P3 2020: CBA experts discuss Canadian, U.S. experiences at P3 conference

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | November 18, 2020

A panel of union experts discussed their different experiences with Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) across Canada and even across the border.

The event was part of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) 28th annual conference, which was held virtually this year.

Lionel Railton, Canadian director for the International Union of Operating Engineers, outlined the B.C. landscape, where Premier John Horgan’s NDP Party introduced its CBA policy as a minority government but had recently been re-elected with a majority. Railton explained in the B.C. context, the NDP created the BC Infrastructure Benefits Corporation (BCIB) which acts as the employer for all employees on CBA projects to ensure that underrepresented groups are getting opportunities and all are receiving fair pay and benefits. Currently there are several CBA projects underway.

“It is early days but things are going well,” said Railton.

He explained some of the key goals of the CBA policy is to address the looming skills shortage in the province by encouraging young people, women, Indigenous people, locals and other groups to get involved in the construction sector.

“We have had great success in evolving our models to encourage people who wouldn’t traditionally work on these projects,” said Railton. “The industry wants to come together as a group to address this, but there hasn’t been meaningful headway made to address this, so CBAs were structured to allow for underrepresented groups to enter and start to fill that gap that exists.”

Railton also pushed back against the open shop sector in B.C. that says CBAs are discriminatory and prevent everyone from have a fair shot at work.

“Anybody can bid on this work,” said Railton, who noted as the industry has become more familiar with the model, bidding has become more competitive.

Kristin Jenkins, the communications and public engagement co-ordinator for Crosslinx Transit Solutions, explained how her group has managed building Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the first P3 project in Ontario to be built under a CBA.

“There have been lots of lessons learned and we are very proud of this success, but the experience is also informing on how more progress can be made on future projects,” said Jenkins.

While Crosslinx was able to invest its resources into achieving its aspirational apprenticeship goals, its dozens of subcontractors often struggled. Jenkins said this has taught them that more upfront work could be done to assist them.

“There needs to be more engagement and education with the folks responsible for hiring and bringing people on,” said Jenkins. “They don’t have the resources that we had to focus on CBAs. We think more upfront work could make CBA programs more successful.”

Alise Martiny, business manager for the Kansas City Building Trades in Missouri, gave a U.S. perspective. The city recently built a $1.5-billion airport terminal project that was approved by a community vote. The resulting CBA mandated contractors achieve minority hiring goals, women hiring goals and apprenticeship goals or face penalties.

“It was a collaboration and it took us 18 months to get the right agreement,” said Martiny.

The subtrades were assisted with transportation to the jobssite as well as child care during irregular hours like early morning concrete pours. The team also worked to feed contractors a pipeline of workers who had undergone testing that fit them to an appropriate trade.

“It’s about transformation for this individual for the rest of their life so we want to get them into the right trade,” said Martiny.