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The Building Trades of Alberta coordinates and promotes the interests of 16 Alberta trade unions whose 75,000 members work in the residential, commercial and industrial construction, maintenance and fabrications industries.
Nationally, Building Trades of Alberta joins the other Provincial Councils that make up Canada's Building Trades Unions. Canada's Building Trades Unions, in turn, is a member of the Building and Construction Trades Department centred in Washington, D.C.
The February newsletter of the Canadian Construction Association includes an update on its ongoing campaign to remove “community benefits requirements as a condition of procurement”. According to the article, the CCA has been meeting with (lobbying) members of parliament and the senate to “educate” them on the negative implications of community benefit agreements. They are pleased with the “wide range of support” they’ve received.
I want to look at some of the issues raised by the CCA.
Defining community benefits and the bidding process
The CCA reassures us that its “members already pro-actively create community benefits”. But they “stand firmly against any measures that would dilute or create uncertainty within the competitive bidding process.”
One advantage of community benefit agreements as they are being used in jurisdictions like British Columbia (and are proposed for Alberta) is that community benefits are defined. They are defined in terms of goals that are set by the contracting government. The goals can align with government policies and programs, which is actually the government’s job. They are also defined in terms of the requirements set for the bidding contractors. That actually levels the playing field and creates more certainty for bidding contractors. For instance, a contractor can’t bid low using a cheaper labour source if there are minimum requirements for such things as wages, using in-province and local labour, training apprentices, and hiring union workers. Other industry and public stakeholders, including local governments, unions, and Indigenous peoples, know the ground rules and can better participate in the process as well.
Community benefit agreement requirements may specify the rules for
- wage agreements
- targeted hiring of apprentices, disadvantaged groups, and union labour
- sub-contracting to local small businesses for construction, services, and supply
- environmental impact standards and monitoring
- Indigenous consultations
- development of community infrastructure projects
- monitoring and fulfillment requirements.
By definition then, I would argue that community benefit agreements are open and transparent, unlike current contracting processes, which actually do create uncertainties for all stakeholders, including contracting governments, contractors, and the paying public.
Adding extra value to contracts
The CCA also worries that community benefit agreements ask contractors to add undefined “extra value” to their bids. Being asked to add “extra value” to a bid is pretty much what all contractors promise to do. Almost every contractor will attempt to establish the unique, added value they bring in terms of cost, resources, and various intangibles (such as a commitment to excellence). The difference here might be the need to establish extra value as it relates to the goals of a community benefits agreement and, perhaps, to quantify the value more rigorously. That kind of “extra value” can only benefit the public purse, something most taxpayers will applaud.
As the CCA notes, Canada is facing a shortage of skilled building trades workers. In Alberta, BuildForce Canada estimates a labour force gap of some 21,100 workers in the construction and maintenance industries by 2028. It notes that an “ongoing commitment to training and apprenticeship development will be necessary to ensure there are sufficient numbers of qualified tradespeople to sustain a skilled workforce over the long term.” BuildForce Canada identifies greater participation of non-traditional and underemployed populations, including women, new Canadians, and Indigenous people, as one way to address this need.
The CCA worries, however, that adding in requirements to train women and new Canadians “may lead to project delays and increased costs; delaying or depriving the community of the necessary infrastructure to improve their lives”. Apparently the CCA feels differently about Indigenous workers, but if it is an Indigenous woman, well, I’m not sure. Somehow, I don’t think unemployed women and new Canadians would agree with the CCA. And local communities tend to like the idea that they have citizens who are highly skilled (which attracts business) and earn good middle-class incomes (which pays taxes).
The CCA is particularly worried that community benefit agreements may require that workers belong to specified unions. The CCA may be referring to British Columbia, which requires that workers on major public infrastructure projects paid for with public dollars to be a member of or join a union while working on the project. As I have previously noted, similar requirements in Alberta are unlikely. So community benefit agreements will be different in different provinces.
Right now, the reality for many contracted infrastructure projects is the reverse. Some contractors freeze out union labour or opt for the friendly handshake of company-created unions like CLAC rather than dealing with the building trades unions.
I think we should look at the issue of hiring union a little differently and ask whether unions bring added value to community benefit agreements.
Pressure is being applied to get contractors to train new apprentices and to hire minority and disadvantaged workers. Why? Because current practices aren’t preparing Canada for its looming labour needs. Who can help make up the difference?
