Industry Voices Op-Ed: Community Benefits Agreements and the facts

For information only and not an endorsement – this article is shared to ensure members have the context and understanding of current issues that impact the Construction Industry.

Journal of Commerce | Tom Sigurdson | January 15, 2019

Industry Voices Op-Ed: Community Benefits Agreements and the facts

Paul de Jong’s pre-Christmas JOC op-ed against Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) wants to be all truth and light.

Unfortunately, his arguments are just “alternative facts.”

De Jong begins by misrepresenting Building Trades unions’ market share in work related to CBAs.

De Jong claims Building Trades workers are less than 15 per cent of workers in the B.C. construction industry. De Jong neglects that residential construction (new homes and renovations) account for over 60 per cent of B.C.’s construction industry. Residential is not the focus of Building Trades unions and not jurisdiction covered by CBAs.

The 18 Building Trades unions represent over 40,000 highly skilled craft workers in B.C.’s construction industry; over 90 per cent of these work in non-residential construction.

Non-residential construction employs 69,000 in the province. Building Trades workers make up over 50 per cent of B.C.’s non-residential sector. The CBA is for bridges and highway construction: just seven per cent of the non-residential sector, according to BuildForce Canada. Thus, CBAs will apply to less than 5,000 workers of the 173,000 construction workers across the province.

De Jong claims his contractors provide abundant apprenticeship sponsorships and placement opportunities for youth, Indigenous and women workers. If that’s true, they’re not doing a good job.

B.C.’s construction industry is facing a serious skills training deficit. Industry isn’t training enough workers to meet demand and replace those retiring.

Meanwhile, Building Trades unions invest over $18 million annually in apprenticeship training. Over 90 per cent of Joint Board-sponsored apprentices complete their hours and receive Red Seal certifications. The Industry Training Authority’s overall average completion rate is just 38 per cent. Of B.C.’s Red-Seal construction trade completions, Building Trades joint (employer/union) training boards produce 50 per cent.

CBAs recognize Building Trades training success is built on respecting journey-level ratios for trainees: a maximum of three journey-level workers for each apprentice.

Guaranteeing mentorship through ratios is a key component to boosting completion rates. Abiding by ratios means apprentices get the hands-on instruction they require and full-scope training experience essential to begin mastering their trade.

When it comes to hiring practices, CBAs overcome the ruthless, free-for-all hiring scramble that enables discrimination. That system can allow open favouritism.

Instead CBAs provide a level playing field for all contractors; non-union, employer friendly unions and Building Trades unions. Call out for work crews is orderly and rules-based. No kowtowing to bosses for job placements.

What’s more, CBAs back-up zero tolerance harassment with reliable grievance procedures; spelling out step-by-step processes to address bullying, intimidation and retaliation whether coming from fellow workers, from foremen or company owners.

The new CBA will give priority to local contractors and hiring of local workers; those living within 100 kilometres of the worksite.

During the construction of the Vancouver Island Highway Project (VIHP), local contractor priority increased tender bid competition. Tender bids increased from 3.7 per cent for the rest of the province to over six on the VIHP. The leg-up for local contractors saved taxpayers the cost of having to pay travel and accommodation, which amounted to tens of millions.

It’s also a boon to local businesses. Pay packets are spent in the community where they are earned. In fact, the B.C. auditor general lauded the Vancouver Island Highway, which was the CBA of its era, “good value for money spent.”

CBAs provide proponents and owners with stable labour relations. These agreements have no-strike, no-lockout provisions. Unhealthy labour relations can cause production delays, labour/management resentments and higher incident rates. CBAs aren’t exclusively used by government; private proponents recognize the benefit.

The recent Alcan/Bechtel accord with the BC Building Trades to rebuild the Kitimat aluminum smelter was a win-win for all parties.

Kitimat Modernization Project statistics recorded 22 per cent registered apprentices, 11 per cent Indigenous hires, 23 million hours worked with just 13 lost-time incidents.

In a hockey game, the referees are tasked with monitoring and enforcing a rules-based game. Construction labour markets deserve the same oversight.

With CBAs, contractors are guaranteed a level playing field. Fair contractor bidding is guaranteed by standardized wages/working conditions, strict worksite safety protocols, apprenticeship training, opportunities for underrepresented communities, a commitment to local hire, fair processes to address grievances and rules-based dispatch and call-out.

Tom Sigurdson is executive director of the BC Building Trades. Send Industry Voices comments or questions to editor@journalofcommerce.com.