National council of construction unions proposed
Two Canadian unions aim to offer greater mobility to workers and
stronger legislative lobbying with a proposed Canadian Construction
Unions Council (CCUC), though a labour lawyer says the deal is more
about giving Quebec unionized construction workers employment in Western
FTQ-Construction and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union
of Canada (CEP) announced June 12 their intent to propose CCUC to their
members. They have published draft bylaws to include aims, governance,
funding and collective bargaining.
If approved by their members, CCUC would be headed by an executive
committee comprised of members of FTQ-Construction and the CEP, which
represents more than 120,000 workers in telecommunications, energy,
forestry and paper.
“I think there’s a place for a Canadian union, and it’s about time that
we have one,” said Yves Ouellet, general manager of FTQ-Construction, an
association of 17 unions representing more than 70,000 construction
“I’m not saying that affiliations with other countries are not good,” he
“What I’m saying is I think we are professional enough to run our
business without having any foreign countries telling us how to work.”
Currently, the Building Trades in Canada represents 14 U.S.-based
unions, including the boilermakers, piping trades, crane operators,
sheet metal workers, insulation mechanics, elevator trades, plasterers
and masons, Teamsters, electrical workers, painters, labourers, iron
workers, carpenters and bricklayers.
“Generally employees in the Canadian unionized construction industry,
especially outside Quebec, are represented by traditional international
construction unions on an individual trade basis,” said Stephen
Bernardo, a labour lawyer with Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP and member
of the board of directors for Merit Ontario, which represents open shop
“For the FTQ-Construction, they’ve got tons of unemployed people who
presumably have construction skills and they get to ship them out west
under a banner of the new CCUC, of which they’re a member, and
therefore, nationally they have control over their members and would
continue to receive union dues from their members even though they work
outside the province.”
He noted all construction workers in Quebec, except those working on
residential renovations, are required to join a union.
But nationwide, Bernardo said, about 75 per cent of construction work is
performed on an open shop basis, and there are shortages in areas
outside of Quebec, especially in Alberta, Saskatchewan and southern
Ontario. CEP national president Dave Coles estimates his union
represents about 3,000 to 4,000 construction workers across Canada. If
approved by the membership, all CEP local unions assigned by CEP to
construction would be affiliated with CCUC.
One aim is to make it easier for their members to work anywhere in Canada.
“Before going and getting people from a foreign country, why don’t we
just open a line between all the Canadians and be sure that they have a
chance to work?” Ouellet said in an interview.
He added both unions have been talking about a Canadian construction
union since 1999.
Ouellet said every FTQ-Construction local will propose that the new CCUC
be accepted by its members.
The proposed CCUC “fits really well” with a proposal to merge CEP with
the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) , Coles said, because CAW represents
many skilled trades in industrial and shipbuilding operations.
In January, CEP and CAW announced their boards approved a “process
protocol” document that sets out terms of reference for officials to
explore issues related to the formation of a new union, including dues,
finances and representative structures. On May 23, the joint proposal
committee announced it reached consensus on how the new union, which has
yet to be approved by CEP and CAW members, could be run.
Bernardo does not anticipate the CCUC will be “particularly influential”
because CEP has a “small footprint” in the construction industry.
“Because of the shortage of skilled construction workers, the CEP will
have access to a large number of unemployed skilled workers and will
attempt to use this to leverage its growth through the CCUC in the
west,” Bernardo said. “I think they’re going to shop the fact that they
have access to a large number of skilled construction workers to see who
is in a needy position and therefore wants to deal with them.