Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council. (B.C. LNG Alliance)

Union construction cost competitive, B.C. Building Trades say

Non-union firms can bid on infrastructure, but employees have to join international unions

Union public construction doesn’t mean more expensive construction, says the head of B.C.’s building trades organization.

“If that were the case, there probably wouldn’t be a union contractor left,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council.

Sigurdson was commenting Tuesday on Premier John Horgan’s announcement of “project labour agreements” to cover major public infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges. The first two projects to be administered by the new system are the Pattullo Bridge replacement between New Westminster and Surrey, and sections of four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway from Kamloops to the Alberta border.

Requiring union membership doesn’t necessarily mean higher wages, but it does usually mean better benefits and pension contributions, Sigurdson said in an interview with Black Press. And he said it opens up training for employees who have to join an international union to get a job on a B.C. public infrastructure project.

Employees who have worked at a trade for several years without certification can be assessed by the Industry Training Association and either challenge the exam for red seal trade certification or be placed at the apprenticeship level that reflects their skills and experience.

RELATED: Non-union builders protest exclusion

Public construction has been a battleground between traditional unions, non-union companies and non-affiliated unions like the Christian Labour Association of Canada.

“British Columbians should be extremely wary of any effort to allow a select few unions to determine who has the right to access to work on public projects,” said Wayne Prins, executive director of CLAC.

“CLAC is not a union,” Sigurdson replied.

Bidding for work under the new corporation is not restricted to designated union firms, but if unaffiliated or non-union companies are successful, their employees are required to join the recognized union within 30 days of starting employment.

Sigurdson said non-union companies can bring managers and a set number of employees with them, depending on the job classification, and go to the union hiring hall for the rest.

The government set up a new Crown corporation called B.C. Infrastructure Benefits Inc., and the building trades established the Allied Infrastructure Related and Construction Council to sign contracts for public construction.

Sigurdson said the Building Trades Council is a voluntary organization of international unions that represents most, but not all, trades needed for major projects.

According to the transportation ministry, the Allied Infrastructure Related and Construction Council is “a coalition of B.C. Building Trades members that formed a legal entity that can sign the community benefits agreement on behalf of their members.” Member unions are:

• British Columbia Regional Council of Carpenters

• Construction Maintenance and Allied Workers Council

• International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local Union 97

• International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Local Union 280, Local Union 276

• International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Lodge 359

• International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 213, Local Union 993, Local Union 1003, Local 230

• International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union 213

• International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local Union No.2

• International Union of Operating Engineers Local Union 115

• International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 38 Painters 138, Glaziers 1527, Drywall Finishers 2009

• Labourers International Union of North America Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611

• Move Up – A Movement of United Professionals Local 378

• Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association of the United States and Canada Local Union 919

• United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada Local Union 170, Local Union 516, Local 324

• United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Floorlayers Local Union 1541

• United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Millwrights, Machine Erectors & Maintenance 2736

• United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Piledrivers Local Union 2404

• UNITE-HERE Local 40

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