Millroy: The Sault Has Been Caught in its Ugly Web for 31 Years

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I am not a fan of Premier Doug Ford as it strikes me that he is too similar to U.S. President Donald Trump, a thought which speaks for itself.

However, he has just come forward with legislation that has a section in it with which I certainly am in full agreement.

The Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018, was introduced in the Ontario Legislature on Thursday and among changes to numerous pieces of legislation is the following:

“Amend the Labour Relations Act, 1995, to explicitly deem public bodies, including municipalities, school boards, hospitals, colleges and universities, as ‘non-construction employers’.”

An accompanying explanation points out that “certain broader public-sector entities have become bound to collective agreements for the construction industry, even though they are not actually in the construction business. This proposal would explicitly deem municipalities, school boards, hospitals, colleges, universities and other public bodies to be “non-construction employers” under the Labour Relations Act, 1995.”

This, considering the Sault has been caught in its ugly web for 31 years, is welcome news.

Personally I would have preferred this section of the legislation to have been the subject of a separate bill, rather than being included in one with changes to multiple other pieces of legislation. The way it stands, with the section that really affects the Sault included among the many, we could end up waiting, as the entire bill is debated, for some time for a solution to a problem which the city has already lived with for far too long.

The problem the Sault has been facing came about in 1987 when several men, hired temporarily under a government job program to perform work at the fish hatchery, complained that they were being paid only $6.50 an hour rather than the $14.95 granted union labour. LIUNA Local 1036 signed them up and the OLRB went along with it when the city’s representative didn’t show for a hearing..

The OLRB ruled that employees hired directly or sub-contracted by the city to work on city projects must become “party to respective collective agreements” and receive union scale.

This meant the city essentially was considered to be a construction employer.

The cities of Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo are the only other cities in Ontario to have suffered such designations, although the Windsor and Essex County Board of Education was also caught by it.

I have long thought it was ridiculous for the OLRB to come down with such rulings and it was just as ridiculous that successive Ontario governments, Liberal, NDP, Conservative and Liberal again, did nothing to correct a practice that is unfair to non-unionized firms and their employees..

The Windsor and Essex County Board of Education in 2016 won its three-year fight before the OLRB to have its construction projects open to all contractors and workers.

That decision caught the attention of Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker and over the next two years he introduced four motions to council to keep the issue alive.

In a news release regarding the proposed legislation Shoemaker said:

“Since 1987, the City of Sault Ste. Marie has been a designated construction employer which has meant that two provincial unions (Labourer and Carpenters and Joiners) have had a monopoly on city work to the exclusion of all other local businesses, whether unionized or non-unionized.

“This means that small businesses who have the capacity and expertise to do the work the city needs done are being excluded from city contracts. They’re paying local taxes but being shut out of local work.

“Efforts over the last three decades to fix this broken system have fallen on deaf ears. It is great to see the Provincial Government have the foresight to do what’s right for millions of taxpayers across the province.”

Indeed it is.

In 2013 Progressive Conservative MPP Michael Harris had a private member’s bill, the Fair and Open Tendering Act, before the legislature that city staff recommended council support.

The intent of Harris’s bill was to make the wording in the Act so clear that even the OLRB could understand the way it had worked in the past and how, if Harris’s bill was passed, it would work in the future.

Council deferred the issue on the basis of a complaint by Ward 6 Coun. Joe Krmpotich that it was an attack on unions and needed public input.

There was, of course, plenty of input already available, as was pointed out by then-mayor Debbie Amaroso and then-Councillors Lou Turco and Susan Myers, the only three who voted against deferral.

The deferral ended up being the virtual killing of any possible move by council, the suggestion by staff simply fading away.

In the end it really didn’t matter. Harris’s bill unfortunately failed, shot down by the Liberal government.

It should always be noted, however, that it had the support of our then Liberal MPP, David Orazietti, who wasn’t blinded to the unfairness of the issue by party lines.

In the government release about the new legislation, it explains that if the proposed amendments are passed, this is expected to increase competitiveness for broader public-sector construction projects.

If the amendments are passed?. The Progressive Conservatives have a majority in the legislature so at least the section at hand better pass because, considering the action or inaction of previous governments, such an opportunity may never come again.

I have railed about the unfairness of the OLRB rulings in these cases for years. It gives me great satisfaction to see a solution sitting on the horizon.

So I say to the PCs, get the job done.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The big question is how could such a erroneous decision be kept in place for so long. It really shows how inept our governments can be when they apparently don’t understand the ramifications of rulings that go beyond the purview of the body making the decision.
    The OLRB, HRC and other such bodies need to be looked at closely and reigned in when it comes to what they can decide on and if their decisions are even legal. It seems that too often they don’t know what their role actually is, the laws pertaining to why they are making rulings on and in some cases they makes decision because it ‘feels good’ or they think the current laws in place ‘aren’t fair’.

  2. Sault taxpayers have definitely paid tons more money over this issue for the past 31 years, but be careful, Doug, all that glitters in not gold.

    Lowest price bids on big city construction projects usually come from… wait for it… big, NON-SAULT construction companies 🙁 And non-Sault companies will NOT use local workers unless it makes financial sense to do so.

    Long Term Bottom Line: FEWER LOCAL WORKERS used on Municipal construction projects that cost a little less.

    Therefore, and this is a gigantic one Doug, our municipality is LESS WELL OFF because non-local labour money EXITS the city rather than having LOCAL LABOUR recirculate their earnings within the Sault.

    Before this new legislation passes we have:
    1) MORE EXPENSIVE municipal construction projects, and
    2) The vast majority of labour money going to local workers (to recirculate in the Sault).

    What we TAXPAYERS really want to accomplish with this new legislation is:
    1) LESS EXPENSIVE municipal construction projects (which this legislation facilitates), and
    2) As much of the project’s labour budget going to local workers (to recirculate locally). (Which this legislation DOES NOT facilitate (as yet)).

    Municipalities should be LEGALLY permitted to consider the amount of the Labour budget of each Municipal construction project that will go to LOCAL LABOUR as one of the DECIDING FACTORS, along with price, to determine who will be awarded the project.

    Municipalities should be legally permitted to make decisions that are in their own best interest.

    Right now they don’t. Not by a long shot.

    With the new legislation they STILL won’t… they must choose based on PRICE ONLY.

    But governing PC MPP Ross Romano can change that by having the legislation amended to give all Municipalities the LEGAL RIGHT to consider the amount of money used in a project that will remain in local workers hands, and use that information to choose who gets the project.

    You can do it MPP Romano!

    Make it happen for the benefit of your family’s community Ross.

    Sincerely,
    MAB

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