Evidence of meeting #69 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was union.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Terrance Oakey  President, Merit Canada
Walter Pamic  Representative, Power-Tek Electrical Services Inc., Merit Canada
Jocelyn Dumais  President, Linden Concrete Forming

5:20 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

No. Temporary foreign workers are extremely expensive.

The average number of employees in our member companies is fewer than 10. They are the construction contractors in the local community, and they understand how important it is to hire locally.

If you want to talk about being able to hire unemployed workers, you may not be aware that in most collective bargaining agreements, if an unemployed unionized construction worker works for one of our companies, his union will fine him, so that's a huge disincentive.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

I do know those laws. I know how they operate.

5:20 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

Okay, good.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

In terms of the companies you represent, you're now saying that of the 55,000 members—

5:20 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

It's 3,500.

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

—none of them use temporary foreign workers. Do you know whether they do or don't?

5:20 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

I know that some companies do. We don't keep a database on our members and how often they access the program.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Thank you.

Mr. Coderre.

April 30th, 2013 / 5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

We're really starting to stray from the topic of our infrastructure study when we get into discussions on temporary workers. Regardless, I learned a lot, Mr. Chair. We discussed the Rand formula and all kinds of things, but I want to talk about infrastructure.

Mr. Dumais, you made an important point, but one that needs to be studied and most definitely proven. We talked about the Champlain bridge because it was an infrastructure program involving the federal government specifically. We might also discuss the future bridge that will connect Canada and the U.S. What specific information leads you to assert that closed tendering processes, meaning those accessible to unionized shops only, will have a direct impact on infrastructure costs? That's a big statement. You're claiming that the union reality will have a direct impact on infrastructure costs. Are you referring to productivity?

I still believe that, no matter the situation, when people want to cheat the system, they are going to do it. Whether a union is involved or not has no bearing on that. It's simply human nature. That's what I'd like to discuss.

Are there any studies?

This question might be for Mr. Oakey too. Are there any specific studies regarding that assessment?

5:25 p.m.

President, Linden Concrete Forming

Jocelyn Dumais

When you have unionized workers, overtime enters the equation, usually after eight hours of work, and that raises costs. A non-unionized worker will be more flexible in that regard.

In addition, unionized workers are separated by class. The carpenter has to do his job, the labourer has to do his job, the painter has to do his job, and so forth. As Walter explained earlier, a non-unionized worker could use a hammer or paint brush during the construction project. In fact, that happens when bridges are built. A unionized stripping shovel operator isn't allowed to pick up a shovel to clean his bucket, but a non-unionized shop would allow him to do that.

A non-unionized worker can choose to work 10 hours a day, and it doesn't necessarily have to mean overtime. He can make that choice. So there's a pretty significant cost attached to that.

Then you have the benefits. Benefits represent about $2 an hour that you have to pay the union. If the total approximate number of hours to be worked on the bridge, be it in Windsor or Montreal, is 10,000, there's a hefty price tag attached to that.

That's the information I am going by.

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

You also realize that Quebec has laws that have to be obeyed. You aren't asking for that to change.

5:30 p.m.

President, Linden Concrete Forming

Jocelyn Dumais

I challenged that law. The excuse I was given had to do with historical events in 1972, when there had been violence on construction sites. It's as though, today, in 2013, Quebec's workers hadn't changed but had stayed the same as in 1972. I was also told that without that law, there would be violence again. On the contrary, everyone knows full well that even after the ruling, despite the workers remaining unionized, there is still violence on construction sites. We saw that last year.

The issue was settled in 2001. Today, I am simply asking the federal government to respect the judges' decision, as is the case in many other sectors.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Mr. Poilievre.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

This is just a correction. As I understand it, you are not suggesting that unions are driving up the price and driving down the quality. You are suggesting that the absence of competition is doing those things. Am I correct?

5:30 p.m.

President, Linden Concrete Forming

Jocelyn Dumais

I'm suggesting that the unions will increase the price. It has nothing to do with the quality of the work.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

I'm asking the other members of the panel as well.

You're not here to suggest that union contracting is bad or inflationary. You are simply here to suggest that there should be open competition for public infrastructure work.

5:30 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

That's correct. That's our position.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Okay.

5:30 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

If union contracting is not as you've just described, then they have nothing to fear from free and open competition because they may in fact be at a lower cost.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Can you describe what's happening now in Kitchener-Waterloo? You suggested that union-free contractors are facing a ban in that jurisdiction as well. How is that?

5:30 p.m.

Representative, Power-Tek Electrical Services Inc., Merit Canada

Walter Pamic

They're facing a potential ban right now. This is before the Ontario Labour Relations Board. As I understand it, it was two unionized workers working on a Saturday, building a shed of all things, when their union filed the application for certification through the card check system. This will, I believe, cut out just over 80% of the open-shop contractors in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

5:30 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

The other point that I'd like to make is that it not only shuts out open-shop, or as some refer to it, union-free employees, but also other unions. The Christian Labour Association of Canada, CLAC, is a unionized shop, and they wouldn't be allowed to bid either. So it's not simply a union versus union-free issue. It's that a specific union has 100% exclusivity on these contracts, and other unionized contractors that are affiliated with other unions can't bid. I hope that you invite some of the other non-affiliated unions to appear here who will likely argue the same point that we are.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

So the ban extends beyond union-free workers to unionized workers who just don't happen to be part of the right union.

5:30 p.m.

President, Merit Canada

Terrance Oakey

Exactly. That's what I said in my opening remarks.

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

That further reduces the competition and therefore raises the price for taxpayers.