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Compulsory unionization goes too far: poll

Most British Columbians disagree with restricting public contracts to companies with a unionized workforce
The Pattullo Bridge. C

Mandatory union membership on public transportation construction projects is tilting the playing board too far for most British Columbians – including the governing NDP’s own supporters.

In a poll done exclusively for The Orca, 58% of B.C. residents said they disagree with the provincial government making construction contracts the exclusive purview of Building Trades Union members.

Earlier this year, Horgan and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena announced that both the Pattullo Bridge and the Highway 1 expansion project from Kamloops to the Alberta border would be built under “Community Benefit Agreements.” They claimed the agreement would spark more apprenticeships, training and local hiring – worthy goals, but aspirational under these agreements.

Buried much (much, much) deeper was another new policy – not aspirational, but hard and fast. Every worker on these projects would be forced to join a Building Trades Union – one approved by the NDP government.

Even if workers had chosen to be organized in different ways – progressive union, employee association, or open shop – they will have to become members of the Building Trades.

For a party and government which take pride in supporting and promoting trades unions, the NDP was uncharacteristically sheepish. It wasn’t mentioned in the official announcement event, and took pointed follow-up questions from the Vancouver Sun’s Rob Shaw to pry this out.

Fair or not, it created the impression the NDP government tried to sneak this through – which didn’t help generate support. “Forced unionization in other words, and with selected, NDP-approved unions,” groaned The Sun’s Vaughn Palmer.

Compulsory union membership aside – and however you choose to describe them – community benefit agreements are expensive. Even the transportation minister has admitted this will add 7% to the cost of the $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge, while other analysts peg it at as much as a 37% price jump.

Granted, 30 percentage points is a large variance. But whether you choose to believe the low estimate, high estimate, or somewhere in between, it’s a considerable price hike. Significantly,  the Trudeau Government and TransLink – two organizations that don’t easily blanch at high price tags – have refused to replicate the model on the Arbutus subway and Surrey light rail.

Little wonder, then, that only 29% of those surveyed supported the plan. Of those who voted NDP in the 2017 provincial election, just 42% supported it.

Both Green and BC Liberal voters overwhelmingly opposed the plan.

Not surprisingly, some 62% of people who live in non-union households opposed the plan, as did 53% of those in public sector union homes.

Private sector union homes, some of whom are represented by these Building Trades Unions, also opposed the monopoly, 44% to 37%.

It’s worth noting that only 15% of the 250,000 British Columbians who work in construction are represented by “approved” unions. The other 85% have been cut out.

The survey, done on behalf of The Orca by One Persuasion Inc., of 1,005 British Columbians was conducted using a representative sample panel, between Sept. 4 and 7, 2018. The results have a margin of error of +/- 3.1%, nineteen times out of twenty. The results have been weighted by age, gender, region and past provincial vote to ensure accuracy.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca