Municipal work continues
Legislation in Ontario allows municipalities to be organized by unions in the same manner as any other construction employer. In practice this means that some Ontario municipalities, as well as other public bodies such as electricity service providers, school boards and others have been organized by unions whose province-wide contracts prevent open bidding. The subcontracting provisions compel the municipalities to receive bids only from companies affiliated with building trades unions. The implications of this legislation for PCAC contractors are huge. A case in point is the upcoming stadium work being done in Hamilton. The work, being done in anticipation of the Pan Am games is worth over 166 million dollars and PCAC members, and non-union members are barred from bidding on the project. Likewise, much of the construction work being tendered by the City of Toronto is off-limits for PCAC contractors due to obligations the City has to nine building trades unions.
Sean Reid, PCAC’s Ontario Director has been active on this file, in both the media and lobbying to ensure the law is changed to ensure fairness for PCAC members. His criticisms of the Pan-Am games situation were cited by the Hamilton Spectator and he continues to work with provincial and municipal authorities to lobby for change on this important matter, including making submissions to the Off ice of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Toronto City Council. Ensuring that public bidding in Ontario is fair and open for PCAC members remains among PCAC Ontario’s top priorities.
PCAC Ontario recently hired Jeff Bangs of Pathway Group to assist with Lobbying City of Toronto, for greater openness in construction bidding. Hiring Jeff has already provided us with results, particularly in the development of strong working relationships with Mayor Ford’s office. We hope to continue this work over the coming months to ensure that PCAC contractors are not barred from working on municipal projects in Canada’s largest city.
College of Trades
The College of Trades remains a top priority for PCAC Ontario. The College, which was created to modernize Ontario’s trades and apprenticeship system has been a contentious issue for the construction industry in Ontario.
The College has authority to determine the compulsory status of trades, and a recent report by the think-tank Cardus has shown that there is a complete lack of research to support the expansion of compulsory certification.
The issue of compulsory certification is a major one for PCAC contractors as it could limit the innovative and cooperative approach its members use to their job-sites. PCAC has been one of the most vocal associations in Ontario on the issue, and has been cited numerous times by the Daily Commercial News raising concerns about the potential biases in the appointments process and the impact that the College will have on new entries into the trades.
PCAC has also been active in coalition building with a growing number of industry associations, including the Ontario General Contractors Associations, ORBA and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to respond to the increasingly worrying developments within the College.
Membership Drive A Success
PCAC’s current membership development campaign, focusing on South and Central Ontario is moving full-steam ahead. The drive has resulted in the expected addition of at least ten to fifteen new members in Ontario for 2011. The success of the drives can be attributed to a growing realization of the need for a unified, strong voice for progressive contractors in Ontario.
Bill 80 Update
Construction Industry Labour Relations Act Amendments, commonly known as Bill 80, is currently in effect, but PCAC contractors are still unable to work under a CLAC agreement.
A number of Saskatchewan unions – including building trades unions – launched an application to the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (hereafter “the Board”) asking the board to dismiss applications from CLAC to certify a number of contractors, including Wilbros Construction Services, Pyramid Construction and Canonbie Contracting. The board ruled that “the applications by the [Building Trades] Unions to declare CLAC to be a “company dominated” union are dismissed.”
This decision was in turn appealed and is working its way through the courts. The judge hearing the case has heard submissions from all parties, and is expected to provide a decision sometime in September.
In the meantime, proceedings on the original applications for certification filed by CLAC are being held back pending the results of the judicial decision. PCAC remains committed to ensuring that construction in Saskatchewan remains open to a progressive, partnership based method of doing construction. Stay tuned for more details as this case progresses.
PCAC meets with PC leadership hopefuls
Elections to replace outgoing Premier of Alberta Ed Stelmach as head of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party will begin in September of this year. In anticipation of those elections, PCAC executive director, Paul DeJong has met with Alison Redford, Doug Horner, Doug Griffiths and Ted Morton to ensure that its contractors’ priorities are heard and understood by potential provincial leaders. Meetings with Gary Mar are scheduled to take place soon. These meetings provide PCAC with an opportunity to listen to the candidates platform so that it can assist PCAC contractors in deciding which candidate they might wish to support.
The meetings are also valuable opportunities to create a relationship with leaders prior to their election, and to ensure that a wide range of provincial politicians are aware and supportive of PCAC’s work and the importance of its members to the Alberta economy.
PCAC was a leading advocate in the effort to limit and eliminate market enhancement recovery funds (also known as MERFs). These funds are created by building trades unions and exist as part of their provincial collective agreements. Employers are obligated to pay into the fund which is managed by the union and used to subsidize the wages of their members on jobs which the union chooses. The funds are used to affect the competitiveness of a bid through the back door by using increased costs on one project to lower the cost of another.
In response to concerns about the impact of these funds on the fairness of competitive bidding processes, the government of Alberta passed legislation in 2008 (Bill 26) limiting the use of these funds. However, concerns remain about their continued existence under a different guise. PCAC has joined a number of contractors and contractor associations in Alberta to form a coallition called the Construction Competitiveness Coalition in order to address this and other important matters relating to construction labour relations in Alberta.
Open Season in BC
PCAC contractors in British Columbia are aware that labour law in that province is the odd duck in Canada with regard to the number of “open seasons” faced by contractors. Whereas most jurisdictions in Canada give workers an opportunity to switch trade unions during the last three months of every two or three year period (that period is often called “the open season”), British Columbia’s open season comes in the last two months of every year. In practice this means that PCAC contractors are faced with labour instability in the last two months of every year as all building trades unions – who sign pacts promising not to target each others members – gang-up to target companies unionized by CLAC . The effect of this yearly barrage makes long-term project planning difficult and is a major impediment to efficient completion of construction projects.
PCAC met with former BC Minister of Labour, Hon. Iain Black on this matter and has also met with the current minister, Hon. Stephanie Cadieux, to advocate for alignment of BC’s labour law with the rest of the country. Bringing BC in line with the rest of the country on this matter remains a key priority for PCAC in the province and we will continue to advocate for this change.
Provincial Election Updates
There are a number of important provincial elections taking place this year, many of which will have an impact on PCAC members.
Members are encouraged to contact their regional director to provide feedback or aquire information about key issues, or to learn more about the electoral process and ways to ensure that PCAC members’ interests are furthered.
Ontario Election Date: October 6
Saskatchewan Election Date: November 7
Alberta PC Party Leadership Election Date: September 17, with a runoff, if necessary, on October 1.