Construction workers call on B.C. government to scrap the Community Benefits Agreement

An artist's rendering of the new Pattullo Bridge. Government of British Columbia

Around 100 construction workers from across B.C. are calling on the provincial government to scrap its Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) program.

The B.C. government introduced the CBA in 2018 to prioritize local, Indigenous, women and apprentice workers for provincial projects. It requires all workers on government projects to join an approved union.

The workers visiting the legislature are not members of the unions chosen by the government. The main concern raised by the workers is that the government’s plan will drive up project costs.

“This government has all the evidence it needs to come to its senses and conclude its restrictive CBA is a costly mistake for all British Columbians,” said Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) union government relations manager Ryan Bruce.

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“It tramples on worker rights, jacks up the cost of taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects and is driving away good contractors. The big question is, why carry on with such a lousy deal?”

The first agreement was signed in connection with the $1.377-billion Pattullo Bridge replacement.

Click to play video: 'Is the B.C. Community Benefits Agreement fair?'
Is the B.C. Community Benefits Agreement fair?

The project is expected to employ between 1,200 and 1,400 workers to take the old bridge down and build a new one between New Westminster and Surrey.

The concerned workers say the CBA will add $100 million to the cost of the Pattullo Bridge replacement project. They are also concerned that 85 per cent of the province’s construction workforce is not part of the Building Trades Unions, the required option under the government’s agreement.

“Community Benefits Agreements are nothing more than a taxpayer-funded payback to a small group of unions handpicked by John Horgan and the NDP,” Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said.

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“Contractors and union members from across the province have shown up here today seeking answers from John Horgan and the NDP as to why they are being prevented from working on public infrastructure projects and he owes them an answer.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. premier announces new Crown corporation for provincial infrastructure projects'
B.C. premier announces new Crown corporation for provincial infrastructure projects

The government argues the CBA allows for more opportunity for young workers, including an assurance that 25 per cent of the workers on the Pattullo project are apprentices.

As part of the change, the government established a new Crown corporation, B.C. Infrastructure Benefits, that hires the project’s construction workers, and will work with unions and contractors to dispatch labour, as well as manage payroll and benefits.

The issue dominated question period on Tuesday.

“This is something we are absolutely committed in. One of the things is the investment in women in the trades. The Community Benefits Agreements are open to anyone, any skilled trades,” Transportation minister Claire Trevena said.

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“We want to ensure we are training people for the future so we don’t face skill shortages we are facing now.”

The opposition has raised concerns that the Trans Canada Highway widening at Kicking Horse Canyon attracted only four bidders. A project like this would ordinarily attract 15 to 20 bidders.

An analysis by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) shows that CBAs could add as much as $4.8 billion more to the cost of public infrastructure projects, which equates to nearly $4,000 for every family in the province.

“The vast majority of B.C.’s construction workers would have to change their union membership and put their pension and benefit packages on hold in order to work on public projects,” Site C trainer Dawn Rebelo said.

“That isn’t right, and it sure isn’t constitutional for a government to treat workers so unfairly.”

CLAC has joined the Independent Contractors and Business Association, Vancouver Regional Construction Association, BC Construction Association, Canadian Federation of Independent Business and BC Chamber of Commerce in an ongoing Supreme Court challenge against the CBAs, which is set to be heard in February.

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