Project labour agreements have to cover everybody

Date: 
Sunday, April 01, 2012
Author: 

Lee Loftus
BCYT-BCTC President
Business Manager, Insulators Local 118

AS THE BUSINESS MANAGER OF THE Insulators Local 118, it’s my job to represent the best interests of Local 118 members. That’s what I’m elected to do. As president of the Building Trades Council it’s my job to represent and defend the rights of all construction workers from every trade.

Lee Loftus - BCYT-BCTC presidentThere shouldn’t be a conflict, but lately it’s becoming harder to reconcile the two offices. Over the last year, an unprecedented number of project labour agreements have been signed by building trades unions. Employers are hunting for our skills. Even non-union employers are calling; they’ve got no problem paying a premium for our workers. A PLA provides employers on-time, on-budget, quality product and industry stability. At long last we’re in the driver’s seat and it feels good.

But there’s a problem. The PLAs don’t always include all trades. Business managers of the selected few are jumping to sign on the dotted line. There’s little thought about the consequences for our industry as a whole. PLAs are the best way to access the competitive building trades advantage.

But we need to find a way to include non-signatory local unions. If we don’t, there will be long-range impacts on union solidarity. Signatory unions need to consider future repercussions for their membership.

What will happen when they need to count on the support of brothers and sisters who were excluded in the PLA? Memories are long. Let’s never fool ourselves. Employers are happiest when they find a crack in union solidarity. Employers purposefully set out to exclude some unions. It might appear that those who are included are benefiting, but every time a PLA undermines another union it weakens our overall power.

There have been at least 10 partial trade PLA agreements over the past year. It’s becoming rampant. In each one, the unions that were left out had a choice; pick up the scraps from the agreement or go pound salt.

In private discussions with other business managers I’ve made my case, now I’m making it to our collective conscience. In order for union solidarity to work we need to trust each other and we need to respect a process that involves every organization.

I respect the right of every union to make its own sovereign decisions.

However, I draw the line when union-specific decisions force other organizations to sell their soul. I’m a realist and I don’t expect human nature to change. We’re all motivated by survival, but I know one thing. We wouldn’t have made it this far if those who came before us had been willing to sacrifice worker unity for short-term gains. Our movement is founded on the principle that

“We hang together or we will surely hang separately.” Our founding fathers stuck with the struggle, hung in there and built solidarity before signing off with employers.

We need to find a better way. The fact is, unless we change our ways, employers are going to keep chipping away at our unity and eroding our strength. If we’re going to survive through this century there’s only one way forward—work together.

BC Building Trades

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Tom Sigurdson, Executive Director

Lee Loftus, President

Lee Loftus - President, BC Building Trades

Tom Sigurdson | Executive Director

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

Lee Loftus, President  |  BC Building Trades

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

Lee Loftus
BCYT-BCTC President
Business Manager, Insulators Local 118

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

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