CBAs support our stated purpose: WE Build B.C.

By David Hogben

The first of thousands of construction workers — especially local people, First Nations and women — to be employed under B.C.’s new Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) put their tools to work in July widening a stretch of the TransCanada Highway about 42 kilometres east of Revelstoke.

Members of the Teamsters Local 213, LiUNA 1611 and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115 were the first on the job clearing, surveying and excavating the site on the steep Rocky Mountain slopes.

“Our first workers are now on the ground,” said Greg Johnson, B.C. Infrastructure Board director of industry relations in an interview. “It’s not particularly big, but it’s a challenging construction project all the same.”

The Illecillewaet project includes improvements and expansion of the brake-check area to allow up to 15 commercial trucks, acceleration and deceleration lanes and four-laning of a dangerous two-kilometre stretch of Canada’s national highway.

The Illecillewaet project is the first  part of a CBA to continue four-laning parts of the congested TransCanada Highway between Kamloops and the Alberta border.

It also precedes two other CBAs that will employ thousands of construction workers on the Pattullo Bridge Replacement and the Broadway Subway projects in Metro Vancouver.

Work is expected to start on the three-year Pattullo Bridge project in spring 2020 and the contractor for the Broadway Subway project is expected to be chosen by mid-2020, according to the provincial Transportation Ministry.

Workers on all Community Benefits Agreements are hired by the B.C. Infrastructure Board, which emphasizes hiring locals, First Nations and women.

Of the first 16 workers on the Illecillewaet project, 11 were women, trainees, or Revelstoke locals, Johnson said. Piledrivers and carpenters are expected to join the Teamsters, LiUNA and IUOE members on site in 2020. The Illecillewaet project is to peak at about 25 to 28 construction workers in the 2019 construction season and between 75 and 100 in the 2020 season.

B.C.’s strong economy is forecast to face a shortage of some 8,000 skilled construction by 2016, and B.C. Infrastructure Benefits (BCIB) chair Allan Bruce said recruiting, training and retaining workers from underrepresented groups is critical to meeting the demand for workers.

BCIB, the new provincial Crown corporation responsible for employing workers on CBAs, is meeting with five First Nations groups in the region: Splatsin, Simpcw, Little Shuswap, Adams Lake and Neskonlith, and groups such as the B.C. Centre For Women in the Trades to recruit workers.

In addition to skills and safety training, all workers hired on the Illecillewaet and other CBA projects receive cultural competency training “so that some of the conflicts that may have taken place on other projects are minimized.

“We are trying to do our best to minimize that, to ensure that people feel safe and welcome on this job,” Bruce said.

As a former IUOE crane operator, training instructor and training institute manager, Bruce understands the benefits of training B.C. workers.

“I have seen the value that a career with a family-supporting job gives to individuals, families and communities,” Bruce said.

“I think there is a tremendous opportunity under this CBA to really get that right for more people. A higher percentage of people who enter will complete their journeyperson’s status.”

The benefits go beyond the obvious financial boost that workers and their families receive, and extend to the communities as well.

“It attracts further investment in small communities. And the province as a whole,” he said. “So it will be a legacy for B.C. as well.”

Those benefits are just part of what anti-union analysts leave out when they compare the costs and benefits of public sector construction projects done with or without Community Benefits Agreements.

Some projects with CBAs have higher labour and training costs, but greater certainty to complete on time and on budget as they also include no-strike and no-lockout provisions.

And the training of local, First Nations and female construction workers leaves B.C. with a lot more of value than just a widened highway, a new bridge or a subway line.

“Those benefits to the local communities, to the individuals and to the province of B.C. (that come from) building a workforce are huge,” Bruce said.