Essex County, Ontario Considering Restrictive Tendering Deal With LIUNA

Daily Commercial News and Construction Record
VINCE VERSACE – Staff Writer


A proposal from a large Essex County labour union to generate municipal infrastructure funds while securing work for its members has drawn early criticism from some construction labour organizations.

The Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 625 recently approached Essex County’s council seeking interest about creating a LIUNA Local 625 Community Development Fund (CDF). Essex County is in southwestern Ontario near Windsor and has seven member municipalities.

The fund would grow based on a pre-determined amount drawn per man-hour worked by LIUNA members on the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project. Signatory municipalities could then draw from the fund, for their own infrastructure projects, while agreeing to only hire Local 625 contractors or employees for that work.

“We started thinking that through the Windsor-Essex parkway and related projects, from all the meetings we’ve had, it looks like we will have 1.5 million man hours just on that project. Our local usually does 1.2 million in total per year,” explained Rob Petroni, business manager, LIUNA Local 625. “So we thought maybe we can do something like an associated infrastructure stimulus, to a degree, with the local municipalities through it.”

Petroni said a possible goal for the remittance could be 50 cents per man hour, per year into the CDF. He also noted that just over 90 per cent of the contractors working for Essex municipalities, on road and sewer projects were Local 625 employers and that the union represents 800 members in the local heavy and ICI sectors.

“We are not really asking them to do something they are not already doing,” said Petroni. “It is not like we have 10 per cent market share. Anyone coming in town from out of town are signatory to us in the heavy civil area.”

Later this week, organizations such as the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) will speak at Essex County council in opposition of the LIUNA expression of interest. Reportedly, local representation from the operating engineers and carpenters are also expected in opposition of the CDF idea.

“This is the latest example of the potential for construction monopolies to be created in regions across the province. What is being discussed is no different than the restrictive regimes we see in Toronto and Hamilton,” said Sean Reid, regional director, PCAC. “Ultimately, a certain few workers and contractors will be favoured over and above the majority of workers and contractors that are not affiliated. That is costly, unfair and counters freedom of association and fair competition.”

Reid said he is “hearing more and more municipalities who are being wooed by these proposals” in the name of local job creation. Roger Grootenboer, Ontario representative, CLAC, said the LIUNA idea infringes on the access to work for local non-LIUNA affiliated workers.

“The LIUNA representation that they are one of the only work forces available in the area is not quite accurate. We have been representing employees in Essex County for over 50 years and they should have the right to live, pay tax and work in their own backyard,” said Grootenboer. “It is an absurd reality when employees are barred from projects or jobsite in the areas where they live, simply because of a certain signatory clause.”

Petroni said there is no concrete proposal in place before Essex County because his union simply wanted to test interest in the concept. He said the union is willing to work with any municipalities within the county that are interested.