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Hamilton city council debates financial impact of exclusive carpenters’ union deals

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The City of Hamilton entered into exclusive certification with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA) Local 18 in 2005 for non-residential building projects. However, city officials have recommended against extending that exlusive agreement to heavy and residential construction. According to a City of Hamilton staff report, being tied to one union hits city coffers with up $10 million in cost increases on standard capital projects.

Labour Relations

Staff report claims current deal costs city an extra $10 million

HAMILTON

The City of Hamilton is free to negotiate with any and all construction labour unions for future non-ICI work. However, officials are bound to a 2005 deal signed with the carpenters’ union for certain projects, politicians were told.

“As it concerns heavy and residential (construction), you are within your power to negotiate what is right,” Joseph Mancinelli, Labourers’ International Union of North America international vice-president, told Hamilton City Council.

“As it concerns ICI, you have no choice but to accept (the current carpenter deal.)”

The war of words erupted this week as Hamilton politicians met to discuss the financial impacts of using union construction labour on city projects.

Hamilton has appealed to Ontario’s labour ministry to amend the Labour Relations Act allowing municipalities to be recognized as non-construction employers.

Being tied with one union hits city coffers with up $10 million in cost increases on standard capital projects, according to a City of Hamilton staff report.

The city entered into exclusive certification with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBCJA) Local 18 in 2005.

Over the next eight years, city staff said the certification would cost Hamilton an additional $440 million on its $1.1 billion water and wastewater projects.

Harold Caley, representing UBCJA Local 18, suggested city officials do not have enough information regarding escalating costs due to certification. He said an information “comfort level is needed” before they make any decision on current or future collective agreements covering heavy and residential work.

The carpenters union is currently seeking non-ICI collective agreements with Hamilton.

Entering an exclusive agreement limits the city’s ability to find the best price for work, city staff warned councillors.

Hamilton has a list of 260 large construction contractors but only 17 have UBCJA affiliation. As it concerns its water and wastewater projects, of the five contractors who perform the majority of this type of work in Canada, none are affiliated with UBCJA.

“With water and wastewater projects, you are building a machine,” explained Jeff Pigott, Kenaidan Contracting Ltd. Vice-president. “There is only a small pool of contractors who do that.”

Pigott noted Kenaidan is one of the five contractors which would be excluded if the city exclusively went with the carpenters for non-ICI work.

Mancinelli also stressed that 3,200 LIUNA members live in Hamilton and 60,000 in the surrounding region. An exclusive contract with the carpenters for non-ICI work would affect these families directly. He also points to the expertise and dominance LIUNA-member companies have in the non-ICI field. This experience helps “save the city money and taxpayers money,” said Mancinelli.

The Hamilton District Heavy Construction Association noted there would be “catastrophic” effects if the city exclusively went with the carpenters union for non-ICI work. The association represents 69 companies which have performed over 90 per cent of the city’s municipal projects over the last two years.

Joe Lieberman, representing the association, told council the city’s field of qualified bidders for non-ICI “would dwindle to next to none” if it entered the exclusive non-ICI agreement.

Caley said UBCJA Local 18’s door is open to council members concerning negotiation and any questions they may have. He added the carpenters “are not imposing anything on anybody.”

Hamilton council will still pursue its Labour Relations Act amendment. The council will also instruct staff to explore the legalities and issues concerning an exclusive agreement.

by Vince Versace

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