Construction union rivalry in provincial politics

di Joe Volpe del 10 March 2020

TORONTO - It’s hard to score  goals if you’re sitting on the bench.  Even if you are fortunate enough  to get playing time, the opposition  puts its elbows up to ensure you  don’t become a threat. Situation  normal.

Even so, Steven Del Duca’s selection as Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) must  have produced the shortest political honeymoon on record. The  Labourers International Union of  North America (LIUNA), head- quartered in Washington D.C.,  used social media to launch a  scathing invective the nature of  which is usually associated with  language employed by scorned  lovers.

Del Duca has work to do.  LIUNA used to be a stalwart of  the OLP and is a darling of some  erstwhile Federal Liberal MPs. Its  role in the construction industry of the GTHA is undisputed. 

LIUNA claims 75,000 members in  Ontario, over 60,000 in Local 183  alone. It has a sizeable pension  fund and is a builder/investor in  projects located in Ontario and  beyond - as far away as Turkey. Its  motto is “Feel the Power”.

LIUNA was aggrieved that a  labour measure hidden in the  bowels of the last Liberal Omnibus Budget Bill in 2018 might  erode its territorial rights to some  government procurement contracts in the Kitchener-Waterloo  area. In the interests of balanced  reporting, the Corriere looked into the issue. 

Without judging the merits of  the Bill or the number of union  members affected, the timing  stunk – only a few inhabitants of  la-la-land in the former Premier’s  office expected that the Budget  Bill would survive the election in  June, 2018.

LIUNA stuck to its claim that  the manoeuvre was deliberately designed to advantage its rival,  the numerically smaller Carpenters Union – Local 27. Mr. Del  Duca, a protégé of former MPP  Greg Sorbara, had worked as its  Government Relations advisor  prior to jumping into the political  fray himself, some 10 years ago.  In a display of its motto, it ordered its workers o™ their jobs  sites by the thousands to rally  in protest before the Legislature  and to offer their support to Doug  Ford, now Premier, and to the  candidate who opposed and went  on to defeat Del Duca in the election. His was a fate shared by all  but six other Liberals in Ontario. Ironically, Del Duca’s infrastructure initiatives (highway extensions, railway stations, hospitals, schools) benefited members  of LIUNA most directly. 

Premier Ford did not cancel  any of them - even as he cancelled  other Liberal measures in the  Omnibus Bill, including construction specific entities like the College of Trades.

The skies are no longer as bright  for Ford’s government as they ap- peared in 2018, yet LIUNA’s leaders chose to personalize and publicize their antipathy for Del Duca  and the Provincial branch of the  Liberal Party on which they rely. Tweets coming out of the Canadian President’s o ce claimed  that Carpenter’s Local 27 had now  effectively become the OLP. 

The race for top spot relied  heavily on grassroots organization that saw Del Duca’s team  gather close to 60% of signed  members. 

If LIUNA’s lament reflects reality, then it suggests an inevitable  conclusion that Local 27 outhus- tled Local 183. I don’t think either  claim can withstand the test of  scrutiny. Nonetheless, Del Duca  is not the only one who needs to  reach out and repair. 

Someone in the communications branch of LIUNA may wish  to restructure messages of organizational strength that begin with  a subtext: “we’ve got the power  but the other guy skated us off the ice”.


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