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Union criticizes Ontario Progressive Conservative pledge on College of Trades

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by Daily Commercial News

International Union of Operating Engineers local 793 lambastes Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, who opposes mandatory certification of skilled trades

Letter to the editor

Tim Hudak’s campaign pledge to eliminate the College of Trades is one of those ill-conceived, knee-jerk-type promises that politicians occasionally make when seeking election.

It is simply not good public policy and is probably just payback to appease a fringe group of supporters on the ideological far right.

Sadly, this type of pendulum politics has become a reality in Canada. The decision by the Conservatives to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary form and the promise during the federal election to scrap the long-gun registry are but two examples of this type of thinking.

Unfortunately, this pendulum swing is threatening health care, education, and the Labour Relations Act in Ontario, and it could have devastating consequences for many institutions.

Promises made by Hudak will only contribute to this destructive public policy. He has pledged to do away with card-based certification in construction and eliminate compulsory certification of more trades by scrapping the College of Trades.

Earlier, Hudak also stated he’d get rid of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, although he now appears to be backtracking on that idea.

Instead of attempting to undermine unions, though, Hudak should be supporting the work we do, especially in the area of training.

Local 793 and its 12,000 heavy equipment and crane operators wholeheartedly support training initiatives and have worked to make construction sites safer in Ontario.

In conjunction with our contractor partners, we have contributed in excess of $100 million to training over the past 30 years. Presently, we are spending nearly $7 million a year to train operators at the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario (OETIO) in an effort to guarantee that we have the best, most efficient and safest operators anywhere.

Independent research by the Construction Safety Association of Ontario, which is now part of the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, demonstrated that this training has made worksites safer. Since 1977, when compulsory certification was established for crane operators, injuries and deaths have been reduced by close to 80 per cent.

It is important to note that compulsory certification and mandatory training for crane operators was introduced in Ontario by the Conservative government under Bill Davis. Both Davis and then labour minister Bette Stephenson deserve credit for making such a decision.

Every government, except for the one led by Mike Harris, has supported compulsory certification for certain construction trades, the obvious reason being that trained workers are more skilled and safety conscious. Hudak is threatening to dismantle many of the policies that unionized workers and construction employers have fought for over the years.

There will always be non-union operators or contractors who claim that unions do not play a positive role or are no longer needed.

However, Glen McMullen seems to have missed the point in his letter to the editor. Workers should be free to decide what is best for them. He claimed that during his 41 years in construction, companies have only been too happy to pay more than what unions pay, and without him having to pay union dues.

Mr. McMullen is very naive to believe that he alone can garner all this goodwill from employers and that they are happy to pay him more than the union rate. The fact is that unions set the standard by negotiating with employers and he is merely enjoying the benefits of that process.

Unions such as Local 793 represent workers on provincial advisory committees, health and safety committees, and on committees established by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to address regulatory or technological changes in the industry. We also lobby and gather support to improve occupational health and safety practices.

It was because of our efforts on a joint labour-management board of the provincial advisory committee for hoisting that self-erecting tower cranes are now covered under hoisting regulations.

Hudak has been spouting a lot of rhetoric lately, but he fails to recognize the positive role unions play in training, health and safety, and negotiating pension and benefit plans for members.

In his letter to the editor, Mr. McMullen inferred that right-to-work legislation is a good idea. The fact of the matter, though, is that workers already have the right to be union or non-union.

The workers I represent are highly skilled and have decent pension and benefit plans thanks to the fact they are unionized. I sincerely believe that they made a pretty good choice.

Mike Gallagher
Business Manager, Local 793, International Union of Operating Engineers

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