Toronto City Council votes to remain a “construction employer” for ICI contracts

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Toronto City Council has decided that the city will remain a construction employer under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, electing to opt out of provincial legislation which would have allowed the city to end the requirement for unionized labour for industrial, commercial and institutional projects.

Video: Final debate and the vote at Toronto City Council

As well, councillors asked the city manager “to report back to the executive committee as soon as practicable on the feasibility of implementing a union preference procurement policy in the non-Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) sector, such report should address the implications for implementing such a policy.”

The Wednesday afternoon decision, by a 20 to 4 vote, represents a victory for the Carpenters Union Local 27 and the Ontario Building Trades, and goes against a recommendation by city manager Chris Murray and staff.

Murray, in an earlier report to council, indicated that the city would save between two and eight per cent on its construction costs, representing cost reductions of between $12 and $48 million for the city’s approximately $600 million in ICI construction work each year.

The Building Trades squared off against non-union employer groups and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in arguing the case – with impassioned presentations and letters to council – but in the end, the city’s majority left-of-centre politicians decided to take the “opt out” option of the provincial Conservative government offered in its Bill 66 legislation.

Union leaders argued that safety and community benefits, including programs to bring disadvantaged groups into the labour force, would be impacted adversely, while the non-union and CLAC representatives said the city’s pre-qualification and fair wage policies would prevent abuse and the flexibility and increased competition would lower costs for the city. Much work would still be unionized, they argued, but there would be greater opportunity for contractors to use their own resources and non-union subtrades, reducing jurisdictional disputes and increasing efficiency.

The government, in giving municipalities the option to opt out of the new rules, also made it so the decision cannot be reversed.

Here is the motion passed by Council Wednesday afternoon:

Motion to Adopt Item as Amended moved by Councillor Ana Bailão (Carried)

That:

1. City Council opt out of the application of section 127 (1) to (4) of Schedule 9 of Bill 66 and City Council direct the City Manager to file an election with the Minister of Labour in writing by July 3, 2019 thereby confirming the City of Toronto remains a construction employer.

2. City Council direct that the confidential information contained in Confidential Attachment 1 to the report (May 23, 2019) from the City Manager remain confidential in its entirety, as it pertains to labour relations and potential litigation that affects the City of Toronto.

3. City Council direct the City Manager to report back to the Executive Committee as soon as practicable on the feasibility of implementing a union preference procurement policy in the non-Industrial, Commercial and Institutional sector, such report should address the implications for implementing such a policy.

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