July 4, 2019, was a day for both celebration and consternation. After seven years of intense lobbying by CLAC, the City of Hamilton, the Region of Waterloo, and Sault Ste. Marie became nonconstruction employers. Thus, these municipalities are no longer bound to restrictive subcontracting provisions that have kept CLAC members from working on major public projects in their regions. As a result of Bill 66, which was proclaimed on July 4, CLAC members and their employers can now bid on police stations, libraries, waste and water treatment plants, and other major projects. As well, the bill prevents any other municipality, school board, or public body from being unionized as a construction contractor ever again.
CLAC has been a vocal and active proponent of fair and open tendering and has dedicated much time and resources to demanding a fix to a fundamental flaw in the Ontario Labour Relations Act. Our efforts have included hiring lobbyists, commissioning third-party studies and economic analysis of the problem of closed tendering, sourcing high-level constitutional legal opinions, member surveys and letters to MPPs, and a whole lot of travel and meetings with politicians and regulators.
With the solution that was achieved, our union has much to celebrate and much to be proud of.
However, the work to make taxpayer-funded municipal projects open to all qualified workers—regardless of which union card they carry—is not yet complete.
In a last-minute amendment to the law, the province gave all closed municipalities a chance to opt out of the effects of Bill 66. The City of Toronto has elected to do so, and as a result, it remains bound to nine different construction craft unions. The ICI projects tendered by Toronto remain unavailable to CLAC members—as has been the case for more than 40 years.
To make matters worse, the city has also decided to enter into a voluntary-recognition agreement with LIUNA. The Labourers’ union was not one that the city had previously been bound to, and so this decision increases the number of construction unions that Toronto has exclusive deals with from nine to ten.
It is this last move that is cause for consternation. CLAC had met with, spoken to, and written to Toronto City Council about the cost and unfairness of closed tendering. We also submitted a clear legal opinion from a specialist in municipal law pointing out illegalities of monopolistic procurement practices. The city is guided by the Toronto Act, and its own procurement guidelines and CLAC demonstrated that the city cannot voluntarily offer a privilege to one union’s members that it’s not prepared to offer to other workers.
One councillor argued that LIUNA is big, and therefore a union to partner with because it invests in training and apprenticeship support. It was apparent that officials had taken little time to understand this complex issue and made a decision that was politically motivated. Interestingly, CLAC was able to demonstrate that our union invests as much or more than the building trades unions, on a per member basis, into skills and safety training and in supporting apprentices.
In response, CLAC has filed a lawsuit in Ontario’s Superior Court asking that the decision of the city council be quashed. That case is scheduled to move ahead this fall.
In a survey completed last year, more than 83 percent of CLAC members expressed the belief that they were missing out on work opportunities because of closed tendering in municipalities. Members told us that this issue needed to be treated as a priority.
We’re pleased to report that as a result of Bill 66, you can now return to work on projects in Hamilton, the Region of Waterloo, and Sault Ste. Marie that you have long been excluded from. So, while more is yet to be done in Toronto, we can take pride in knowing that our union was instrumental in ending the discriminatory and costly procurement problem of closed tendering in much of the province of Ontario.