Since being elected, Premier Doug Ford has been promising that Ontario will be “open for business.” While it makes a great rallying cry, and for a nice sign to post at Ontario’s borders, it has yet to become true for Ontario construction workers who are shut out of work opportunities due to closed tendering.
Closed tendering is caused by a loophole in Ontario labour legislation. As a result, when municipalities are unionized by a construction craft union they become subject to strict no-contracting-out provisions. Those municipalities must therefore ignore qualified bids from companies that aren’t also signatory to the union to which the municipality is bound. In reality though, it’s workers who are being discriminated against because they have opted to belong to an alternative union, or to no union at all.
This is what happened in Waterloo in 2012 when two workers erected a garden shed at a local library. The workers were represented by the Carpenters Union. Now, work on most regional infrastructure is restricted to firms affiliated with that union. It has also occurred in Hamilton, Toronto, and Sault St. Marie.
CLAC has been actively calling on the Ontario government to bring a quick end to closed tendering restrictions in Ontario’s municipalities. A recent report by Cardus, an independent think tank, demonstrated that this practice is costing taxpayers more than $370 million per year in added public infrastructure costs. It estimates that the constraints on competition result in an average premium cost of 15 percent or more, on more than annual $2.5 billion worth of publicly funded municipal infrastructure work.
These unnecessary restrictions can also lead to protracted and costly legal disputes. Sault Ste. Marie is currently facing delays and increased costs on its city hall recladding project 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) has alleged that the work, 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.
CLAC wants the provincial government to correct this flaw in labour legislation. Taking action will protect taxpayers and open municipalities up for business to all qualified contractors and workers. Our union represents more than 5,000 workers in Ontario’s construction sector. In a recent survey of those members, 91 percent of respondents identified an end to unfair tendering as their priority concern in construction.
We have members who can do this work at the high standard the municipality expects and for equal compensation. We just need Ontario municipalities to be open for business.