By Phil Venoit – IBEW Local 230, RSE

President’s View

Phil Venoit - BC’s Building Trades President

Phil Venoit, IBEW Local 230, RSE

It has been no secret that union busting and impeding the right of workers to form unions has been in vogue since the 1980s. Unionization rates in the private sector have fallen dramatically.

The result has not been a boon to any business that depends on consumer spending. Instead, it’s driven the decline in Canada’s middle class. If workers have more disposable income, those people and their families are more likely to shop at local stores rather than having to go without or purchase second hand.

The smug conclusion that “unions are no longer needed” is grossly out of date. There is more income disparity now than existed just before the stock market crash of 1929. Unless we want to repeat that experience of another Great Depression, we need to make sure that the working class get their fair share of the nation’s wealth and, to do that, we need to make private sector unions a thing again! It was higher rates of unionization that led to the rise of the middle class and the prosperity of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The fact that robber-baron capitalism and measles are both trending upward again should tell us how little we’ve learned from our own history.

Implementing Community Benefits Agreements throughout B.C. on vertical construction projects will result in greater prosperity for all construction workers, as better wages and actual benefits that help raise the standard of living for working-class families is just good social policy.

The fact is, unions are not only good for workers, they are also good for the middle class and B.C.’s economy. Unions raise wages of the employees they represent allowing for extra money to be circulated throughout their communities. They increase the retirement, medical, dental and extended healthcare benefits of those same employees, and that leads to pensioners with spending money. Unions reduce income inequality and even increase the pay of nonunion workers by creating a regional job classification standard and reduce employee turnover and therefore increase
the retention of the highest skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen in B.C.

B.C.’s construction unions, collectively by far, sign off on the most completed apprenticeship training. It is for these key reasons that the BC NDP government established the Community Benefits Agreement.

On a final note and with mixed emotions, we are about to say “goodbye and good luck” to a friend and a Brother who has steered the BC Building Trades through some of our toughest of times. Our executive director for the past two decades, Brother Tom Sigurdson, has announced his retirement for the end of the year. I say “mixed emotions” because it’s hard to see someone go who has given and sacrificed so much of his time, energy, intellectual and emotional capital for the benefit of our movement. And yet how, as trade unionists, can we expect for one of us to not enjoy their full retirement. A benefit we have all worked so hard and fought for, the right to retire in dignity. So, Tom, wherever the balance of life takes you, on behalf of the entire BC Building Trades membership, I would like to thank you for a job well done, and hope your best years are yet to come!