A city’s decision to review its infrastructure buying power has generated a surprising amount of attention from labour, most recently from Pat Dillon (“Sault Ste. Marie City Council decision could open a race-to-the-bottom in local economy”), business manager of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario.
Let’s be clear about motivation: labour monopolies are great for business for those that hold them. Other labour leaders press for open tendering so that their members, too, can access municipal work.
Motivations aside, fair tendering gives access to all qualified workers who live in Sault Ste. Marie, not just those inside the monopoly. It will also save the municipality a tremendous amount of money because competition allows more contractors to bid.
Using a low-end estimate of eight percent savings through open competition, the think tank Cardus estimates the city of Sault Ste. Marie could save over $2.5 million over two years on the city’s central library, the museum, the police building, and the administration board building combined. The city and citizens will appreciate being able to spend those savings on other priorities without impacting workers or infrastructure.
Some have recently argued that competition and open tendering results in a “race to the bottom”—a race that they say will lead to unsafe work sites and inferior workmanship. We ask you to reject the logic of that argument.
This city, like most others in Ontario, has sophisticated procurement policies to vet bidders. These policies and the city’s prequalified bidder lists are in place to ensure that the city awards construction projects to qualified, safe, experienced contractors.
It is unreasonable to suggest that membership in a specific union is a more effective litmus test than Sault Ste. Marie’s own carefully developed selection criteria. While unions, including CLAC, do raise the quality of worker training, excluding companies not tied to a specific craft union is not a logical or fair means of quality assurance.
It is a fact that CLAC-signatory companies’ safety records are equal to or better than those of other unions. Our exclusion from work in some municipalities is due to a loophole in Ontario legislation and not for safety reasons.
The City of Sault Ste. Marie’s in-depth investigation of the impact of closed tendering will consider all evidence, including that from municipalities such as the Region of Waterloo, which has most recently become subject to a closed tendering monopoly. We applaud city leaders and know that their investigation will prove conclusively that the impact has been higher costs for the city, exclusion of reputable construction companies, and unfair treatment of hard-working local taxpayers.
The Ontario legislature is improving conditions for workers. Cities can too. When each Ontarian has equal access to construction work purchased with public money, including in Sault Ste. Marie, we can say we have achieved fairness, improved livelihoods, and achieved maximum value for money that will help communities to flourish.