The NDP's move to force unionization is an affront to one of the core values of the labour movement: a worker’s freedom to choose.
The NDP’s so-called “Community Benefits Agreements” are, in reality, a complete misnomer.
Who truly benefits? Not the vast majority of BC construction workers who work non-union or with progressive unions. Not the taxpayer, as there is already an admission by the government that this model will add significant costs to the targeted projects. And not women or Indigenous workers, as the agreement lacks any enforceable metrics for inclusion.
The true – and only – beneficiaries are a hand-picked group of building trades unions who have shown their political allegiances over the years by way of activism and huge political donations to the NDP.
We now live in a new era where corporate and union donations to political parties are forbidden. But make no mistake about it, this change has nothing to do with a shift in values or a change in allegiances between the NDP and the leadership of the traditional unions.
Between 2005 and 2015, unions in BC handed over $12.79 million of their members’ money to the NDP in a shameless display of partisan support. In the three months leading up to the date the legislation came into effect, the NDP’s union pals found a way to squeeze in another $1 million, plus.
Employees working under a collective agreement in BC are legally compelled to pay dues to the union representing them. And so it should be, as every employee enjoys the benefits of membership.
The friction is introduced when unions willfully chose to ignore their core mandate, which is workplace advocacy, and fancy themselves as political kingmakers. Union members do not pay dues only to have their union turn around and give a portion of their wages to a political party. Nor do they pay dues to be told how to vote.
Whether it’s doling out huge sums of cash or actively soliciting votes for their party of choice, there is always a quid pro quo involved. And the introduction of the so-called “Community Benefits Agreements” are, without a doubt, the NDP’s chosen gift to their political allies in the traditional union movement.
The NDP’s handpicked trade unions, representing a mere 15% of the construction workforce, are going to be the beneficiaries of huge public infrastructure projects, where all employees working on these taxpayer funded jobs are obligated to become members and pay dues to one of the 19 government-chosen unions.
Forced unionization of this sort is an affront to one of the core values of the labour movement: a worker’s freedom to choose. The NDP is hiding behind a false promise of labour stability and the so-called elevation of marginalized groups like women, Indigenous workers, apprentices and the hiring of local employees.
Of course, by embedding such requirements in the procurement process, all of these objectives could be achieved without a monopolistic and inefficient labour model, and without robbing a worker of the right to determine how they want to be represented.
But the building trades unions are calling the debt and John Horgan and the NDP have committed to repaying them in the form of exclusive deals for their political union allies. The end result is that 85% of construction employees working non-union or for the “wrong unions” are excluded.
BC is on the front end of a huge call for skilled labour. If there is a time for the government to be inclusive and to avoid inefficient and cumbersome monopolies for inexcusable political pay back, that time is now.
Ken Baerg is the Executive Director of Canada Works, the Council of Progressive Canadian Unions, a collaboration of leading labour unions – large and small, active in all sectors of the economy who share a passion for advancing positive, partnership-based labour relations that fosters shared prosperity through partnership, innovation and choice.