A cautionary tale from the Prairies - The Orca

A cautionary tale from the Prairies

Yvette Milner Merit 2018 cropped

Manitoba is moving away from mandatory unionization – here’s why

When Manitoba’s legislature resumes sitting this fall, one bill in particular will attract keen attention from the provinces construction sector – and anyone who wants value for their tax dollars.

Bill 28 — the Public Sector Construction Projects (Tendering) Act – preserves choice. It ensures that all employers and their employees have the opportunity to bid and work on public projects without having to join or pay dues to a building trades union, or having the provincial government impose a labour model upon their workplaces.

Quite frankly, this legislation should be enacted in all provinces across the country.

Manitoba’s experience is a cautionary tale.

It’s an example of what to avoid for all other provinces – but it’s particularly timely in British Columbia.

For the better part of the last two decades, Manitoba’s previous NDP government discouraged firms without building trade unions from bidding and working on major infrastructure projects. It required employees to pay dues to a building trade union, whether or not they wanted to.

The B.C. government is heading in this same direction with their Community Benefit Agreements.

It simply doesn’t reflect modern Canada. 70% of the construction industry across the country is open shop – and in B.C. the non-union to union ratio is even higher – 85% to 15%.

When the majority of the industry is allowed to participate, competition goes up, costs go down, and innovation and productivity increase. Project labour agreements can have their place, but they need to be done openly – and not imposed.

Governments should allow all qualified employers and their employees to work on the project, regardless of the labour model they choose to employ.

Manitoba’s Bill 28 does not eliminate project labour agreements, but rather allows the successful bidder to determine the labour management model that works best – for the specific job, for the company, and for its workers.

A few facts about “union-only procurement.” A closed-project labour agreement system, as supported by the Manitoba Building Trades, forces workers to join a designated trade union, or pay union dues to work on major public infrastructure projects – even though the projects are being paid for by the workers’ own tax dollars, and even though those same workers have rejected joining a union.

That’s called forced unionization.

Project labour agreements on Manitoba projects such as the Red River Floodway, East Side Road and Keeyask dam had, or currently have, project labour agreements forcing all workers to pay dues to a union.  There’s nothing wrong with identifying terms and conditions on a project – such as Aboriginal participation, using local workers, etc. – forcing non-union workers to pay union dues as the price to work is just wrong.

Unfortunately, this appears to be the way B.C. is going.

The Manitoba government is doing the right thing. British Columbia – and other provincial governments – should follow suit.


Yvette Milner is president of the Merit Contractors Association of Manitoba