Letter: Alberta groups ask NDP to clarify labour positions

The construction groups are looking for more information with an election on the horizon.

The Alberta Legislature

Key Takeaways:

  • Industry groups in Alberta are calling on NDP leader Rachel Notley to be specific about the party’s stance on community benefits agreements and “double breasting”.
  • The next Provincial General Election is scheduled to be held on May 29 unless an election is called earlier.
  • The groups include the Progressive Contractors Association, the Alberta Construction Association and the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of Alberta.

The Whole Story:

Alberta construction groups are calling on NDP leader Rachel Notley to clarify the party’s position on labour issues as a general election for the province looms on the horizon.

In a letter signed by the Progressive Contractors Association, the Alberta Construction Association and the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of Alberta, the groups asked Notley to explain two potential policy changes that they predict could harm the industry and taxpayers.  

“We are reaching out to you on behalf of several Alberta construction associations, who would like clarification on two policy changes that you promise, should you be elected in the upcoming Alberta general election,” wrote the groups. “We are concerned that if implemented, these changes could increase taxpayer costs and limit the access of thousands of Alberta companies and construction workers to public and private projects, during a critical time when demand for their skills is at an all-time high.”

The letter focused on two main issues: Community benefits agreements and “double breasting”.

Community benefits agreements

The groups noted that on multiple occasions the NDP has signaled its intention to implement a community benefits agreement” regime in Alberta to maximize the participation of underemployed worker groups. 

“We believe CBAs, when designed to be fair, open and transparent, can achieve meaningful social procurement objectives,” wrote the groups. “However, these reports note that a new NDP government may look to B.C. as a template for a broader CBA program. We sincerely hope this is a misprint.”

The groups explained that they believe the B.C. program, designed by former Premier John Horgan’s NDP government, is in reality a “grossly coercive program aimed at giving select B.C. Building Trades Unions a monopoly over large parts of the province’s multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects.”

They explained that companies wishing to do work on these projects must do so using exclusively Building Trades Union (BTU) labour and terms, regardless of which labour model they are affiliated with. 

“Given that B.C.’s BTU workers constitute no more than 15% of the province’s skilled construction workforce, this means that the other 85% are excluded from public work that is paid for by their own tax dollars,” they wrote. “We trust you will agree that this arrangement is grossly unfair, anti-competitive and punishes companies and their workers for choices they have freely made.”

The groups called on Notley to clarify the NDP’s stance on CBAs and if it will differ from B.C.’s approach.

“Our industry associations are ready and willing to constructively work with parties across the political spectrum, to pursue social procurement objectives that are fair, meaningful, and productive,” they said.

Double Breasting

The groups stated that the NDP has also pledged to do away with “double breasting” in the construction and maintenance sectors.

They explained that the term arises out of Labour Relations Board decisions across Canada. 

“It is not – and lawfully cannot be – a creation of employers. It arises only when employees, within a group of businesses, decide to be represented by a union that is different from another union representing the employees of another company within that corporate group,” they wrote. “When there are different unions representing separate employees within separate companies – or there is a non-union business in the group – the ‘label’ that is applied from the labour relations perspective, is that the overall business is “double” or ‘triple breasted.’”

The groups explained that no single source of workers has been sufficient to meet the workforce required to construct all of Alberta’s capital and infrastructure projects, whether those workers are craft or progressive, union, non- union, from employee associations, or from outside the province. 

“Healthy competition has resulted in union and non-union employers offering high pay, comprehensive benefit packages, training and learning and development including outstanding workplace health and safety, family counselling services, and other employee supports,” they argued. “Indeed, construction is among the highest paying professions in Alberta, well above the average for all industries and occupations.”

The groups called tinkering with the corporate structure of construction and maintenance firms a misguided attempt to address perceived issues with double breasting .

“At minimum, we would want to see industry-wide consultations before such drastic policy changes are enacted,” they said. 

The groups concluded by highlighting the province’s “Alberta is Calling” campaign aimed at attracting workers from other provinces, including skilled trades workers from under-utilized groups such as youth, women, immigrants, and Indigenous Peoples. 

“The policy changes under consideration could send a very different message: that Alberta is really only calling upon a select few, at a time when the province’s construction industry faces a dire and growing shortage of skilled labour,” they wrote.


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