TORONTO - On June 19, 2019, Toronto City Council made the clearheaded yet courageous decision to opt out of Bill 66. By so doing, Council upheld the validity of its freely-negotiated collective agreements with construction unions.
It is an important principle, one through which contractors, skilled tradespeople and the City can set minimum standards for workplace safety, quality of work standards and other criteria of social-community and product- related value.
In the case of my Union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, Local 27, that reciprocal working relationship has been in place for almost 60 years. Yes, it has always been about a “value for money” relationship, not exclusively one based on supply and demand.
Some commentators have claimed that by opting out, the City has foregone the chance to save money on its construction contracts. It is an observation unsupported by serious and comprehensive examination by an informed expertise in the Industry. Unionized construction work is generally not significantly more expensive than its less structured counterpart.
The City’s own reports state there is simply no guarantee that abandoning Toronto’s unionized construction workers would result in a single dollar saved. Critics of City Council’s decision also don’t want to talk about the added value which Toronto gets from its relationships with construction unions.
Most importantly, unionized construction in Ontario guarantees a safer workplace environment and all the benefits flowing from that, whether economic or human.
A study conducted, in 2015, for the Ontario Construction Secretariat, by the Institute for Work and Health, found that “lost time injury rates” are 23% lower in unionized firms. The same study, and others, affirm(s) that, in terms of critical injuries, unionized construction workplaces are approximately 30% safer than non-union construction sites.
These statistics translate into real insurance and other economic costs. But there is also the human cost. We should not lose sight of the fact that this industry is one of the most dangerous ones in which to work.
Many Councillors who voted to opt out of Bill 66 asked a poignant question: how many dollars potentially saved under the proposed legislation would be worth the life of a construction worker.
I, for one, am grateful that my City Council chose to priorize workers’ health and safety over speculative and illusory cost savings.
I am equally proud that the unionized construction workforce of Toronto is one of the best trained in the entire country. This fact is no happenstance.
Toronto’s construction workers, through their unions, fund the skills development and training requirements to practice in the industry. The hourly contributions which Toronto’s unionized workforce makes to construction training centers across the GTA add up to millions of dollars every single year.
As Council recognized, without the unions and the training which they provide, it would be virtually impossible for Toronto to produce the next generation of skilled construction workers that this City so desperately needs. Who would make up the cost difference?
Moreover, keeping its relationships with the unions allows the City to maintain, and if not increase, a host of community development programs.
The Carpenters’ Union, for example, has worked actively with the City, its agencies and numerous not-for-profit organizations to help improve the lives of our fellow Torontonians through union apprenticeships and skills training.
It is a long list: young people from “at risk neighbourhoods”; visible minorities; women, and veterans of the armed forces transitioning to civilian life, have all benefited from the chance to become skilled trades persons. Specifically, programs such as Hammerheads, CHOICE, CRAFT (Creating Real Apprenticeships For Toronto), CRAFT Women and Helmets to Hardhats all ensure that access to well-paying construction jobs is open to the widest, most diverse field of Toronto 's citizens - youth, women, new Canadians and those transitioning from Canada's military.
In this way, the City puts its money to work twice. Not only does Toronto’s infrastructure get built but City projects also become the catalyst for building social infrastructure, allowing people to transform their lives through decent paying jobs with pensions and benefits.
Toronto is a great and caring city which makes it a wonderful place to live in. The partnerships in city-building established through Union-City Collective Agreements that made this possible over the last 60 years were at risk of being dismantled by Bill 66.
I am glad and proud that City Council voted overwhelmingly to maintain that relationship instead.
President Carpenters Local 27