A new master union agreement for public construction could add as much as $100 million to the cost of replacing the Pattullo Bridge, according to B.C. transportation ministry estimates. (Black Press files)

B.C. VIEWS: Big unions living large in public construction-land

The boys like their steak, bosses like a beefy slush fund

A reader named “Jim” didn’t take kindly to my column last week on the B.C. NDP government’s sudden move back to the 1970s-style international union monopoly on public construction.

“I’ll bet the only pipe you ever laid was a hash pipe,” wrote Jim, in reference to my time in non-union construction in the 1980s.

In a series of terse emails, Jim talked tough, but not tough enough to share his last name. “Maybe if you did a better job, you too could have been a union worker, but I doubt it,” he advised me. “We can usually spot a slacker scab pretty quickly.”

In his earthy way, Jim captures the assumptions that are now B.C. government policy. Non-union, or worse, what they call “rat union” employees are poorly trained, inefficient and lazy.

“Brothers and sisters,” as Premier John Horgan addressed the assembled members of his anointed 19 international unions when announcing the monopoly, are so superior they can complete a big road or bridge job faster and cheaper despite lavish benefits and higher wages.

Given that 85 per cent of construction work in B.C. is now non-union, that’s a lot of lazy scabs. Fortunately, the new system allows international unions to pick the workers they deem acceptable to the “brotherhood” and force them to join.

The NDP government quietly released its “community benefits agreement” for this deal, which takes effect with the Pattullo Bridge replacement and then moves to a series of projects to widen the Trans-Canada Highway east of Kamloops. At more than 300 pages, it is an old-school union choke-hold with perks and conditions that go on and on.

Non-union companies are free to bid, as long as they pay wages and benefits set by the U.S.-based “qualified affiliated unions.” They can even choose some of their employees, although a quota for each trade will be imposed. Those lucky workers will not only have to pay union dues, but also pay into union-controlled pension fund, “industry rehabilitation fund,” and skill improvement fund. The largest fund deduction, 25 cents per worker hour, is funnelled into a “council administration” slush fund to finance the newly created union council.

The government also set up a new Crown corporation to administer this deal, called B.C. Infrastructure Benefits Inc., with its own CEO and staff. There’s a lot to administer, as a peek into the dusty list of perks indicates.

Take the menu requirements for work camps, like the ones that will be needed for the Trans Canada Highway jobs. Here is a sample of what’s required for lunch and dinner:

“Salad table will be refrigerated or ice provided. Minimum requirements … an assortment of salads, coleslaw, green salad (tossed), potato salads and two other prepared salads (Caesar, Greek, pasta, bean salad, protein etc.)

“Beef steaks must be served once per week, between Monday and Thursday. Roast beef once per week. There will be no duplication of first line choice [meats] in a five-day period other than beef and beef steak.” And every meal must be all-you-can-eat.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena stresses the ambitious quota for 25 per cent apprentices. We’ll see what that does to efficiency on taxpayer-funded projects.

Somehow this will all translate into a maximum seven per cent increase in the cost of public construction, according to Trevena’s minions. So around $100 million extra to replace the old four-lane Pattullo Bridge with a new four-lane bridge.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. 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

City seeks public input on new cannabis retail license

The application must first gather approval from city council before being approved by the province

City of Fernie responds to high water levels

The city is monitoring water levels daily in order to keep residents safe

Ready, Set, Learn bus excites incoming students

EIDES’s Ready, Set, Learn bus delivered early learning packages throughout Fernie

Deer fawning season begins in B.C.

WildSafeBC is reminding people how to react if they come across a deer fawn

The Fernie Academy hockey players sign to play in the NA3HL

Dylan Baker, Chris Consolozio, and Bowen Arola continue their hockey careers in the NA3HL

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

John Horgan says COVID-19 restrictions won’t be eased regionally

B.C. Liberals urge ‘tailored’ response based on infections

Feds get failing grade for lack of action plan on anniversary of MMIWG report

‘Instead of a National Action Plan, we have been left with a Lack-of-Action Plan’

B.C. ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

Tsilhqot’in jurisdiction affects grazing, access to private property

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Greater Victoria drive-thru window smashed after man receives burger without mustard

Greater Victoria Wendy’s staff call police after man allegedly rips Plexiglas barrier off window

Murder charge upgraded in George Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers

Most Read