Project labour agreement adds cost to bridge project

Nine labour, business organizations call on government to scrap agreement

Pattullo Bridge to be replaced at a cost of $1.377 billion.

Workers employed on the $1.377 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement project and Trans Canada Highway four-laning project will get a 2% wage hike each year they work on the project, which is expected to take six or seven years to build.

That would work out to a 12% increase in wages, if they worked on the project throughout its full construction.

The wage increase provisions were among the details revealed Thursday July 26, when the provincial government released a 336-page Community Benefit Agreement for public projects, like the Pattullo Bridge and four-laning of the TransCanada Highway.

According to a wage schedule in the 336-page agreement, a dishwasher working in a camp (on the Trans Canada highway project) would make a starting wage of $26.48 per hour, and $29.47 per hour in the sixth year.

The agreement accounts for 4% to 7% of the total construction budget of $1.377 billion, government officials confirmed.

The project labour agreement will require workers employed on the Pattullo Bridge and Trans Canada Highway project to join a union through the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council while employed on the project. That council represents 19 different unions.

One union that isn’t government approved is the Christian Labour Association of Canada, so any member of that union who wants to work on government projects will have to quit and join one of the government-approved unions.

One of the benefits of the project labour agreement is that it prevents strikes or lockouts – something that can cause costs to balloon.

The BC Building Trades also says it makes the project more competitive in terms of attracting skilled labour.

It is very likely that the project will be built while two other major infrastructure projects are also underway: the $7.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the $40 billion LNG Canada project.

“Projects will be competing for workers in a very tight market,” the BC Building Trades said in a press release.

“This agreement gives government guaranteed access to a stable labour pool, and that’s why these agreements are common in private industry like on the Kitimat Modernization Project and the John Hart dam.”

The agreement gives hiring preferences to local workers, First Nations, women and other under represented workers.

Rieghardt van Enter, regional director for the Progressive Contractors Association, said the project labour agreement may actually be bad from some workers, and may deter some contractors from even bidding on the project.

“The people that are going to be benefitting from this are the trade unions and the trade union management, not necessarily the workers,” he said. “The people that could potentially suffering from this could be British Columbian workers.”

Any contractor can bid on contracts. But any worker who spends more than a month on the project will have to join a union approved by the government, which may mean having to quit the union they belong to now, or bounce back and forth between the two.

In the latter case, van Enter said workers could find themselves working for stretches of time when they will have no benefits, like health coverage. Some employees may never benefit from the pension contributions they make, if they end up quitting the union after the project is done.

“You might also get somebody who might not have access to medical coverage because of this fact they are being forced to jump back and forth between different unions,” van Enter said.

The Independent Contractors and Business Association and eight other labour and business organizations have penned a letter to the provincial government calling on it to scrap the project labour agreement, saying it creates a union monopoly.

“John Horgan is sole-sourcing more than $25 billion in taxpayer-funded construction to his buddies in the Building Trades unions,” said ICBA preident Chris Gardner.

“It’s simply not fair to discriminate against the 85% of of construction workers who have specifically rejected old-fashioned, heavy handed unions.”

The project is expected to employ 1,200 to 1,400 workers.