Canada’s Building Trades Unions represents more than 500,000 workers in this country. CBTU’s affiliated local unions have invested more than $650 million in training facilities. Many of the best training facilities in Canada have been funded by BTA’s affiliated unions. Building trades unions proudly provide the best trainers, the best training, the best job site safety records, and the most highly skilled workers.
Unions also lead the way when it comes to supporting the hiring of underrepresented populations. Nationally, Canada’s Building Trades Unions has vigorous programs in place to recruit women, Indigenous peoples, and new Canadians, as well as Canadian Forces personnel. Those programs aren’t just talk and they didn’t start because of any government or community benefit requirement. They represent core values of the building trades unions. And the national programs are replicated at a provincial level. The BTA, for instance, partners with
- Build Together to support the mentoring of women in the building trades
- Trade Winds to Success to increase the number of Indigenous workers in the building trades
- Helmets to Hardhats to transition Canadian Forces personnel to the building trades.
The Case for Community Benefit Agreements
The CCA will no doubt continue its efforts at “educating the government both at a departmental level as well as at a parliamentary level” to the “negative implications” of community benefit agreements for procurement.
I suggest a different perspective. Repeated problems on infrastructure projects have already educated governments and the taxpaying public when it comes to problems with current procurement practices. The process is flawed. Too many major infrastructure projects are interminably delayed (witness the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project) or, once approved, run over budget and miss deadlines. Too often, cheaper labour is brought in to lower costs. The results are a lowering of skills, loss of efficiency, failure to train new apprentices, higher future maintenance costs, and a shortfall of skilled workers.
Major infrastructure projects provide a great opportunity to train Canada’s and Alberta’s next generation of skilled trades workers. Instead of rinsing and repeating previous flawed processes, let’s give community benefit agreements the serious attention they deserve. We could even see what union labour can accomplish.
Stars Air Ambulance held a very successful "Building Magic in the Air Gala" Saturday night at the Chateau Lacombe. The BTA Charitable Foundation acted as the Project Manager Sponsor of the Gala for the 8th consecutive year. Representing the Foundation, Delanee Daviau spoke about the Foundation’s long record of providing time and money to support Stars’ crucial lifesaving work. The Charitable Foundation has donated $680,000 to Stars to date.
Read the full text of Delanee's speech:
Good evening, my name is Delanee Daviau and I am pleased to be here with you tonight from the Building Trades of Alberta Charitable Foundation joined by Members of our Board and our Volunteers.
2018 makes this the Foundation’s 17th year of operation, in those 17 years we have donated over 6.8 million dollars to over 60 charities in the province.
While trying to serve as many Albertans as possible we are faced with difficult decisions on who to grant donation requests to but… donating to STARS is never a hard decision.
For 8 years the Building Trades of Alberta Charitable Foundation has been the Project Manager Sponsor of this Gala. We don’t do it for the recognition, we don’t do it to be able to be here tonight, we do it because our members and their families and you and your families may one day need their services, and in times of tragedy, chaos and uncertainty we want to guarantee one thing- that STARS will be there.
The Unionized Construction industry in this province supports and will continue to support important lifesaving initiatives for the betterment of all Albertans. To date we have donated $680,000 to STARS, this has been made possible by the generosity of our Members and Stakeholders, not only financially but by volunteering their time.
BTA Charitable Foundation Present Stars Air Ambulance with cheque for $30,000, September 27, 2018 Delanee Daviau is pictured second frm the right.
At the Building Trades of Alberta we fundamentally believe in Solidarity. The definition of Solidarity is: “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest.” I think I am correct in assuming that those of us in this room share a feeling of Solidarity when it comes to supporting STARS in their success.
I would like to thank you all for joining us tonight for an evening of celebration and fundraising. Please get home to your families safely tonight by ensuring you have a safe and sober ride home.
In an October 9 Edmonton Journal opinion piece, Ken Kobly, President of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, warns that "Community benefit agreements may not work for Albertans".
On the one hand, Kobly raises alarmist cries about special interests, red tape, escalating costs, and workers missing out on benefits, advancement opportunities, and bonuses if Alberta follows the BC's community benefit agreement framework. On the other hand, he admits that the Alberta government has said the Alberta community benefit agreements will look nothing like BC's and that the government intends to pilot a small project first to make sure they get community benefit agreements right.
Why the alarm then?
