A project to replace the CN Rail level crossing on Highway 16 between Prince Rupert and Terrace is behind schedule. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Impact of union-friendly work plan unknown in northwest

Agreement affects at least $500 million in planned projects in B.C.

The provincial government has yet to decide how an all-encompassing plan to boost local employment, train apprentices and hire more women and First Nations workers under the umbrella of union contracts will play out in the northwest.

Provincial construction projects worth more than $500 million, either committed, planned or requested for the northwest, stand to be affected by the province’s new Community Benefits Agreement announced last month.

The companies involved in the construction will hire workers through a new Crown corporation, which in turn will sign contracts with the province’s major trades unions.

Topping the construction list is an overpass spanning a CN level crossing on Hwy16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert.

Government officials now say they’re developing employment plans for northwest provincial construction contracts with details promised over the next year.

“Our government is working to make sure that local communities share in the benefits of building major infrastructure projects. That means supporting local businesses whenever possible, creating good paying jobs for people and providing an opportunity to train and apprentice workers,” said the provincial infrastructure and transportation ministry, which is in charge of the new community benefits program.

In announcing the benefits agreement premier John Horgan said the emphasis will be on hiring locally.

“Our objective here is to make sure that we can, to the greatest extent possible, hire local contractors to make sure they hire local workers,” Horgan said. “I’m confident there will be no shortage of work.”

READ MORE: CN level crossing overpass project likely over budget

A contractor for the CN level crossing overpass project between Terrace and Prince Rupert, with an original forecast budget of $37 million, won’t be chosen until next year.

Under the province’s community benefits agreement, workers will be required to join construction unions, and while non-union companies can bid on contracts they must also pay union-scale wages.

A multi-page agreement setting out wages, benefits and working conditions signed by the province and major construction unions will be applied to projects. It contains a no-strike/no-lockout clause and for the purposes of hiring defines ‘ local’ as someone who resides within 100 kilometres of a specific project.

Should no qualified people be found within B.C. efforts will then be made to find workers in the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, followed if necessary by extending the search to the rest of Canada with temporary foreign workers coming last.

The benefits agreement was quickly criticized by non-union companies and associations and labour unions not connected with the province’s major trades unions, saying it gives those unions a labour monopoly and will result in higher project costs which will be borne by taxpayers.

RELATED: B.C. NDP prepares to move on labour, employment standards



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