A three-decades-old monopoly on City of Sault Ste. Marie construction projects held by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and the Labourers' International Union may be about to end.
Proposed changes to Ontario's Labour Relations Act, tabled Thursday by Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government, explicitly declare municipalities, school boards, hospitals, colleges and universities to be non-construction employers.
"Since 1987, the City of Sault Ste. Marie has been a designated construction employer which has meant that two provincial unions have had a monopoly on city work to the exclusion of all other local businesses, whether unionized or non-unionized," says Ward 3 councillor Matthew Shoemaker, who's spearheaded a two-year campaign to break the two-union arrangement.
"This means that small businesses who have the capacity and expertise to do the work the city needs done are being excluded from city contracts. They’re paying local taxes but being shut out of local work," Shoemaker says.
The proposed legislative changes are among 30 red-tape-slashing initiatives included in the Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act tabled by the Ford Tories.
"Certain broader public-sector entities have become bound to collective agreements for the construction industry, even though they are not actually in the construction business," the government said in background materials prepared for media outlets. "If the proposed amendments are passed, this is expected to increase competitiveness for broader public-sector construction projects."
Councillor Shoemaker was elated with the news of the Conservative intervention.
"After two years of renewed effort to have the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s construction employer designation changed, I am thrilled to see the provincial government introduce legislation today to do just that. With the introduction of the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, the provincial government will save municipalities millions not just in legal fees from fighting a broken legislative system, but will also save them up to 30 per cent of every infrastructure project they undertake. This is great news for fair and open tendering across Ontario."
The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) is also applauding the proposed change.
“This groundbreaking legislation is a giant step forward in treating taxpayers, workers and employers fairly,” Sean Reid, PCA's vice president and Ontario regional director, said in a written statement.
PCA's member companies employ more than 25,000 skilled construction workers, many represented by the Christian Labour Association of Canada.
"Restrictive tendering is unfair to many local companies and workers by preventing them from bidding and working on local projects. Currently, more than 83 per cent of qualified companies, many of them local, are not eligible to bid on Region of Waterloo construction projects. The same goes in other municipalities such as Hamilton and Sault Ste. Marie, where qualified local companies and workers are prevented from building local projects funded by their own tax dollars," Reid said.
"Sault Ste. Marie should be proud that they’ve fought this broken system for the last 30 years, and that those efforts are now paying off thanks to the provincial legislation tabled today," added Shoemaker.