The ongoing court battle over the BC NDP government’s Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) raises more questions about the allocation of public funds during a time when those funds are evaporating on all fronts.
Businesses and workers do not need to be a member of, or a sympathizer with, the construction association coalition that is challenging the government’s imposition of the CBA to appreciate the wrong-headedness of the agreement. Spearheaded by the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), the coalition’s legal challenge in the BC Court of Appeal argues that the CBA is an unfair, unethical and discriminatory policy in part because it in effect requires all major public construction projects in B.C. to be built by unionized workers.
There is nothing wrong with preferring union over non-union labour. The union movement has been fundamental in improving the employment conditions for workers all over the world. In many jurisdictions it is now under siege by a corporate culture championing contract employees primarily because they come without full-time employee benefits costs. That is not good for workers and communities. But what is also not good for workers, taxpayers and communities is a legislated adherence to government policies that discriminate against non-unionized companies, many of which provide the same employee benefits as their unionized counterparts and deliver the same quality of services and products.
Also not good for taxpayers is a policy that requires employees of open-shop companies to join a designated union when working on major public infrastructure projects.
The CLAC coalition estimates the the CBA has already added $384 million to public project costs. In a province now burdened with a $12.5 billion deficit, foisting that politically motivated premium on already financially stressed taxpayers is wrong.