A roundtable recently organized by the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) explored the frustration some contractors are experiencing over what they state are unfair labour laws that prevent them from bidding and working on municipal construction projects.
The event, held in Cambridge, Ont., addressed issues surrounding restrictive tendering in the Region of Waterloo and the City of Hamilton, which are considered construction employers and only contract work to companies who are signatories to the Carpenters' Union. Over 30 stakeholders participated in the discussion including local contractors, labour representatives and associations.
"We clearly heard a growing frustration from the contractors that were in the room with regards to the restrictive tendering in Hamilton and Waterloo," explained Sean Reid, vice-president of member relations for the PCA.
"The reality is that our contractors are seeing the problem growing in scope. In some cases, contractors have seen over 25 per cent of the work they did in their own communities dried up because of this."
Mike Doupe, vice-president of McLean Taylor Construction Limited and a member of the Conestoga Heavy Construction Association, said local construction companies are concerned the Carpenters' are starting to claim more work and creep into heavy civil projects that aren't part of the province-wide ICI agreement.
"The Region of Waterloo is certified by the Carpenters' Union on ICI and they have had to adopt the province-wide agreement on ICI construction," explained Doupe. "What they don't have is province-wide agreements on the heavy civil side, but what we're finding is that there have been some projects this year that have been deemed to be under the jurisdiction of the Carpenters' Union and others are unable to bid.
"We're seeing it happen more and more that they are taking projects that would historically be classed as heavy civil."
What people need to see is how much more closed tendering is costing municipalities, he said.
"What has to happen right now is, I believe, as concerned contractors, we need to submit tenders fully knowing that we will be thrown out, letting the people of the Region of Waterloo and the politicians know what the price should have been," Doupe noted.
"We would be showing that this bid could have been a lot less if it was an open tender."
Andrew Regnerus, Ontario construction co-ordinator for the Christian Labour Association of Canada, said as a union rep, he is concerned his members are being shut out of doing work for a variety of contractors.
He explained one of the contractors at the roundtable said he had teamed up with another contractor that is signatory to the Carpenters' Union and they submitted a bid for a project in the City of Hamilton.
The company made it clear that although they are a general contractor and not part of the union, all the carpentry work would be done by a sub-contractor, one that is recognized by the Carpenters' Union.
"Because they themselves were not signatory, the City of Hamilton disqualified them and the job went to a general contractor that is signatory to the Carpenters' Union at a premium of $500,000," claimed Regnerus.
Both Reid and Regnerus said companies are choosing not to submit bids on certain construction projects because they think they might be disqualified.
"We've seen bid lists for major projects, like a major airport project in Waterloo Region, a major bus pad, down to one or two bidders," said Reid.
"The data we continue to hear from contractors is that the Region of Waterloo and the City of Hamilton and other affected municipalities are paying up to 30 per cent premiums on some of that work because of such limited competition. These are locally-owned operated taxpaying businesses that can't do work in their own communities because of these blatantly unfair legislative loopholes in the Ontario Labour Code."
Various contractors will use resources to throw in a shadow bid when they believe it will be thrown out but they are careful in the event that their bid is selected, Regnerus noted.
"They are putting in legit bids not just to prove that there is a problem but that they will do the project for that amount of money," said Regnerus
"They're trying to draw attention to it.
"In fact they are investing thousands and thousands of dollars as part of their own protest. They are throwing real money at these bids so they can demonstrate that taxpayer money in public procurement is being wasted. It's not a union/non-union issue, it's just the one specific union versus other unions or non-union. "
Another concern voiced by roundtable participants is that there seems to be a creep or a spread of jurisdiction from the work that is traditionally considered carpenters' work to any work that includes carpentry, explained Reid.
"The other area of creep is there is concern within our membership, very real concern, that other municipalities may be next," explained Reid.
"We will continue to talk to the leadership at Queens Park about this issue to make them aware of the substantial costs associated with closed tendering, the patent unfairness of the situation. We'll also be encouraging municipalities to raise their voices on this issue because ultimately it's hurting them and their ability to build the infrastructure they want and need and it's unfair to their taxpayers."