Respect for Workers in Sault Ste. Marie, Indeed!
/ Author: Hank Beekhuis
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Respect for Workers in Sault Ste. Marie, Indeed!

Workers’ rights are respected when exercise of union choice doesn’t deny access to public work

By Hank Beekhuis, Ontario Director

Tom Cardinal’s Letter to the Editor (June 8, “When you build you have to respect the right of workers to join unions”) deserves a fair reply.

Mr. Cardinal and most Ontarians know that several unions perform carpentry work. We only wish that the right of union choice was respected.

Mr. Cardinal’s union monopoly limits access to public work based on union choice. The fair and open tendering discussion in Sault Ste. Marie is about an accidental monopoly one union has secured.

Worker freedom to associate with any union or none is provided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their expression of that right should not determine whether they may be employed on municipal projects.  

Most carpenters in Sault Ste. Marie are deprived of the civic pride that comes from building their city. Further, they are kept from earning in wages what they pay in taxes.

The Carpenters Union monopoly, which Mr. Cardinal is fighting to preserve, has the City of Sault Ste. Marie treated as a private construction company and subject to a provincial collective agreement as if it were one. This agreement—which is determined by the big construction companies and which the city does not even influence—preserves a labour monopoly for the Carpenters Union. 

We support an inquiry about the costs this monopoly imposes. Mr. Cardinal contends that competition will bring no savings.

Let’s allow the city to investigate whether its construction dollar can be extended by fair and open tendering. After all, the city is not a contractor but a purchaser of construction from private companies. It should not be restricted to choose from only the minority of firms who qualify by union affiliation.

The one example given by Mr. Cardinal of the Carpenters Unions flexibility shows only that cooperation exists at the pleasure of the local union. In fact, for that project, the nonunion general contractor had to lay off his regular carpenters and employ those whose union maintains this monopoly.

Respect? Carpenters in Sault Ste. Marie are respected when exercise of union choice doesn’t deny access to public work. Fairness to taxpayers means competition among quality construction contractors with no regard to which labour relations model its workers have chosen.

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