BC Liberals threaten skilled trades. Again.

Today at the campaign event where the BC Liberals pledged to resurrect the Massey Bridge project, they also mentioned they would abolish ‘community benefit agreements’. Those are by definition a ‘project labour agreement’ that typically involved a group unions and has terms that outline apprenticeships and training for those working on major infrastructure projects.

CBA’s or PLA’s are hated by anti-union campaigners, such as the benefactors of the BC Liberal Party, and various other big business groups; and they’ve been challenged in court before…and upheld at the highest level.

PLA’s built the WAC Bennett Dam in the north and a host of other major things. They’re good as they assure labour stability throughout the life of a project, pay good wages for front line workers, and provide skilled trades training for up-and-coming trades folks looking for a career building things.

Not for the BC Liberals.

The BC version of PLA’s are the CBA’s that have unique terms that require community benefits – such as hiring more women and first nations people (and other under-represented communities) into their ranks. Learning a skilled trade that pays $45+ per hour is financial liberation for many folks who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to reach that far. These are high skilled, upper middle class, lots-of-tax paying, family supporting careers. Why wouldn’t we want this?

Ask the BC Liberals.

The CBA’s are the NDP’s effort to re-establish the skilled trades apprenticeship programs that were gutted by the BC Liberals in their 16 year regime of failure. To be sure, things needed to get built as well – and the BC Liberals did – but they had another angle on this. Their plan was for ‘open-shop’ anti-union operations and an unusual reliance on temporary foreign workers to do work that BC folks could have been trained for.

Because it was cheaper.

In doing so, the BC Liberals created a skills shortage in the 16 years they were in power. It wasn’t pronounced at first, but as the skilled industrial trades aged and retired out of the workforce, this cost issue flipped on them – now it became more expensive to hire these foreign workers to work, then expensive repair work after the fact…when they could have done it right the first time.

Here we are in 2020 with the BC Liberals promising a return to the old ways that cost BC so much and ruined a generation of proud skilled trades workers. Catching up is going to be expensive, but it will cost even more if these clowns get a chance to set us back again.

My2bits

Shady ‘labour’ group upset at fair representation for workers

At stake are the regulations regarding large infrastructure projects in BC that the new NDP government has set in place. In a nutshell, the government is pursuing PLA’s (or project labour agreements) which pre-establish union rates and guarantee no work stoppage on a project. They can be more expensive in one sense as pay rates may be relatively higher, but also deliver certainty and are famous for their on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.

Enter the Progressive Contractors Association, allies of CLAC.

CLAC, or Christian Labour Association of Canada and their allies, are mighty upset by this. While CLAC meets a legal definition of union in the sense of protected status as a member of an association, to most unions, they’d describe CLAC as a ‘rat union’.

CLAC hasn’t done itself any favours to quell this reputation, it lost a recent arbitration with a friendly employer it had a so-called ‘voluntary recognition agreement’ they fought against SEIU. I’ll let you read it for yourself; a link to the LRB decision is linked in the article.

CLAC and the PCA are friendly to the BC Liberals because dealing with these folks gives the BC Liberals some badly needed credentials that they need to not sound so anti-union.

We’re at this place because for 16 years, the BC Liberals gutted the apprenticeship and training programs in BC while the demand for construction and blue collar trades hasn’t gone anywhere but up. How bad is it? Then-Premier got up in front of a business crowd to call for more temporary foreign workers to build LNG.

So this may come as a surprise to folks when the BC Liberals have a phishing page on their site paying lip service to the call for BC workers being prioritized for LNG.

No, seriously.

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In my view, the court challenge being launched against the NDP government’s CBA (Community Benefit Agreement), which is a PLA by definition, is futile. PLA’s have been ruled legal and constitutional before and that’s how WAC Bennett got his dam built in the Peace Country (and many projects since).

Allies of CLAC and the BC Liberals should take this as a lesson that instead of being adversarial and attack working people, start treating them fairly and with respect and you’ll never be on the wrong side of labour again.

But that is a choice.

My2bits