Construction workers from across British Columbia came together with contractors at the B.C. legislature on November 19 to call on the NDP government to do the right thing and scrap the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) before any further damage is done.
“This government has all the evidence it needs to come to its senses and conclude its restrictive CBA is a costly mistake for all British Columbians,” said Ryan Bruce, CLAC Union’s B.C. manager of government relations. “It tramples on worker rights, jacks up the cost of taxpayer funded infrastructure projects and is driving away good contactors. The big question is, why carry on with such a lousy deal?”
B.C.’s rules for building public infrastructure fall short on every count. According to those opposed to the agreement, Premier Horgan’s CBA excludes 85 percent of the province’s construction workforce who do not choose to join the Building Trades Unions. The CBA is also costly to taxpayers. To date, the CBA will add $100 million to the cost of the Pattullo Bridge replacement project. The cost of four-laning a small section of the Trans-Canada Highway, another restrictive CBA project, has already escalated by more than $22 million.
“Sadly, our warnings a year ago of higher public costs have come true,” said Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA). “Another unfortunate reality is that government red tape and restrictive hiring rules are discouraging many highly qualified companies from bidding on public projects.”
For example, the Trans Canada Highway widening at Kicking Horse Canyon (phase one) attracted only four bidders. A project of this scope would ordinarily attract 15 to 20 bidders. With fewer bidders, there’s less competition and costs go up. When public tax dollars are squandered in this way, there‘s less funding for other needed projects from hospitals and schools to transit.
“The vast majority of B.C.’s construction workers would have to change their union membership and put their pension and benefit packages on hold in order to work on public projects,” said Dawn Rebelo, CLAC operator and trainer at Site C. “That isn’t right, and it sure isn’t constitutional for a government to treat workers so unfairly.”
PCA and CLAC are joined by other leading industry associations, which include the Independent Contractors and Business Association, Vancouver Regional Construction Association, BC Construction Association, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, BC Chamber of Commerce, and several employers and workers in a Supreme Court challenge of the government’s CBA model. The case is to be heard on February 3 to 7, 2020.