Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School. File photo

Impact of union-friendly work plan unknown in northwest

At least $500 million in projects planned

The provincial government has yet to decide how an all-encompassing plan to boost local employment, train apprentices and hire more women and First Nations workers under the umbrella of union contracts will play out in the northwest.

Provincial construction projects worth more than $500 million, either committed, planned or requested for the northwest, stand to be affected by the province’s new Community Benefits Agreement announced last month.

Topping that list are three requests from the Coast Mountains School District to replace schools in Kitimat, Terrace and Hazelton, the new Mills Memorial Hospital and a traffic roundabout to replace the Hwy16/Hwy37 four-way stop in Terrace, and an overpass spanning a CN level crossing on Hwy16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert.

Hiring of workers for two major projects, the $1.3 billlion replacement of the Patullo Bridge on the lower mainland and the four-laning of the Trans Canada Highway from Kamloops to the Alberta border, will be done through the benefits agreement.

The companies involved in the construction will hire workers through a new Crown corporation, which in turn will sign contracts with the province’s major trades unions.

And government officials now say they’re developing employment plans for northwest provincial construction contracts with details promised over the next year.

“A decision has not yet been made on how community benefits will be applied to the construction of the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace,” indicated a statement from the provincial infrastructure and transportation ministry which is in charge of the new community benefits program.

”However, it is government’s intent to incorporate community benefit objectives on the delivery of major infrastructure projects, which will consider opportunities for employment, training and local access.”

“Our government is working to make sure that local communities share in the benefits of building major infrastructure projects. That means supporting local businesses whenever possible, creating good paying jobs for people and providing an opportunity to train and apprentice workers.”

In announcing the benefits agreement premier John Horgan said the emphasis will be on local hire.

“Our objective here is to make sure that we can, to the greatest extent possible, hire local contractors to make sure they hire local workers,” Horgan said. “I’m confident there will be no shortage of work.”

The Coast Mountains School District has already submitted its new schools construction plan to the education ministry for approval, a wide-ranging effort that would cost more than $160 million.

While planning for the new Mills Memorial Hospital is well under way, the start of construction is still several years off. The estimated $400 million construction cost will be financed by the province and regional taxpayers.

A contractor for the CN level crossing overpass project between Terrace and Prince Rupert, with an original forecast budget of $37 million, won’t be chosen until next year. The Hwy16/Hwy37 roundabout project, with a price tag of $4 million, is also set to start next year.

Under the province’s community benefits agreement, workers will be required to join construction unions, and while non-union companies can bid on contracts they must also pay union-scale wages.

A multi-page agreement setting out wages, benefits and working conditions signed by the province and major construction unions will be applied to projects.

It contains a no-strike/no-lockout clause and for the purposes of hiring defines local as somone who resides within 100 kilometres of a specific project.

Should no qualified people be found within B.C. efforts will then be made to find workers in the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, followed if necessary by extending the search to the rest of Canada with temporary foreign workers coming last.

The benefits agreement was quickly criticized by non-union companies and associations and labour unions not connected with the province’s major trades unions, saying it gives those unions a labour monopoly and will result in higher project costs which will be borne by taxpayers.

“The new agreement now forces membership in [mainline building trades unions] which is not only a breach of natural justice, but also appears to be unconstitutional,” said Wayne Prins, the executive director of the Christian Labour Association of Canada.

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