June 3, 2012

An American perspective on construction job targeting

Canadian construction contractors may have advantages over their American counterparts because in the United States, the federal government has jurisdiction over collective bargaining, according to a labour lawyer.

Doug Seaton, an attorney with Seaton, Peters and Revnew in Minneapolis, delivered a presentation Saturday at the International Open Shop Conference in Ottawa.

He talked about strategies unions have used in the U.S. to put additional obligations on open shop firms, including the practice of having assessments deducted from wages granted to union signatory contractors to reduce the labour cost of targeted projects.

In Minnesota alone, in 2006-07, $109.26 million went into market recovery funds, which are intended to subsidize union contractors, he said.

There are also “responsible contractor” ordinances and laws, which are designed to put additional obligations on open shop firms.

When U.S. states have tried to control such practices, the authorities have generally ruled that those are collective bargaining matters, which are a federal responsibility. However, he said, states are allowed to set their own purchasing policies.

Seaton said Canadian contractors may have advantages in Canada due to the provincial responsibilities over collective bargaining.

Also presenting at the session, titled “Job Targeting Program: A Canada/U.S. Update” was Bill Stewart, vice-president of the Merit Contractors Association.

Stewart, who is from Alberta, praised the provincial government for addressing the practice in 2008 with the Labour Relations Amendment Act. This required that contributions to such funds could not be deducted from workers’ pay cheques without their consent, that deductions for marketing enhancement recovery funds, or MERFs, be on payroll records and unions cannot punish members for not contributing to a MERF fund.

With MERFs, the “whole integrity of the bid system gets compromised,” Stewart said.

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