B.C.’s construction industry is now overwhelmingly non-union and open-shop. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C.’s construction industry is now overwhelmingly non-union and open-shop. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s construction rebuild showing some big cracks

Highway cost overruns have just begun under U.S. union deal

The first highway construction job under the B.C. NDP government’s Orwellian “community benefits agreement” has been awarded, and it is one whopping steak-and-six-salads lunch for the U.S.-based unions so revered by Premier John Horgan.

For a mere two kilometres of four-laning the Trans Canada Highway near Revelstoke, the cost soared 35 per cent in three months. That’s a jump of more than $22 million above a budget of $63 million that was announced when bids were invited in February.

The NDP government slipped this past the Vancouver media, burying it in a news release put out just before the May long weekend. It was immediately brought to my attention by a representative of the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), the primary target of the Horgan government’s pact with the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council.

These guys go by such up-to-date names as the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Lodge 359. There are 19 of them, anointed by the Horgan government as fit for taxpayer-funded construction, starting with the Pattullo Bridge replacement, the Broadway subway and a half dozen sections of the Trans Canada Highway between Kamloops and the Alberta border.

Also chosen is “Move Up,” formerly COPE 378, the B.C. Hydro office union and a key supplier of staff to the premier’s office.

Their monopoly on public construction is filled and chilled like the salad table required on a highway job. But they had a bitter setback last week when the B.C. Green Party rose up to defeat a key part of the NDP’s labour code revisions, the one that allowed construction union raids every summer.

Labour Minister Harry Bains adopted stabilizing rules that allow raids only after a union contract has been in place for three years. Except for construction.

Horgan attended a B.C. Building Trades convention in Victoria last year, and it was like a religious rally. He and executive director Tom Sigurdson congratulated each other for the huge benefit their monopoly would have for apprentices.

That fiction was shredded last week by the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), which compiled the B.C. government’s own statistics on apprenticeships. A lot has changed since the Hyundai-Kerkhoff consortium built the Alex Fraser Bridge in the 1980s, the first non-union heavy construction in B.C. CLAC workers and affiliated contractors have since worked on the new Port Mann Bridge and are gearing up for pipeline work.

RELATED: Vancouver Island interchange project continues into 2020

RELATED: Cost jumps 35% on Trans Canada Highway widening job

The B.C. government’s Industry Training Authority reports that of the 28,432 registered construction apprentices in B.C., 23,172 are sponsored by open-shop companies, not unions. That’s three out of four.

ICBA president Chris Gardner notes that in some trades, the ratio is even higher. Apprentice welders are 96 per cent open-shop, plumbers 87 per cent, carpenters 85 per cent, electricians 83 per cent.

“Over the past 35 years, the building trades unions have lost market share, lost any wage and benefit advantage they used to have, and alienated generations of B.C. construction workers,” Gardner said.

One of those disaffected construction workers is carpenter Zig van Akker, who worked on the Island Highway project in the 1990s, the last NDP-building trades road job. He remembers the strict craft lines and having to sue a union pension fund.

Commuters on that highway are being held up these days by overpass construction north of Victoria. It’s finally being built after 1990s union featherbedding caused it to be downgraded to a traffic light.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Permission to develop a residential treatment centre providing mental health and addiction recovery is being sought at the Tachick Lake Resort purchased by Carrier Sekani Family Services. (Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako photo)
Treatment centre eyed at former Tachick Lake Resort near Vanderhoof

Carrier Sekani Family Services awaiting adoption of rezoning bylaw

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
41 positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

The North Country Inn and Restaurant in Vanderhoof notified the public Friday morning of a positive, COVID-19 case for one of its workers. (Facebook photo)
North Country Inn and Restaurant employee tests positive for COVID-19

The North Country Inn and Restaurant said the employee had not been in contact with its patrons

Cases have gone up in Northern Health in the past week, as they have all over B.C. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
Northern Health reports new highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

Nineteen cases were reported to Public Health last Tuesday (Nov. 17)

FILE – British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Masks now mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces in B.C.

Many retailers and businesses had voiced their frustration with a lack of mask mandate before

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

The COVID-19 test centre at Peace Arch Hospital is located on the building’s south side. (Tracy Holmes photo)
B.C. woman calls for consistency in COVID-19 post-test messaging

‘Could we just get one thing straight?’ asks Surrey’s Deb Antifaev

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Most Read