Canada’s largest construction union has signed a pact with the national Assembly of First Nations to promote a larger Indigenous work force. In doing so, the union’s leadership accepts some construction projects will not proceed when First Nations are in opposition.
There are at least two major projects in British Columbia – the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and the Site C dam, with a combined worth of over $15-billion – that are in jeopardy in large measure because of First Nations’ opposition.
The Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) has formally embraced the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, making free, prior and informed consent from those communities a requirement for resource development.
“The bottom line is, we’re just going to have to accept that in certain situations, we’re not going to be successful in pushing projects forward,” Joseph Mancinelli, international vice-president of LiUNA, said in an interview. The union represents 120,000 Canadian workers, mostly in construction, and 8,000 of those members are in B.C.
At a convention in Vancouver on June 6, Mr. Mancinelli told his members their union needs to find ways to get more Indigenous youth into trades training for reasons of social justice – and also because the aging trades work force desperately needs new skilled workers.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the AFN, signed the agreement with LiUNA at the meeting. He said the purpose is to ensure there are investments in human capital that will help close the gaps between Canada’s enviable standard of living and the bleak standard of living for its Indigenous people.
In the agreement, LiUNA promises that it will seek in new collective agreements to provide Indigenous workers with a percentage of the jobs in major construction projects. In some regions, such as Ontario’s north, that share could mean a dominant share of the work.
But for there to be jobs, there must be projects.