B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair (left) and B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council’s Tom Sigurdson listen as then-premier Christy Clark announces open-shop rules for Site C dam, Sept. 10, 2013. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Welcome to the union ‘battle zone’ for pipeline construction

NDP labour code sets conditions to push independent unions out

One of the big battles of the Christy Clark years was imposing an open-shop construction contract for the Site C dam project in northeast B.C.

B.C. Hydro’s latest dam is the first to depart from the closed shop of boilermakers, pipefitters, teamsters and other old-school international unions that have been joined at the hip with the NDP since the party formed. The main civil works contract for Site C, the largest in this $10 billion project, went to a consortium of contractors with a workforce represented by the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).

John Horgan and other NDP politicians seethed as Clark took the stage with Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council, to announce the shared site. Now Horgan and his labour minister, former United Steelworkers employee Harry Bains, are turning back the clock to a monopoly of U.S.-based unions.

Their first move, setting up a Crown corporation to restrict major public works to their 19 favoured unions, is headed for court. Now comes the NDP-Building Trades bid to push CLAC, the Canada West Union and other “progressive” unions out of large-scale private construction as well.

READ MORE: Site C, pipeline projects expected to be raid targets

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CLAC’s not just at Site C. It and affiliated contractors have about 70 per cent of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, including rebuilding the Westridge Terminal in Burnaby and several pipeline “spreads” along the line, says Ryan Bruce, CLAC’s B.C. manager of government relations. And the Kitimat liquefied natural gas plant and associated pipeline are up next.

“We’ll be working on two or three spreads of Coastal GasLink,” Bruce told me. “We’ve been working at the LNG Canada site on site prep. Those contracts haven’t all been awarded yet, but we will certainly be a player on a good portion of the LNG projects, once they get underway.”

LNG Canada, as Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau never tire of reminding us, is the largest private-sector investment in Canadian history, with a $40 billion price tag. The building trades, noted for strict “craft lines,” higher costs and “no raid” deals with each other, are not happy. In Horgan’s B.C., they’ve already got a lock on the Pattullo Bridge replacement, Trans-Canada Highway widening and Broadway subway in Vancouver, and they want the big private stuff too.

Bains sent an expert panel of business and labour around the province last year to consult on a new Labour Relations Code. The experts recommended a three-year period between “raids” to sign up workers of another union. Horgan and Bains accepted the stability this offers, except for big construction. There, unions can raid every July and August when building activity is at its peak.

There was already a raid on Site C in 2017. Labourers, Teamsters and Operating Engineers organizers descended on Fort St. John airport to meet CLAC workers, in some cases following them into the massive work camp to lobby them to sign a new card. It failed, but the new legislation welcomes them back.

It turns construction sites into a summer “battle zone,” said Paul de Jong, president of the Edmonton-based Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, which works with CLAC, other multi-skill unions and provinces with sensible raid rules.

This column recently discussed the union-only raise for community care workers. This is essentially a mega-raid on 17,000 non-union employees of contract agencies that care for developmentally disabled people. And the NDP’s union monopoly plan is just getting started.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


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