December 18, 2020
2020 BEGAN AS IT DOES EVERY YEAR – with our annual Bentall Memorial in January, when we commemorate the four workers whose lives were lost in the Bentall IV construction disaster. This small ceremony has particular importance for me as we are always honoured to have the workers’ families attend. We are able to come together, connect and, I hope in some small way, help carry the burden of their grief. The memorial inspires and motivates us to recommit ourselves to making our workplaces safer.
A month later, in February, we lauded a BC Supreme Court decision not to hear a frivolous charter challenge of the BC NDP government’s Community Benefits Agreement. The court ruled that the challenge over the union membership requirements of the CBA does not rise to the level of issues that are heard by the court – a decision later upheld by the BC Court of Appeal.
Then, suddenly, an uneasy darkness settled over all our lives.
A week after our annual convention in March, the words “COVID-19” and “pandemic” became parts of our everyday lexicon. We were told to stay home, to wash our hands frequently and to stay two metres away from one another. Simple feats for most; impossible for the thousands upon thousands of construction workers who continued going to work every day to build and maintain the scaffolding of our economy.
Almost overnight, our province was staring down the barrel of twin crises: a public health crisis brought on by COVID-19 and an economic crisis in its wake. Construction workers were called upon to literally carry the economy on their backs, and they did it so capably.
Our 40,000 members – who have been building our province for decades – were deemed essential, just like health care workers and other service providers whose jobs are crucial to our day-to-day living. These highly skilled women and men went about their respective trades constructing vital public infrastructure like transportation and energy networks and water systems. They worked tirelessly to maintain the heating, plumbing, electrical, ventilation, insulation and other systems that keep our buildings open. They drove to and from communities across this province delivering the goods and services imperative to public health.
At times, their working conditions were significantly challenging. Sanitation became a critical factor in our members’ safety. Indeed, proper sanitation has been an issue in construction for decades, and the fact that our council created a committee 40 years ago to push for better sanitation standards in the industry is proof that this is not an easy dial to move.
With COVID-19, urgency and advocacy have finally aligned, and we saw improvements in working conditions throughout our sector. We’re keeping constant vigilance to ensure all construction sites maintain the highest adherence to safety protocols and that workers are treated with the dignity they deserve.
It has been a challenging year, to be sure. The global pandemic has tested our resilience and our solidarity, and I am proud to report that the men and women building B.C. have endless supplies of both. These workers – our members – are our greatest strength and our highest achievement.
To our members, I wish you the best of the season in all the ways you celebrate. Thank you for all you do, every single day.
Executive Director, Interim