The B.C. NDP government’s new Community Benefits Agreement is being challenged in court by key industry groups led by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA). Petitioners include the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA), the British Columbia Construction Association, the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, two progressive unions, five major contractors and business organizations.
Premier John Horgan said the Community Benefits Agreement will deliver good-paying jobs, better training and apprenticeships, and more trades opportunities for Indigenous peoples, women and youth around the province. But the new rules also state that within 30 days of employment on the job site, any non-union worker or a worker from another affiliation will be required to join the union for work specific to the project.
ICBA has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking that the NDP government’s new building trades union-only hiring model for taxpayer-funded construction projects be struck down.
“The choice of which union to join, if any, should be made by the workers through a secret ballot, and should not be imposed by government,” stated ICBA president Chris Gardner. “No matter how a construction company organizes its workforce, in this province every construction company should have the right to bid and win work funded by taxpayers.”
The petition asserts the government’s new rules for building key public infrastructure projects are a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
- Forced unionization is inconsistent with sections 2(b) and 2(d) of the Charter and unlawfully restricts freedom of association;
- It discriminates against the approximately 85 per cent of the men and women in construction in B.C. who are not members of a building trades union; and,
- It is unfair and violates the principles of openness and transparency that British Columbians rightly expect when the government seeks contractors for taxpayer-funded work.
“Forcing workers to join and pay dues to the Building Trades Unions in order to work on public projects is an affront to workers’ basic rights,” said Paul de Jong, PCA. “We’re not about to stand by while freedom of association and workers’ right to choose are sacrificed, all in the name of so called community benefits.”
The Pattullo Bridge Replacement Project is the first project to be bound by the B.C. government’s new rules.
“We believe the NDP government’s restrictive and exclusionary infrastructure agreement was designed to benefit its union supporters first and foremost,” added de Jong. “Not only is that wrong, we believe it’s also against the law.”
The agreement also makes it clear building trades unions will decide who works on each part of the project – meaning companies will not have access to their usual employees, thus jeopardizing the safety, efficiency and productivity that comes with working with trusted colleagues who know each other and their company’s systems.
“It really is crazy to imagine that a company will bid a project but will not know which, if any, of its employees will be working on the project – that’s a recipe for bureaucratic inefficiency, delays, increased costs and confusion,” stated Gardner.