Hamilton City Staff Recommends Procurement Be Open to All Qualified Workers
CLAC Applauds the Recommendation
Hamilton, ON—CLAC welcomes a report from Hamilton city staff that clearly recommends that construction work paid for by the city be openly tendered to all qualified contractors and workers.
At present, the City of Hamilton can only accept bids for major construction projects from contractors whose employees are members of the carpenters’ union. Companies whose workers belong to other unions or are not unionized are not permitted to bid on major buildings and certain infrastructure work. If council accepts the recommendation, it will end a labour monopoly that the carpenters’ union has had since 2005. Research done in 2018 by the Hamilton-based think tank Cardus shows that when the pool of bidders is reduced by labour monopolies, municipal construction projects cost 8-25 percent more than they would under open tendering.
“Until 2005, the city relied on a long list of qualified contractors that were unionized and non-union. That changed when the carpenters’ union unionized the city on behalf of three workers assembling a play structure. Due to a flaw in the Labour Relations Act, this subjected the city to restrictions that force Hamilton to reject all bids except from companies unionized with the carpenters’ union,” says Ian DeWaard, CLAC Ontario director. “The strong recommendation from staff that the city openly and fairly tender projects will better serve taxpayers, while also supporting all workers qualified to work on these projects. Eighty-five percent of construction members in our union believe that closed tendering has unfairly impacted them and restricts their access to work. Opening up projects to all qualified companies and workers will provide more opportunities for our members and all workers.”
The City of Toronto is also subject to closed tendering and staff there have made a similar recommendation to become open to all qualified contractors, regardless of which union represents a contractor’s workers. New updates to Ontario’s labour laws introduced in April will ensure that cities and school boards are treated like purchasers of construction, not construction contractors. Those cities and public bodies that are currently closed—like Hamilton, Toronto, and the Region of Waterloo—have until July 3 to decide if they will become open, or stay closed to competitive bidding.
“CLAC is concerned primarily with the fairness of this issue, but we cannot overlook the serious savings to the city that open tendering will bring,” says DeWaard. “Open tendering will allow the city to remain fully in control of the quality and safety of contractors it selects, and the city will also benefit from a less complicated procurement process that nets better value for projects. It’s hard to imagine that council could vote to reject the recommendations of the staff report when they also know that their budgets are facing constraints.”
The report prepared by city staff will go before the City of Hamilton General Issues Committee on June 19. CLAC represents 6,000 construction workers in Ontario who are currently restricted from bidding and working on industrial, institutional, and commercial (ICI) work in the City of Hamilton and elsewhere.