Allthough Peter Niro, director of human resources, didn’t recommend that city council not attempt again to get out from under the 1987 Ontario Labour Relations Board decision that labelled the city as a construction employer, I thought the report he presented Monday night was written in a manner to discourage council from going that route.
But council, despite the city seeing attempts in 1998 and 2004 to have the decision reversed go down in flames, to its credit decided to try again, voting 12-l to do so.
The only vote against came from Ward 6 Coun. Joe Krmpotich, who said he could never vote to decertify a union.
I found this a sad comment, a sitting councillor putting his union ties ahead of his responsibility to the city as a whole and totally ignoring the unfairness of the situation in which the city finds itself when it comes to putting out tenders.
The city, like only Toronto, Hamilton and the Region of Waterloo in the province, can only accept bids from unionized construction companies.
This came about in the Sault when those working on a construction project at the fish hatchery under a government grant were certified by the Labourers and Carpenters unions.
The city fought it but lost out when its representative through a misunderstanding missed the OLRB meeting at which the issue was being addressed.
I find it appalling that Krmpotich cannot see the unfairness in the situation as it stands, non-union and even some union contractors, and their employees, of course, being shut out of bidding on city contracts.
Council would like to garner support from wherever it can in its bid to get the OLRB decision reversed and one of the people it would like onboard is Ross Romano, our MPP.
I would say a.
I put one question to the candidates in the provincial byelection last year, which Romano eventually won, asking where they stood on the issue of the city being one of only four in the province to be designated as construction employers by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
“I am writing to ask you where you stand on a situation where any contractor who does not have a contractual relationship with the Labourers’ International Union and United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners cannot bid on projects sponsored by the City of Sault Ste. Marie,” the question read.
“Would you fight to get the city out from under this restriction if its citizens choose you as their provincial representative on June 1? In what manner would you do this?”
I said I didn’t expect a reply from Krmpotich because of his union ties and he was the councillor who in 2014 called for the two-week deferral which became permanent of any discussion of Bill 73, the Fair and Opening Tendering Act, a private member’s bill presented by Michael Harris, the Progressive Conservative representative for Kitchener-Conestoga.
And I didn’t get it.
I also didn’t expect a reply from Amaroso, as she was mayor when that council, separating itself from councils of the past that had fought the city’s designation, declined to support Harris’s effort on our behalf. And she was running for a party that teamed up with the NDP to defeat Harris’s bill.
But Amaroso did reply, saying she was “open to having discussions on the matter.”
I misguidedly thought Romano would support the bill, which would have amended the Labour Relations Act to exempt municipalities from sections 126.1 to 168, thereby preventing unions from certifying municipalities and boards of education under the terms of a construction collective bargaining agreement.
I thought he would not only support bringing back Harris’s bill but actually push the Progressive Conservative Party to present it rather than it going forward again as a private member’s bill.
But I got nothing from him, which led me to believe that he was putting his fear of offending union voters in the city ahead of what would be best for the city as a whole.
Will it be any different now?
Since he has never answered an email or phone call from me and didn’t reply to my questionnaire during the byelection campaign, I won’t be giving you the answer to that.
So I guess we will have to wait to see what his response is to the city’s request for support.
Councillors Matthew Shoemaker and Ozzie Grandinetti presented the resolution that got the process moving Monday night, basing their move on the fact that the Essex School Board challenged its designation as a construction employer and won, the first in the province to do so.
Grandinetti and Shoemaker indicated in their resolution that it is expected to cost between $600,000 and $800,000 to challenge the construction-employer designation but this would be more than offset by savings of between $400,000 and $15,000,000 from not being designated a construction employer.
I have never been able to understand the OLRB’s resistance toward changing the designation since it is so patently unfair.
And I have never been able to understand why the Liberal government would have sided with the NDP to defeat Harris’s motion. I can only assume it was because it has no idea of what being fair means.
Since only four communities are involved, it could be considered hard to make this an election issue.
But also since one of the communities is Toronto, with its clout it is worth a try to make it so.
It must continue to be made clear that seeking this change is not about taking on the unions; it is about making the tendering process fair for the city and all construction companies, union and non-union, and creating savings for the taxpayer.