Independent contractors and union members descended on the B.C. legislature for a second time Tuesday, warning that the NDP government’s union construction rules are chasing away bidders and pushing up costs for taxpayers.
The B.C. Liberal opposition hosted members of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada and its main union, Langley-based Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) to the rally. They say they are excluded by the B.C. government’s rules requiring workers on large public construction to join one of 19 mostly U.S.-based construction unions, including the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Labourers International Union and United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.
The new rules apply to the Pattullo Bridge replacement between Surrey and New Westminster, the pending Broadway subway line in Vancouver, and sections of Highway 1 widening between Kamloops and the Alberta border that are now in preparation or bidding stages.
B.C. VIEWS: Most construction apprentices non-union now
The first Highway 1 section near Revelstoke went 35 per cent over budget, which was attributed to rising material costs and a skilled labour shortage. The Illecillewaet four-laning project was one of a series of projects to widen the Kicking Horse Pass section of the highway from Revelstoke to Golden, a project budgeted at more than $600 million.
One of the most difficult mountain road stretches in the country, the Kicking Horse project is one-third funded by Ottawa and the rest by B.C. The B.C. government has acknowledged that the union restrictions will add $35 million to the Kicking Horse project.
Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said the union hiring rules effectively break up experienced work crews, resulting in only four bidders on the Kicking Horse work.
“A project of this scope would ordinarily attract 15 to 20 bidders,” de Jong said.
In the legislature before the rally, Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo released a “debriefing” note from William Hoban of Enviro-Ex Contracting, who dropped out of the bidding for the Illecillewaet project this spring. Hoban was harshly critical of the “Community Benefits Agreement” (CBA) terms and their effect on bidding for a project that prevented them from bringing their experienced crews as a whole.
“The majority of the contractors that we work with and are specialized in this scope are smaller companies with non-union workforces,” Hoban wrote in response to questions from the transportation ministry on his decision to drop out. “All of them refused to bid the project.”
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the CBA is designed to increase the number and completion of apprenticeships on public construction projects, with an emphasis on women and Indigenous people receiving training. The Independent Contractors and Business Association released documents from the province’s own Industry Training Authority in May, showing the vast majority of construction apprentices are now sponsored by non-union companies.
“Like in many areas, if it’s a unionized job site, people are expected to join the union, as they were when they were working on the Waneta Dam, when they were working at John Hart [dam], when they were working at many of the projects, both under the B.C. Liberals and under the Socreds,” Trevena told the legislature.
The Site C dam is the first major B.C. Hydro project to proceed as an open-shop, a matter of bitter dispute between the former B.C. Liberal government and the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council, whose members now exclusively represent workers on major construction under the NDP government.