Ford Needs to Step in to Save Money on Sault Ste. Marie City Hall Recladding Project
/ Author: Ian DeWaard
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Ford Needs to Step in to Save Money on Sault Ste. Marie City Hall Recladding Project

By Ian DeWaard, Ontario Director

Sault Ste. Marie, ON—CLAC is calling on Premier Doug Ford to take quick legislative action for the people of Sault Ste. Marie who now face delays and increased costs on its City Hall recladding project.

CLAC is frustrated for workers and contractors in Sault Ste. Marie who are watching public money being flushed down the toilet while two competing labour unions fight about which one of them will get to perform certain work.

The Labourers International Union of North America (LIUNA) is alleging that recladding work on City Hall, currently being done by the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (the Carpenters Union), belongs instead to its union. The dispute will be fought out at the Ontario Labour Relations Board at considerable cost to the city.

“It is a shame that the city is getting dragged into a labour dispute on this important construction project and wasting public money,” says Ian DeWaard, Ontario director of CLAC, which is another labour union in the construction trades. “This is the result of a simple flaw in the Ontario Labour Relations Act that can be easily resolved by the Ontario legislature.”

The labour relations act has created a situation where municipalities can be classified as construction employers. As a result, cities such as Sault Ste. Marie become subject to a number of terms and restrictions intended for construction contractors. Those restrictions require municipalities to tender construction projects exclusively to contractors unionized by specific construction craft unions.

In the case of Sault Ste. Marie, the Carpenters Union and LIUNA each have exclusive domain over carpentry and construction labouring work. Qualified workers and contractors who are not part of those unions cannot participate on city construction projects. Workers who are members of another union, such as CLAC, or who do not belong to a union are ineligible to work on these publicly funded building projects.

An increasing body of research shows that when particular craft unions can monopolize their work, the cost of construction projects increases anywhere from 8 to 30 percent. Municipalities not classified as construction employers do not face these restrictions and can openly and fairly tender projects to the most qualified and best value contractors and their workers.

Because Sault Ste. Marie is beholden exclusively to these two construction craft unions, the city must also ensure that various tasks are assigned to the “appropriate” union. In the present situation, which has prompted picket protests and at least one labour board grievance (called a jurisdictional dispute), each are claiming that the recladding work at City Hall belongs to them. The city is automatically included in that dispute, due to its status as the construction employer.

These types of jurisdictional disputes between LIUNA and the Carpenters Union can create a turf war. Each time a dispute arises, project costs to the residents of Sault Ste. Marie increase, along with completion times.

“CLAC is extremely frustrated for Sault Ste. Marie and its residents who are being so negatively affected by the unfair and inappropriate designation as a construction employer,” says DeWaard. “The city first had to close the door to bids from many local contractors and workers and now faces delays and cost increases. It doesn’t have to be this way. It is time for the law to change.”

The city, along with many other stakeholders in Ontario, has previously called on the provincial government to fix the simple flaw in the Ontario Labour Relations Act that created this problem.

“We support Sault Ste. Marie’s bid to fight the construction employer status,” says DeWaard. “We are also calling on Premier Ford to take quick legislative action for the people of Sault Ste. Marie and all other affected municipalities.”

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