April 4, 2023

Al Phillips

Al Phillips – President

BC BUILDING TRADES (BCBT) unions have spent much of our time in the past several months bargaining the terms of the Standard Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) collective agreement which is set to expire on April 30, 2023. Under the strong leadership of Geoff Higginson, president of the BCBT’s bargaining council, representatives from each of our 15 unions met last May to coordinate and develop main table and trade level proposals, with each affiliate presenting proposals on behalf of their membership.

On day one, we reaffirmed our common purpose in representing our members and our shared objective as a bargaining council. Each affiliate was asked to read excerpts from their respective constitutions, explaining the purpose of their unions and the duty to their membership. While the wording varied slightly among us, the main purpose of our unions is consistent and clear. “Labour is capital and is the only capital that possesses the power to reproduce itself, in other words to create capital,” states the constitution of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry. As such, it is the purpose of our unions to defend and protect our members’ labour through unity of action.

Nowhere is this call to action more significant than in bargaining, where we work to advance wages, benefits and other employment conditions for our members. It is at the bargaining table where we demand fair compensation for the value that our members bring to the job site.

This is not a hard sell for us at the table. Our members are the best trained and most highly skilled workers in the industry. Our members bring added value which in turn makes our contractors successful. These are not false or unsubstantiated claims. A recent in-depth study conducted by the international construction engineering and research firm, Independent Project Analysis (IPA) *1, found that union mechanical contractors were more productive and less costly than non-union contractors *2. Despite having employees with higher-than-average wage rates, the projects employing union labour cost less. The report concluded what we have always known to be true: Union workers are more effective, efficient and safer than non-union workers.

Highlights of the report findings:

  • Union labour productivity is 14 per cent higher when compared to open-shop labour.
  • The higher the skill of the craft, the lower the total cost of the project.
  • Union craftspersons and forepersons demonstrated higher levels of skill than those found in open shops.
  • Total project costs averaged four per cent lower when union labour is used compared to open-shop projects.
  • Turnover, strongly linked to higher project costs, is one third less likely when union labour is employed versus open-shop labour.
  • When comparing projects using a mix of union and open-shop labour to those which employ only open-shop labour, the presence of union labour showed benefits in each of the performance measures, including productivity and costs.

Since last May we have spent countless hours in negotiations with the employer. We continue to keep the value of our members’ labour at the forefront of all our discussions, and our message is clear. Our members’ skills, abilities and hard work are what make a project and a contractor successful — no question. It is time for this to be recognized and compensated fairly.

By Al Phillips

*1Quantifying the Value of Union Labor in Construction Projects, Independent Project Analysis (IPA) (December 2022)
*2Investment In Union Labor Pays Off For US Capital Projects, Michael McFadden, Deputy Director Research, IPA (Feb. 1, 2023)