In Part 1: Community Benefits Agreements, we looked at how Community Benefits Agreements for major infrastructure projects can be advantageous for all stakeholders in a province like Alberta. Developers, local communities, small businesses, labour unions, and the provincial government could all gain if Alberta established a framework for Community Benefit Agreements.
Today, we will look at the advantages unions bring to Community Benefit Agreements.
Levelling the Playing Field
Developers of major infrastructure projects often try to economize by contracting lower-cost, less-skilled workers. Lower cost labour usually means less efficient labour. But the real price of lower-cost labour doesn’t always show up until later, when poor workmanship increases maintenance costs. For major infrastructure projects, which are often environmentally sensitive, the real price of short term savings isn’t justifiable.
Hiring union labour tends to raise the wages of other workers. As a result, some employers hire only non-union, essentially freezing out union members. When labour unions are in decline, wages for all workers tend to suffer.
But there are significant benefits when a Community Benefits Agreement levels the playing field and includes provisions for employing union workers, like the members of BTA’s affiliated trade unions.
The Skilled Trades Advantage
Many years ago, the Building Trades of Alberta chose “The Skilled Trades Advantage” as its slogan. The slogan is a way of expressing the values and benefits that the members of Alberta’s building trade unions bring to work projects.
“Skilled Trades Advantage” also captures the important advantages that union members will bring to a Community Benefits Agreement.
- Union members are the most skilled and best trained workers in their fields.
- The affiliated unions of the Building Trades of Alberta offer the best trades training available in the province. They have some of the best training facilities and instructors in Canada. If you have any doubts, check out the training opportunities available in each of Alberta’s building trades. The trade unions are training the province’s next generation of skilled workers.
- Union members possess the required on-the-job experience and are familiar with the cutting edge industry practices in their increasingly specialized fields.
- Union members get the job done right the first time, which increases productivity.
- Unions lead the way in programs to support disadvantaged groups in the labour market. 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 Aboriginal workers in the building trades. (for the efforts Trade Winds and its partners are making to bring trades training opportunities to Indigenous people in rural Alberta, check out our recent Trade Winds Partnership Update)
- Helmets to Hardhats to transition Canadian Forces personnel to the building trades.
- Unions already support apprentice training and scholarships for students. The BTA and its affiliated unions, for instance, support Skills Canada Alberta in its efforts to interest Alberta youth in the Building Trades and fund numerous scholarships for students.
- Union workers have enviable safety records and help to make sure workplaces are safe. In many jurisdictions, unions have played an important role in securing legislation protecting workers from unsafe workplaces.
- Union workers do raise wages, not just for themselves but also for other workers, which means a better standard of living within a community.
- Unions involved in Community Benefits Agreements will take in new qualified members, thereby growing Alberta’s skilled workforce and increasing its ability able to take on future projects.
- Union members give back to their communities. Just check out the many causes supported by the Building Trades of Alberta and it’s affiliated unions as well as the work done by the BTA Charitable Foundation. The Foundation has donated more than $6 million to charitable organizations in this province!
An Alberta Community Benefits Agreement can help to level the playing field for all stakeholders. It can certainly benefit unions and allow their members to show the true value of their labour. But unions in turn bring important advantages that will benefit the other stakeholders in a Community Benefits Agreement. The Building Trades of Alberta refers to it as the Skilled Trades Advantage – with good reason.
In our next blog, we look at how a provincial Community Benefits Agreement can positively impact major infrastructure projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.