The BC NDP launched the community benefits agreement (CBA) initiative last year with the promise that it will deliver "jobs, training and apprenticeships, and more trade opportunities for Indigenous peoples, women and youth around the province."
Who could take issue with that? The idea that public money on construction projects should benefit the community, and especially disadvantaged members of that community, certainly sounds right.
The criticism of CBAs has mostly been that the scheme will hand work in a non-competitive way to a small group of traditional trade unions, all of which have deep historic ties to the NDP. Much analysis has focused on the vast additional sums that projects delivered through CBAs will cost taxpayers. But while British Columbians are outraged by the blatant cronyism of the CBA scheme, their criticism has been muted by their approval of the notion of it providing "community benefits."
However, while there is no argument over whether the community should benefit from infrastructure work undertaken with public money, the argument is over whether the work must be handed to traditional trade unions in order for the community to benefit.
To better illustrate problems with the whole NDP CBA scheme, look to our company, LMS Reinforcing Steel Group (LMS).
LMS has long provided reinforcing steel supply and install services to many of B.C.'s largest infrastructure projects. B.C. operated and owned, LMS has provided steel supply and install for the Sea-to-Sky Highway, the Golden Ears Bridge, the Highway 1 expansion, the Vancouver Convention Centre, Ruskin Dam and BC Place, to name just a few. Within this province, we employ over 550 people.
LMS is not a member of a traditional trade union and is therefore effectively precluded from all infrastructure projects undertaken with CBAs. While the NDP will argue that LMS can still bid on CBA work, our employees would be forced to join the union and we could not do the work with our own employees; we would be forced to rely on any workers the union chose to dispatch to us. Effectively, LMS is excluded under the CBAs.
Excluding LMS from CBA projects might be warranted if such exclusion provided clear benefits to the community - benefits that LMS is unable or unwilling to provide. In other words, the ends of providing broad community benefits might justify the means of LMS exclusion.
But consider the following:
1. LMS has very few competitors for this kind of major infrastructure steel work in B.C. By excluding LMS, the competition is dramatically reduced, and the taxpayer will pay more for the work handed to our competitors.
2. Our employees rejected the traditional trade union model. LMS was raided by a traditional trade union in 2014. After the union spent many months of effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars, our employees voted to reject it by an overwhelming 4-to-1 margin. LMS employees concluded that LMS pay and benefits, including an employer contributed RSP program, was preferable to what they could obtain by joining the traditional trade union.
3. LMS has an internal training and apprenticeship program that meets or exceeds what the union offers. In January 2019 alone, the LMS Academy delivered 29 classes and 127 hours of technical training to 134 employees. This training is provided on a virtually unlimited basis at no cost to our employees. Our employees apprentice toward the exact same trade designation as the union ironworkers, and LMS advances capable, hard working employees far more rapidly than the trade union ever will.
4. LMS employs far more women, First Nations members and new immigrants as ironworkers in B.C. than the trade union. By and large, construction trade unions remain bastions of white male privilege. By contrast, LMS ironworker crews in B.C. currently include 19 women, 48 First Nations workers and 20 new immigrants. Over 30 years ago, LMS introduced the first women to the ironworker trade in B.C. and we continue to enthusiastically welcome women to the trade. We work with First Nations and new immigrant groups to place their members and we employ, train and quickly advance anyone who is willing to work hard.
5. LMS gives to the communities in which it works. As just one example, LMS has donated more than $1 million to Canucks Place Children's Hospice. Our employees are proud, contributing members of our local communities.
Norm Streu is president and chief operating officer of LMS Reinforcing Steel Group.