Ontario Carpenters’ Union plans court fights to preserve workers’ rights

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Ontario’s Carpenters’ Union, experiencing a loss of political influence and power following the provincial election that led to the Doug Ford’s Conservative Party victory, says it will form alliances and fight in the courts to preserve worker’s rights under the new regime.

The union had advocated for the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), seeking compulsory certification status for its trade, only to see these visions dashed when the Conservatives took power in part with support from the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), which feared OCOT enforcement actions would erode customary relationships within the working environment.

Now the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO) says the government’s decision to end construction union certification status for municipalities and other public agencies threatens long-standing collective bargaining agreements – and it is prepared to fight the new legislation all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“In short, the ability of construction workers working for these types of employers to freely bargain collective agreements for their construction work will be made unlawful,” the union statement says.

These measures represent an unprecedented attack on construction workers, said Mike York, president and public affairs director for the CDCO, which represents some 30,000 members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America in Ontario.

“The current laws concerning these types of employers and their relations with construction unions were put in place by the last Conservative premier, Mike Harris, but even they apparently do not go far enough for Doug Ford,” said Yorke. “Our union has had productive relationships with these types of employers, such as the City of Toronto, which in many cases go back decades, and which are designed to ensure that the employers get real value for money while construction workers can make a fair and honest living. Apparently, those types of relationships are not something that this premier wants to see continue.”

The contentious new legislation will end card-based certification for construction workers with these public organizations. Opponents to the previous rules have asserted that certification can be forced on an entire municipality because a couple of workers on a weekend sign union cards, resulting in significant cost increases without representing the majority of workers.

Yorke said the card based certification model makes the most sense for the construction industry because of the transient nature of its workforce and projects. “When there isn’t a card based certification, there is abuse of power, there is intimidation, pressure as it leads out to (the certification) vote, people are fired, people are intimidated,” he said. “We’ve some of the most aggravated examples of abuse from the other side.”

(While the government is removing the card based certification model from the public sector through Bill 66, there is no word yet on whether the Conservatives will introduce further amendments to the Ontario Labour Relations Act and require secret ballot votes for all construction unions and projects.)

See: Ford government to loosen rules restricting bidding to unionized construction contractors in several Ontario municipalities

Yorke said the Carpenters’ Union will aggressively make their case at Bill 66 second reading public hearings. The union is also mobilizing its communications strategy with job site education, stewards’ meetings, regular union meetings, emails, texting, and hard copy communications, he said.

“The carpenters have not been members of the Ontario Building Trades for a number of years,” he said. “However we’re going to engage in collaboration with them and with the public sector unions. All working people are under attack by this government.”

He said Bill 66 was introduced without public consultation. “We’ll demand consultation as it goes through second reading at Queen’s Park.”

Could the carpenters even find common ground with LiUNA’s membership despite the LiUNA’s’ election campaign support for the Tories?

“All working people are going to be impacted by these changes, and it is incumbent on all organizations working people that they fight,” Yorke said. If card based certification is ended, “I have no idea where they (LiUNA) are going to be on this. Their members are impacted. I don’t know about their leadership.”

“This attack on the rights of working people came out of nowhere,” he said. “It’s not the way to conduct business in Ontario. We’re going to challenge it all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.”

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