The B.C. government is going ahead with a new process for hiring people for publicly funded projects.
The provincial government released the master union agreement for the Pattullo Bridge replacement project on Thursday.
WATCH HERE: NDP government announces new Pattullo Bridge
Within the 366-page document, there are provisions that could hike project costs by four to seven per cent.
The agreement, which is now the template for all major public construction under the BC NDP government, ensures more local hires, an average of 25 per cent apprentices on each job and two-per-cent annual raises on certain wages.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the new deal is a way to include everyone, such as “Indigenous people, for women, for others who we don’t usually see in these trades working and getting a good skill to be able to take forward and invest back into their community and in B.C.,”
“I think that this is a huge opportunity because nobody is excluded. I think it’s going to bring really the best opportunities for the province that we can,” she added.
The new agreement also requires that workers sign a union card within 30 days of working on a project.
This is problematic for a non-affiliated union like the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC); that group said the provision excludes them.
“We think that it’s probably unconstitutional, never mind just simply unfair, and so we’ll be pursuing options might be available for us to test that,” said CLAC Executive Director Wayne Prins.
“The more British Columbians learn about this deal, the more they’ll come to understand that, hey, this isn’t what we had been led to believe it is.”
CLAC has joined groups such as the Independent Contractors and Builders Association (ICBA) and the Surrey and Greater Vancouver Boards of Trade in asking the province to reconsider the union-only stance.
ICBA’S Chris Gardener calls it discriminatory.
“Every construction company in this province should have the right to bid and win government work, regardless of whether they’re unionized or not unionized or affiliated with another labour entity.”
Trevena called the pay increases an industry standard and the goal is to take down the old Pattullo Bridge and build the new span between Surrey and New Westminster within the existing $1.377-billion budget.
But BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said the pay escalator and the preference for public sector unions will drive up costs while benefiting organizations that have typically supported the NDP in election campaigns.
WATCH: Replacement Pattullo Bridge will cost $1.37 billion
“Everybody in B.C. should be concerned when the NDP are signing deals with their friends to make winners and losers in the labour market,” Wilkinson said.
“The BC NDP are building in cost escalations. Two per cent per year every year. Where did that come from? Who is asking for that?”
The B.C. government has also established a new Crown corporation, B.C. Infrastructure Benefits, that will hire the project’s construction workers, and will work with unions and contractors to dispatch labour, as well as manage payroll and benefits.