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July 17, 2018

B.C. government announces new policy for union labour to build billions in projects


Billions of dollars of provincial government projects, starting with Metro Vancouver’s Pattullo Bridge, will be built using union-only labour, under new rules announced by Premier John Horgan.

The new “community benefits agreements” were billed by Horgan on Monday as prioritizing local hirings, better wages and more opportunities for apprenticeship training, but also mark a throwback to 1990s-era construction rules that forced workers on government projects to join trades unions.

“Within 30 days of employment on the job site, any non-union worker or a worker from another affiliation will be required to join the union for work specific to the project,” the B.C. government said in a statement Monday.

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Horgan glossed over that detail in a press conference in Vancouver, preferring to play up the potential benefits to the first two projects to fall under the new model: The new $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge and a four-lane highway project between Kamloops and Alberta.

“Community benefit agreements ensure projects will be on time, on budget, fair wages are paid to everyone and importantly that legacy of new workers for the future,” said Horgan.

The changes were immediately hailed by unions as a way to fix B.C.’s shortage of skilled tradespeople, as well as give women and Aboriginal people more opportunities to enter construction. But independent non-union contractors, who represent more than 80 per cent of the industry workforce, said those justifications are a smokescreen for a return to union-only sites, labour halls and favouritism for building trades that will cause projects to be more expensive and cumbersome.

Horgan rejected those arguments, saying B.C. needed to solve its labour shortage and be competitive in attracting workers.

“The cost of making sure we’re training the next generation of workers is one, I think, British Columbians understand,” he said.

Horgan hailed it as “a new way of doing business in British Columbia.”

However, the new rules are quite similar to how the NDP handled public construction projects in the 1990s. At that time, the party was criticized for providing lucrative incentives to unions that donated to the NDP and organized to its election campaigns.

Keep reading in the Vancouver Sun