I’m going to ask you to do some imagining with me for a few minutes.
Imagine that you live in a country and pay lots of taxes to various levels of government. In this country, you are a construction worker who belongs to union A. You are happy to hear politicians announce plans for much-needed infrastructure projects—new roads, bridges, hospitals, schools—to create employment and improve the lives of those who live in the country. Your tax dollars contributing to new work opportunities for you and your fellow members!
Now imagine the government’s next announcement is that these projects will be built only by members of union B. Why union B? Because union B is a generous supporter of the political party that formed the government. When union B scratches its back, the government scratches union B’s back in return.
Doesn’t sound fair, does it? Well, it isn’t fair—and it isn’t right. But this is exactly what is happening in regions across Canada.
Can you guess who union A is? That’s right—we are! CLAC is the largest union among a group of unions commonly excluded from publicly funded infrastructure projects. Thousands of CLAC members are employed by contractors not permitted to bid on publicly funded projects in their very own community—Toronto, Waterloo, Sault Ste. Marie, Hamilton, to name a few—simply because of their union affiliation.
This practice is known as restricted tendering. Governments restrict bids on public projects to those contractors with favoured union affiliation. It is horribly unfair to the rest of the taxpaying citizens who happen to belong to—as a matter of their constitutionally protected free choice—a union not favoured by the government.
But it gets worse. What do you think would happen to the price of cars if the government decided that 80 percent of dealerships were not allowed to sell cars? The answer is obvious: the price of cars would go up.
The same thing happens when governments decide that up to 80 percent of construction firms are not eligible to perform publicly funded work. According to a 2018 research report (“No Longer the Best”) by the think tank Cardus, restrictive tendering can increase the cost of public infrastructure projects by as much as 30 percent. The government doesn’t necessarily spend more money—it just builds fewer projects. And we all pay the price for that.
It’s incredible to imagine that in a free and democratic society, the vast majority of workers and contractors cannot work on some publicly funded projects because they don’t belong to the “right” union.
CLAC has been actively campaigning to achieve fair and open tendering for all publicly funded projects in all communities across the country. And the good news is that our efforts are working! For example, the city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, has taken up the fight and is working hard to release itself from the confines of restricted tendering, realizing just how bad it is for the city, its citizens, and taxpayers.
We will continue to fight for justice in the area of public procurement so that all construction workers—regardless of union affiliation—have fair access to work in their communities, and all citizens enjoy the greatest possible benefit from their tax dollars. This is a great example of how, together, we can build better communities.