B.C. building groups ask court to axe public construction deal

SOURCE: The Abbotsford News – KATYA SLEPIAN

Several unions and companies have joined a trade group petition asking the B.C. Supreme Court to strike down a building trades union-only hiring model for taxpayer-funded construction projects.

In a petition filed Monday, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association said that the agreement gives trades unions an unfair monopoly “for no legitimate or valid purpose” over public construction projects.

The 336-page agreement released in July includes strict provisions for local hiring, an average of 25 per cent apprentices on each job, hiring of Indigenous peoples and annual two per cent raises on specified wages by trade. It bars all but 19 international unions or B.C. Building Trades unions from bidding on public construction projects.

According to the association, 80-85 per cent of B.C. trades workers do not belong to one of those unions.

The government has also set up a new Crown corporation called B.C. Infrastructure Benefits Inc. to manage large road, bridge and other government projects.

Earlier this summer, Premier John Horgan announced that the replacement Pattullo Bridge would be the first project built under the new framework, with the Trans Canada Highway 1 Kamloops to Alberta widening to follow.

But in its petition, the association argues that “there is no necessary or logical connection” between achieving the targets set out in the agreement and “forcing employees to join particular unions favoured by the government.”

It argues the contractors and non-building trades unions barred from bidding on public projects have “extensive experience” with training workers and increasing the participation of “First Nations and other underrepresented groups” in the field, and that there is “no difference” in the wages paid.

“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,” said 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 province has yet to file a response in court or respond to a request for comment.

More to come.

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