A B.C. construction association is heating up the rhetoric around already controversial public infrastructure agreements.
The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) is calling out the B.C. government for what it calls “fake” community benefits agreements (CBAs) used on major infrastructure projects in the province.
“Across Canada, governments at a variety of levels are looking at ways through social procurement to express benefits where infrastructure is being built. It’s not a new idea, but here in B.C. the method being used is a fake CBA. There are real ones, but this isn’t it,” PCA president Paul de Jong said.
“What Premier Horgan calls a Community Benefits Agreement, is really a sweetheart deal for his union buddies. Only the government’s favoured Building Trades Unions are allowed to build taxpayer-funded projects. All workers must join and pay dues to the BTUs, even though they represent just 15 per cent of B.C.’s construction workforce,” a PCA release elaborated.
It’s an astonishing waste of money,
— Paul de Jong
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
The B.C. government maintains anyone can bid on public infrastructure projects.
“Anyone is welcome to apply to work on the network of CBA projects. Any contractor or subcontractor can bid on CBA projects. Workers do not need to be union members before or after working on a Project. While on site, all skilled trades workers employed by BC Infrastructure Benefits (BCIB) need to be members of a union included in the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council (AIRCC),” the B.C. ministry of transportation and infrastructure said.
The ministry also stated If a worker is not a member of an AIRCC union and is hired by BCIB they are required to apply for membership with one of the affiliated unions within 30 calendar days of starting at a BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc. (BCIB) project worksite. BCIB is the crown corporation handling labour on B.C. government infrastructure projects.
“BCIB’s implementation of the CBA ensures equal pay for equal work, a respectful worksite and priority hiring for local, indigenous, women and other equity seeking groups. In addition, once you have worked on a CBA project priority re-hire applies,” the ministry stated.
De Jong also took issue with the idea that CBAs are necessary in order to bring more underrepresented groups such as women and Indigenous groups into the construction industry.
“It’s an astonishing waste of money. Contractors could just be asked how they will hire underrepresented groups and they could provide that in the procurement process,” de Jong said.
“We believe British Columbians should receive more value from public infrastructure investments. The Community Benefits Agreement focuses on benefits to local communities by providing opportunities for local residents, Indigenous people and other equity-seeking groups; including women, people with disabilities, and youth,” the ministry stated.
“Contractors know already that hiring women and Indigenous people is an obvious thing they should do, and don’t have be told to do it,” de Jong said.
The PCA release pointed to the Pattullo Bridge replacement project as “at least $100 million over budget” and said four-laning of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway east of Revelstoke is $22 million over its original estimate. The projects operate under the first CBAs issued by the province.
“$100 million extra is two public schools. Even while workers get paid well and get excellent opportunities to work on projects, fake CBAs take away the opportunity to spend that money wisely,” de Jong said.
The ministry of transportation and infrastructure countered the Pattullo Bridge is not overbudget.
“There has been no change to the Pattullo Project budget of $1.377 billion. The Illecillewaet four-laning project east of Revelstoke required an additional $22 million in provincial funding, but this was primarily due to non-CBA related costs,” the ministry stated.
Reasons for the budget increase on the Revelstoke project include a 30 per cent steel premium and a 20 per cent asphalt oil premium, and labour pricing included a shortage of skilled trades people, “a widespread challenge throughout the construction industry that the Community Benefits Agreement will help address in the long term,” the ministry added.
De Jong said the $100 million figure comes from the government’s previous announcement in 2018 that using the CBA model would add seven per cent (approximately $100 million) to the cost the Pattullo Bridge budget, though infrastructure and transportation minister Claire Trevena said at the time the project would be finished within its budget.
De Jong maintained the same budget could be used without requiring union work.