Labour agreement approach has worked

By Tom Sigurdson, executive director BC Building Trades
July 7, 2015

View from the Board: Labour agreement approach has workedI am compelled to respond to the June 30, 2015 column penned by Mr. Hochstein wherein he berates BC Hydro, the PCAC and the BCCA for supporting the Memorandum of Understanding signed by BC Hydro and a poli-party of unions affiliated to the BC Building Trades.

Mr. Hochstein may wish to rewrite history and blame the NDP Barrett government for mandating project labour agreements (PLAs), but the fact is that it was the Social Credit premier, WAC Bennett, who first introduced PLAs for dam construction in our province. He did so because he needed and wanted a steady supply of skilled labour to build the massive hydro-electric dam. That PLA model worked then and continued to work for every legacy dam BC Hydro has built since 1963.

Mr. Hochstein doesn’t like the PLA model and besmirches those who engage or endorse the model.

He claims Rio Tinto is a dismal failure when in fact the opposite is true. Approximately 75 per cent of the workers on that project were from B.C. and almost half of those workers were local residents. Of the remaining workforce, almost all were Canadian. The small percentage of foreign workers, who were occasionally employed on the site, were from our affiliated unions in the United States. They were properly skilled and productive from the moment they entered the worksite. In addition to an overwhelming B.C. and Canadian workforce, there was a strong commitment to apprenticeship employment.

Mr. Hochstein has too often called for the increased use of temporary foreign workers to supplement the low-bid, open shop, purportedly transparent “competitive” model.

I proudly take an entirely different perspective to building infrastructure in BC. I believe that skilled and qualified British Columbians and Canadians should be first in line for employment on all capital projects – in both the private and public sector. I want to see local residents hired first and I want apprentices to be able to learn their craft while working on those projects.

One of the fundamental tenets of the Building Trades unions is to supply skilled, qualified workers to our contractors and the owner clients. That is what we have done for decades and it is what we will continue to do in the future. We have a combined membership of approximately 40,000 journey-workers and apprentices. We have the ability to mobilize and supply the right workers at the right time for the owner client investing billions of dollars in a project. They require the security of labour supply and we can deliver.

Mr. Hochstein asserts that the Building Trades are insecure about our ability to deliver quality work at competitive prices.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. Our membership is highly skilled and productive. Our contractors competitively and successfully bid work and deliver a quantitatively and qualitatively superior product.

Tom Sigurdson is the executive director of the British Columbia/Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council. Tom is also a member of the Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board.