is a former senior vice-president of corporate services and human resources at WorkSafeBC; a former Manitoba associate deputy minister of health (1996-1999); and deputy minister of labour (1989-1993).
She has also worked as president of the Aerospace Training Canada International and Economic Innovation and Technology Council and director for the Crown Corporation Employers Association. She has an occupational and environmental health award named in her honour at the University of B.C.
Gardner said he does not understand why, when the BCIB and its board is attempting to draw new individuals into training and apprentices, that it needs to have the employees of contractors under its jurisdiction.
He said shortages of skilled labour are the real problem. The shift of a non-union journeyman to a unionized employee does nothing to stem the shortage. It only means all employee benefits have to be switched over to the union system with fees paid and then eventually switched back.
“The BCIB is going to hire and manage thousands of employees,” he said, adding a new bureaucracy will come with increased costs.
Both de Jong and Gardner also believe contractors will shy away from bidding on these contracts as they will not have control over employees and ultimately costs.
“If you are a contractor with your own 200 workers, you know what you are dealing with,” Gardner said.
“But, if three quarters of your workforce is coming out of the union hiring hall, you have a new work force and you don’t know them.”