June 11, 2022
WE ARE THE BC BUILDING TRADES: 25 affiliated unions representing more than 40,000 unionized construction workers in B.C. Most of our craft unions were formed many years ago, several with over 100 years of service to their respective memberships.
Like many things, the benefits of union membership have changed and expanded over time. Our unions were originally formed for the purpose of protecting the integrity of our trades, improving safety standards, and gaining better wages, benefits and working conditions through our collective bargaining power. These reasons are still very much valid today, and now more than ever we need unions. In Canada, and globally, union membership has declined over the past five decades and the result has been rising wealth inequality, poor wage growth and declining economies.
Strong unions mean better wages and benefits. This in turn provides working people with a better way of life, with access to health care and the ability to afford better housing, food and other consumer items. This ultimately creates a strong economy. Strong unions mean safer worksites and job security, and allow members to look forward to a comfortable retirement.
In recent years, many attacks and union busting tactics have emerged that continue to restrict workers’ ability to form unions. We have the growing gig economy, which takes already vulnerable workers and classifies them as independent contractors, denying them the basic rights a union would otherwise provide. We have recently seen large, high-profile corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon spend millions in an effort to thwart the unionization of their employees, and yet workers are demanding their right to collective bargaining.
While bargaining for our members’ rights continues to be a top priority, the work and reach of our affiliated unions has progressed far past the negotiation table. Our collective lobbying campaigns have made a significant difference in influencing government policy and legislation. We are pleased that now in B.C. we have a progressive government who is receptive to our demands to amend legislation in favour of workers. Significant gains have been achieved with changes to the WorksafeBC guidelines with respect to enforcing proper washroom and cleaning facilities on jobsites and changes to the Workers Compensation Act enacting stricter regulations for those working with asbestos. The new Skilled Trades BC Act achieved royal assent in March, and at long last recognizes the critical value of our trades, and now requires workers in certain trades to be either certified journeypersons or registered apprentices. And after decades of lobbying, Bill 10-2022 was tabled in early April and proposes to adjust the certification process in B.C. to a single step process (card check), removing a significant barrier to those workers who want to unionize their workplace.
Our unions have also been instrumental in our local communities, from supporting local food bank campaigns and most recently donating over $600,000 in relief to B.C.’s flood victims.
When it comes to training, unions continue to set the bar high and set the standard for industry. Our affiliates have invested over $50 million in training assets. With over a dozen training facilities, which form part of the College of the BC Building trades, union apprentices have access to the latest technology in their field and are supported by union members and instructor mentors as they progress through their apprenticeship.
We are the BC Building Trades and our unions continue to be instrumental in bettering the working lives of our members and of all workers, while supporting the communities in which we live.
By A.D. Al Phillips RSE
A.D. Al Phillips is president of the BC Building Trades and business manager/financial secretary of UA Local 170.