Anti-union rhetoric doesn't hold up

LMS Reinforcing Steel Group president and chief operating officer Norm Streu's rhetoric is hard to swallow in his recent guest column in the Prince George Citizen on the provincial government's new Community Benefits construction framework.

Let's recap: Streu concedes support for the basic principles of CBAs, and specifically "the idea that public money on construction projects should benefit the community, and especially disadvantaged members of that community, certainly sounds right."

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Where he has trouble, however, is with the prescriptive involvement of traditional trade unions and being "forced to rely on any workers the union chose to dispatch to us."

Under the hiring provisions of B.C.'s Community Benefits Agreement, local workers are given priority, so it's no wonder Streu has such contempt for the framework.

Streu's company has brought in literally hundreds of temporary foreign workers for jobs. In fact, in one four-month period in 2012, LMS made four separate applications to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program for 124 workers.

In 2015, LMS applied to bring in 15 journey-level ironworkers. On the company's application form, LMS indicated that neither formal education nor the ability to speak a specific language were required. The same application described how LMS received 90 applications from Canadians or permanent residents for jobs, but none were qualified for journey-level work. This doesn't reconcile with the request for TFWs with no formal education.

While LMS and any other contractor - union or non-union - can bid and be successful under a CBA, Streu is at least correct when he notes that workers are required to join a Building Trades union. And here's why: the transparency of the collective agreements makes for more competitive bids (good for taxpayers) and allows all workers to receive the same wage for the same work at the same level. Union membership also allows access to a skilled labour supply from British Columbia and across Canada.

Think about that as you think about this: a recent job posting from LMS Reinforcing Steel Group on advertised a wage of $18 per hour for a commercial ironworker with at least two years' experience. A near identical posting by LMS on an Aboriginal employment services site that expired just in October offered $16 per hour.

The same level of experience for a commercial ironworker under the Ironworkers Local 97 collective agreement earns $22.37 to $23.27 per hour plus pension, casting much doubt on Streu's claim that LMS "advances capable, hard-working employees far more rapidly than the trade union." It is also common for our signatory contractors to pay union members above their set wage, based on production, knowledge and initiative.

As for Streu's assertion that LMS employs more women, First Nations and new immigrants than our union, show me the data. Streu has no access to our membership demographic, nor do we his, aside from LMS's many applications for Temporary Foreign Workers.

Traditional trade unions offer real apprenticeships, formal trades training, higher wages, better benefits, and a meaningful retirement package. In addition, this CBA explicitly states the need to incorporate under represented groups, and as we have made clear, there is a long and proud tradition within Local 97 of this taking place.

Doug Parton, business manager

Ironworkers Local 97

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