Site C Jobs Should Be Open to All in B.C.

The concept of time travel got a big boost in the 18th century when writer H.G. Wells authored one of his most notable science fiction works, The Time Machine. Last week, the B.C. building trades’ unions made its own fantastical pitch for traveling back in time.

The building trades unions asked the court to bring the province back 50 years to a time when workers in their hiring halls were prioritized over all other workers on public infrastructure projects. They called on the government to abandon plans for the managed open-site model of the Site C hydroelectric dam megaproject and adopt an outdated closed-shop model

The Closed-Shop Model

At a time when we need to maximize access to skilled labour in the province, a closed-shop model would essentially hand building trades unions a monopoly on the largest public infrastructure project in B.C. history. 

The B.C. building trade unions are nostalgic for the uncompetitive, unfair, and untenable closed-shop agreements of the 1960s and 1970s. This model had project owners negotiate the terms of the project labour agreement with a union or a group of unions. Then contract bidding was allowed only to those contractors who already had agreements with the signatory unions. 

In some cases, only members of those building trades unions were allowed access to work. In others, alternative union and non-union workers had to pay dues to the building trades unions in order to work on the project, irrespective of their choice of labour representation.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]As a province we can’t afford to go back in time.[/quote] 

This approach had clear drawbacks. To begin with, it discriminated against workers who had chosen to be represented by a different union; plus, it discouraged these workers from contributing their expertise to the project due to these additional barriers to entry for the work. 

Canada’s labour market has also evolved dramatically since the 1960s to include a richer diversity of players: traditional craft unions, alternative unions, and non-union labour organizations. The diversity of players in the labour market has created a path for a managed open-site model.

The Managed Open-Site Model

What B.C.’s building trades unions don’t want you to know is that managed open-site models have been employed successfully on many major infrastructure projects in British Columbia. It’s a model that has worked for both public and private sector projects including BC Hydro’s Ruskin Dam and the Interior to Lower Mainland Transmission Line.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″][W]e must all focus on working together to meet the labour challenges ahead.[/quote]

On these projects, CLAC workers, non-unionized contractors, and Building Trades subcontractors worked alongside one another. With this model, the question was never which workers can we exclude, but how many skilled British Columbians can we put to work. As a result, project owners have seen an improved labour supply, budget savings and greater hiring flexibility.

While Premier Christy Clark has recognized the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, she should also continue to support fair access to work and uphold the managed open-site model for the Site C megaproject. BC Hydro simply can’t shut out skilled workers when the province is expecting one million job openings by 2020. 

As a province we can’t afford to go back in time. 

Managed open sites are critical to the success of Site C and future major infrastructure projects because they create jobs for British Columbians and help build a prosperous future for our province’s economy.

With considerable plans on the horizon for B.C., especially in the LNG sector, government, industry and union players must have an eye to the future and not the past; we must all focus on working together to meet the labour challenges ahead.

David Prentice is the Provincial Director CLAC BC, which is a multi-sector union representing over 60,000 workers in almost every sector.

Reprinted with permission from the Asian Pacific Post.