Contract employees build soil conveyor for Site C dam in northeast B.C., spring 2019. Site C was B.C. Hydro’s first “open-shop” construction site, a point of contention between the previous B.C. Liberal government and the current NDP government. (B.C. Hydro)

B.C. union construction dispute directed to Labour Relations Board

Building Trades celebrate as B.C. Supreme Court declines case

The B.C. Supreme Court has declined to hear an application by independent contractors and unions challenging the B.C. government’s union hiring restrictions on public construction projects.

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.

The B.C. Building Trades Council, representing traditional trade unions that benefit from the NDP government’s agreement, said it’s the second time a B.C. court has directed the dispute to the B.C. Labour Relations Board.

The decision means “their criticisms do not rise to the level of issues heard by the court,” Andrew Mercier, executive director of the B.C. Building Trades, said in a statement.

The case was brought by Canada West Union and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), which represents 14,000 trades people in B.C., and 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).

Mercier said Monday’s B.C. Supreme Court ruling is the latest of similar results in a series of challenges to what the B.C. government calls “community benefits agreements” that restrict hiring to 19 mostly U.S.-based unions.

“The Merit Contractors Association, which is affiliated with the ICBA through Merit Canada, challenged Manitoba Hydro’s union membership policy in 2012,” the B.C. Building Trades statement says. “The case was dismissed by Queens Bench of Manitoba and again on appeal.”

Former premier Christy Clark directed B.C. Hydro to build its Site C project as an open shop, with large portions of the work going to CLAC and affiliated contractors. It was the first hydro project not to be subject to a union benefits agreement with the B.C. Building Trades.

In 2018, the John Horgan government set up a new corporation called B.C. Infrastructure Benefits to administer the “community benefits agreement” for the three projects. Running to more than 300 pages, the agreement details union hiring, a new administration fee on hourly pay, and dues collection, requiring employees to join one of the designated unions within 30 days on the job.

RELATED: Contractors, unions in court against B.C. union-only construction

RELATED: Cost jumps 35% for Revelstoke highway widening project

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.

“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.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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