The BC Community benefit agreement Framework
The BC community benefit agreement requires workers on major public infrastructure projects paid for with public dollars to be a member of or join a union while working on the project. The BC Chamber of Commerce has joined with like-minded organizations to seek a court injunction blocking that province's community benefit agreement legislation. In fact, previous BC Liberal and Social Credit governments dating back to 1963 have had similar labour agreements for major public infrastructure projects. Those projects weren't challenged in court. Perhaps BC's community benefit agreement is not so much new then as it is an NDP government this time. And perhaps Kobly’s attention to the BC example is nothing but a red herring when it comes to an Alberta community benefit agreement.
Let's look at a few facts.
What community benefit agreements can mean for Alberta
Most people would agree that current tendering processes for major public infrastructure projects are not delivering the value Albertans deserve. The Building Trades of Alberta believes that community benefit agreements have the potential to deliver better value. They can be a win-win for developers, small businesses, local communities, workers, the provincial government itself, and, yes, trade unions.
Several jurisdictions in Canada and the United States have successfully used community benefit agreements for major public infrastructure projects, ranging from BC hydro dams to the Los Angeles International Airport. Best practices are well known.
- Community benefit agreements can include requirements for
- Hiring, including local hiring and hiring of disadvantaged groups in the labour market such as women and Indigenous people
- Hiring apprentices (crucial given the pending shortage of skilled trades workers in Alberta)
- Sub-contracting to local businesses
- Environmental impacts and monitoring.
Community benefit agreements are legally enforceable contracts. They provide governments with an important new mechanism to ensure regulatory requirements are met on projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.
What did Premier Notley actually say?
Notley’s address to the Building Trades of Alberta 2018 Conference is available online. In brief, the Premier said:
- Alberta’s economy is unique and we need a community benefit agreement that is right for this province.
- Procurement practices for public infrastructure projects should be about the best bid, not the cheapest bid.
- Jobs for Albertans come first.
- The best bid means benefitting local jobs, training and apprenticeship opportunities, and working people.
- Once Alberta learns the lessons from a pilot community benefit agreement, the government's goal is to enact a community benefit agreement provincewide.
That's radical stuff only because it will make sure infrastructure projects are done right for current and future generations, keep jobs in Alberta, train the next generation of skilled trades workers, and benefit local businesses and communities. Those goals seem to be ones that the Chamber of Commerce should wholeheartedly support.
BTA Supports Community benefit agreements
In Alberta, the Building Trades of Alberta is proud to have led the way in establishing
- Best trained skilled trades workers in the industry
- Unequalled skills training and training facilities
- Apprenticeships and scholarships for students
- The best safety record in the industry
- Good, middle-class wages that help to raise community standards of living
- Diversification programs to give women, Indigenous people, and Canadian Forces personnel opportunities to become skilled trades workers
- An enviable record of community service.
The Building Trades of Alberta has been actively supporting community benefit agreements for some time. We are the skilled trades advantage and we think community benefit agreements can work for all Albertans.
Yesterday evening, members of the Building Trades of Alberta and members of Alberta Federation of Labour met with the Honourable Patricia Hujdu, federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour and Member of Parliament Randy Boissonnault for Edmonton Centre to discuss pipelines, the new USMCA Agreement and its implications for trade.
Topics covered in the wide-ranging discussion included:
- the process for the federal government to comply with and meet the court's recommendations for approval for Trans Mountain expansion
- LNG projects on the west coast
- polypropylene projects here in Alberta
- phase two of North West Redwater
- Community Benefit Agreements
- mobility of Canadian workers to cross into and work in the US
- importing steel and modules built off shore for Alberta projects. .
Thank you to all attendees and to John Desrosiers and LIUNA Local 92 Labourers Union for hosting this meeting.
Each year, the John Tackaberry Future Leaders Award is presented to a deserving apprentice who demonstrates the drive and commitment to be a leader at home, on the worksite, and in their community.This year's winner is Katherine Keagan, Boilermakers Local 146.
Katherine Keagan addressed the BTA 2018 Conference and talked about leadership and how she tries to be a leader in her career.
John Tackaberry's career included serving as a Journeyman Red Seal Glazier with Local 1725, Calgary Business Representative for Local 177, Chairman of the Building Trades of Alberta, and Director of the Building Trades of Alberta Charitable Foundation.
John also served on the Canadian Board of Trustees of the International Local Union and District Council Pension Fund, and he co-chaired the Board of Trustees of the IUPAT Local 177 Benefit Trust Fund.
John believed deeply in the union movement, in his many union brothers and friends, and in giving back to the community through volunteer work and mentoring apprentices.