Industry Voices Op-Ed columns reflect the opinion of the author and not that of ConstructConnect’s Journal of Commerce, the company, its other associated publications or its staff.
This column is in response to LMS Reinforcing Steel Group president and chief operating officer Norm Streu’s Industry Voices Op-Ed: Community Benefits Agreements are an NDP lie, which was featured online on Feb. 14.
Streu’s rhetoric is hard to swallow in his recent column in the Journal of Commerce on the provincial government’s new Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) construction framework.
Let’s recap: Streu concedes support for the basic principles of CBAs and specifically “the idea that public money on construction projects should benefit the community, and especially disadvantaged members of that community, certainly sounds right.”
Where he has trouble, however, is the false notion that it will “hand work uncompetitively to a small group of traditional trade unions.”
LMS and any other contractor – union or non-union – can bid and be successful under a CBA and in fact research suggests that workforce agreements like CBAs increase bid competitiveness. The transparency of the collective agreement makes for more competitive bids (good for taxpayers) and allows all workers to receive the same wage for the same work at the same level.
Union membership also allows access to a skilled labour supply from British Columbia and across Canada. For example, the average number of bids increased from 3.7 to five on the Vancouver Island Highway Project, which was built under a Project Labour Agreement (PLA), which is the predecessor to CBAs. And the general contractor on that project was JJM, which is not certified by a BC Building Trades union.
Streu also refers to CBAs costing “vast additional sums.” The implication is that projects without CBAs somehow meet budget. Not so. The Port Mann wasn’t built with a CBA and it went 41 per cent over budget. The South Fraser Perimeter Road? No CBA, and it went 42 per cent over budget. And the Vancouver Convention Centre, which Streu uses as an example of an LMS project, was budgeted at $495 million but ended up costing $841 million, a whopping 70 per cent increase. No CBA there either.
Under the hiring provisions of B.C.’s CBA, local workers are given priority, so it’s no wonder Streu has such contempt for the framework. Streu’s company has brought in literally hundreds of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) for jobs. In 2015, LMS applied to bring in 15 journey-level ironworkers. On the company’s application form, LMS indicated that neither formal education nor the ability to speak a specific language were required.
The same application described how LMS received 90 applications from Canadians or permanent residents for jobs, but none were qualified for journey-level work. This doesn’t reconcile with the request for TFWs with no formal education.
Think about that as you think about this: a recent job posting from LMS Reinforcing Steel Group on Indeed.com advertised a wage of $18 per hour for a commercial ironworker with at least two years’ experience. A near identical posting by LMS on an Aboriginal employment services site that expired just in October offered $16 per hour. The same level of experience for a commercial ironworker under the Ironworkers Local 97 collective agreement earns $22.37 to $23.27 per hour plus pension, casting much doubt on Streu’s claim that LMS “advances capable, hard-working employees far more rapidly than the trade union.” It is also common for our signatory contractors to pay union members above their set wage, based on production, knowledge and initiative.
CBAs allow the government to set targets for hiring apprentices, Indigenous workers, women in trades and local residents. Previous projects are proof that these types of agreements work. For example, 25 per cent of the workforce on the Kitimat Modernization Project were apprentices, which happens to be the same target ratio under the new CBA. Compare that to Site C, where, in May 2017 under the previous Liberal government, two per cent of the workforce were apprentices.
And on the Vancouver Island Highway Project, also built under a PLA, 11 per cent of workers were Indigenous and eight per cent were women.
Traditional trade unions offer real apprenticeships, formal trades training, higher wages, better benefits and a meaningful retirement package. In addition, this CBA explicitly states the need to incorporate underrepresented groups and, as we have made clear, there is a long and proud tradition within Local 97 of this taking place.
By the way, Ironworkers Local 97 publicly supported the BC Liberals in the last provincial election. The NDP government has implemented CBAs because CBAs work. And so do we.
Doug Parton is the business manager with Ironworkers Local 97. Send Industry Voices comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.