Toronto District School Board squeaks in a vote to remain a construction employer, with changes to MCTSC agreement

Toronto schools contruction

By Kristen Frisa

Ontario Construction News staff writer

At a July 2 special meeting, the Toronto District School Board decided to use an opt-out clause in Bill 66 to retain its status as a construction employer, ahead of the July 3 deadline to do so. 

“There are various studies that indicate increasing competition in procurement has the potential to lower costs. The studies vary substantially in their estimate of resulting

savings from increasing competition,” stated a report included in the agenda package for the July 2 meeting. It also noted that those estimates may be mitigated by the fact that TDSB staff recommends staying within City of Toronto Fair Wage Policy constraints for bids. 

The report also notes that in other jurisdictions that have made the decision to open bidding, legal actions have resulted. “There is a risk that such a decision could be found to be unconstitutional if such a decision was rendered, the Toronto District School Board could be liable for significant monetary damages based on actions it had taken within the Act.”

TDSB has managed to work with the Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council (MCSTC), whose members include carpenters, insulators, boilermakers, bricklayers, plumbers and pipefitters, sprinkler fitters, sheet metal works, millwrights, painters, tile and terrazzo workers, electrical workers, among others, to amend the agreement between the two bodies going forward. 

“I’m pleased to report that the board has reached an agreement with the MCSTC to amend their current contract to provide us greater flexibility with regards to contracting out of construction work,” said Robin Pilkey, chair of the TDSB in a statement released on July 2. The amendment, which impacts only construction staff, not maintenance staff, is expected to save the board as much as $1.5 million a year.

Under the new agreement the board can seek outside contractors for some speciality work, and any work above $1.3 million. This is a lowered threshold from the previous agreement’s $1.75 million boundary.

“I believe this was the best possible decision for our board. One that will save money while retaining our well-trained skilled trades employees, ensuring high standards of health and safety awareness and training, and allow the TDSB to be protected against skilled trade shortages by having ready access to such workers, while not having to maintain a large compliment on an ongoing basis,” Pilkey’s statement read. 

The City of Toronto also recently decided to maintain its construction employer status.

Retaining construction employer status means that the TDSB and the city will hire contractors that work with certain unions on some infrastructure jobs. Toronto has collective agreements with several unions, ensuring that work the city hires out in the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) sector  is done by contractors that hire from within those unions. As part of those agreements TDSB keeps a list of approved, pre-qualified contractors that can bid on projects.

The Ontario government passed Bill 66, entitled Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, in April 2018. The legislation loosens restrictions to open the bidding process to more competition – a move city of Toronto staffers estimated could save between $12 and $48 million annually – but Toronto councilors voted to maintain employer status. They also voted to add Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) to their list of contractors. 

Proponents of Bill 66 argue that competition will bring down costs, but critics say it could lead to the city working with non-union contractors.

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