Independent contractors and unions left out of the B.C. government’s exclusive construction deal with the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades began a four-day hearing in B.C. Supreme Court Monday to challenge the deal.
The lawsuit challenges the NDP government’s requirement that project workers have to join one of 19 designated building trades unions to work on major projects, so far including Highway 1 widening work east of Kamloops, replacement of the Pattullo bridge from New Westminster to Surrey and the Broadway subway line in Vancouver.
“Forced unionization of this sort is an affront to one of the core values of the labour movement, a worker’s freedom to choose,” said Ken Baerg, director of labour relations for the Abbotsford-based Canada West Construction Union. “It’s a government that claims to be in touch with the working class that is denying workers this fundamental right.”
Canada West Construction Union and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), which represents 14,000 trades people in B.C. work with members of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. The legal challenge also includes the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA) and the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA).
“As an association that represents both union and open-shop companies, we know this government policy not only shuts out the majority of the construction workforce but also offloads significant risk to contractors,” VRCA president Fiona Famulak said. “This, together with the bureaucracy that’s been created to administer this antiquated labour model, unnecessarily inflates the costs of public projects by tens of millions of dollars that ultimately will be paid for by B.C. taxpayers.”
The John Horgan government set up a new corporation called B.C. Infrastructure Benefits to administer what it calls the “community benefits agreement” for the three projects. Running to more than 300 pages, the agreement details union hiring and dues collection, requiring employees to join one of the designated unions within 30 days.
On the fourth phase of Kicking Horse Canyon widening project for Highway 1, B.C. Infrastructure Benefits estimates the union agreement will add $35 million to the cost.