TORONTO - Premier Wynne is in election mode, so she will understand the Basketball analogy. She has proposed a meeting with Joe Mancinelli (pictured above), International Vice-President of LiUNA, Canada’s largest Construction sector Union (by the numbers, its Locals in the GTHA alone boast a membership of about 70,000), for tomorrow.
She will be trying to inbound the [political] ball against a full-court press. And, Team LiUNA may just decide to walk off the court, so to speak.
While not “allies”, the Liberal government and the union have been traditionally “friendly” towards each other’s interests.
Then, in the last ten days, upon reviewing the omnibus Budget Bill, LiUNA staff and lawyers ferreted out proposed changes to “the Designation Orders” established in the early Seventies, under the Labour Relations Act.
The Budget Omnibus Bill covers an assortment of Acts which need to be amended, if it is to be implemented, once passed and proclaimed. One of them includes Schedule 14 under the Labour Relations Act (amended in 1995).
Under the Act, dating back to 1974, “Designation Orders” assigned certain Unions and their Locals jurisdiction in specific geographical areas for particular trades. The government of the day, then headed by Premier Bill Davis, was attempting to establish labour stability in a sector of the economy where labourers were being exploited and cost-overruns were the order of the day.
Despite some drawbacks, over the last 42 years, the two main contending Unions - Carpenters and LiUNA – and their Locals learned to live with the arrangement. They stayed out of each other’s way.
In fact, in South-Central Ontario, specific geographic areas were accorded to LiUNA. Its Local leadership was left to its own devices to negotiate labour contracts with local Contractors according to the dynamics of the local economy.
Differences and disputes were and have been settled through the Labour Relations Board (LRB). “Labour issues – pay, benefits, pensions, safety, conditions of work – and labour rights, including those of mobility and association, have been addressed at the LRB, ever since I have been a Union member”, says a frustrated Mancinelli. It’s been the case even after the Labour Relations Act was amended in 1995, he contends.
The government of Ontario has not been able to keep up with problems created in part by the severe shortage of skilled and semi-skilled, but qualified, labour in the construction industry. Federal immigration practices have been unhelpful and may indeed be exacerbating the problem.
Unions have resorted to “poaching” and to establishing Labour-training schools to employment. Provincial governments have been unable to fill the void. Now this.
“How does taking jurisdiction away from one Union and handing it to another” solve the problem, Mancinelli askes rhetorically, barely hiding his anger.
“With this Budget Bill, the government is pre-empting jurisdiction earned over the last twenty years – and re-enforced by precedent-setting LRB decisions – and replacing it with a Draconian legislative intervention … it’s unusual”, and we cannot accept this, he stresses.
Economic Development Minister, Steven Del Duca, acknowledged that process and timing can be debated; but he bristled at the accusation making the rounds that the government is playing favourites between LiUNA and the Carpenters.
He argues that, while the Minister for Labour has carriage of the file, he personally has scrupulously nurtured the interests of both Unions and their membership. “The government has created economic conditions for growth and for expansion – for everyone”, he adds.
Nonetheless, the matter, if not quickly resolved, threatens to derail carefully laid campaign strategies planned by the governing Liberals. They would be well advised to wake up.
Mancinelli’s vocabulary to describe his Union’s perception of the entire legislative process regarding the change proposed to the “Designation Orders” is becoming more vitriolic by the conversation. It escalates from “shock” to “disbelief”, to “favouritism”, to “distasteful”, to “sleazy” to downright “betrayal”.
The language may be hyperbolic but not off the mark. Minister Charles Sousa’s run for the Leadership of the Party was dependant largely on the support of LiUNA Local 183. It moved along with him when he decided to crown Kathleen Wynne party leader. The Carpenters were perceived to be there already; however, Local 183 tipped the scale in her favour. Is not a question of quid pro quo.
The Finance Minister can pull Bill 31 from the Omnibus Bill and refer it to the appropriate Legislative Committee for further consultations, argue some LiUNA members.
He does not have to slavishly adhere to the Burkett Report’s recommendation to follow the current approach. That is a rabbit hole.
It is not a strategy that will allow the government to “put the ball back into play”, as Raptor’s coach Dwayne Casey might say.