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B.C. Supreme Court passes on hearing challenge of union construction deal

Coalition challenges NDP government union requirements
WATCH: Coalition challenges NDP government union requirements

The B.C. Supreme Court has taken a pass on hearing a legal challenge of the the NDP government’s deal with unions for building publicly-funded infrastructure.

The B.C. government introduced its first Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which prioritizes local, Indigenous, women and apprentice workers for provincial projects, last July.

It requires workers on the publicly-funded Pattullo Bridge replacement to become members of affiliated trade unions.

Opponents claim CBAs violate workers’ constitutional rights. But on Monday, a judge ruled that the dispute does not belong in court, and instead should be arbitrated by the province’s Labour Relations Board.

Is the B.C. Community Benefits Agreement fair?
Is the B.C. Community Benefits Agreement fair?

Progressive Contractors Association of Canada President Paul de Jong says the provincial government’s framework forces workers to join specific trade unions, violating their right to free association. He said the rules impact about 85 per cent of the workforce.

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“We will be seeking appeal in the next weeks to ask the judge to reconsider,” said de Jong.

“In the meantime, workers across British Columbia are now held in future doubt as to what their prospects are going to be when they work on these CBA projects.”

READ MORE: Majority of B.C. supports NDP-union construction deal, but just 25% familiar with it: Poll

Andrew Mercier, executive director of the BC Building Trades Council, said the judge was reiterating a decision the courts had already made clear last summer.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “There’s nothing controversial about CBAs, these are very standard, run-of-the mill agreements that have been used by governments of all stripes in B.C. and across Canada for government infrastructure programs.

“I would say I think it’s unfortunate that the government of British Columbia and the working people of British Columbia are going to have to pay for this process. Delay equals cost.”

Other projects that will use CBAs include the UBC SkyTrain extension, and a large project up in the Kicking Horse Pass.

A 2018 survey commissioned by the BC Building Trades Council found that a majority of respondents supported the deal.

— With files from Richard Zussman