Constitutional challenge launched against NDP government for reserving public construction for building-trades unions

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      In 2007, the Hospital Employees' Union won a landmark decision in the Supreme Court of Canada against the B.C. Liberal government.

      The court ruled that collective bargaining was constitutionally protected under the freedom of association provision in section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

      This came after the Gordon Campbell government cancelled an existing collective agreement with health-care workers.

      Now, organizations that represent B.C.'s nonunion construction sector are invoking the same section of the charter in trying to strike down the B.C. NDP's new union-only rule for public construction projects.

      In a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court, these associations allege that the building-trades-only requirement "infringes on the freedom of expression, freedom of association and political equality rights of construction workers".

      They claim that's because these workers must join unions and pay dues to building-trades unions if they want to work on major public projects.

      The petitioners are seeking a judicial declaration that this rule is an "unreasonable exercise" of Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena's authority. Therefore, the petitioners maintain that it should be struck down.

      “John Horgan is attempting to direct more than $25 billion in taxpayer-funded construction to his donors and supporters in the building trades unions,” ICBA president Chris Gardner said in a news release. “It’s simply not fair to discriminate against the 85 percent of construction workers who are not part of the old-fashioned hiring hall model where unions control who can work where and when. Construction workers in B.C. deserve better from this government—they deserve choice, fairness and a level playing field.”

      The petitioners are the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, Progressive Contractors Association, Christian Labour Association of Canada, Canada West Construction Union, B.C. Chamber of Commerce, B.C. Construction Association, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Vancouver Regional Construction Association, various companies, and several individuals.

      The government has not yet filed its response.

      The province has already announced that it will create a new Crown corporation to hire unionized workers for major public projects, including the $1.4-billion replacement for the Pattullo Bridge.

      This move is strongly supported by B.C. building trades, who say that the "community benefits agreement" is "open and fair" because both unionized and nonunionized companies are still permitted to bid.

      "The workers under their supervision will receive union wages and benefits for the period of time they work on the project. (Yes, those workers will have to join the appropriate union after 30 days.) When the non-union contractor completes their contract, the non-union contractor leaves the project as it entered: non-union," the B.C. building trades say on their website. "It prevents unionization from being used as an organizing tool; coverage for workers under a collective agreement ends when the project is completed."