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Contractor association complaint against Ottawa Hospital cites ‘restrictive’ labour deal

February 7, 2023
The Canadian Press

(Balkanscat/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)
By Cindy Tran

A group representing construction workers wants the federal Competition Bureau to investigate the Ottawa Hospital’s agreement with a labour group to build the new $2.8-billion Civic campus.

In January, the Ottawa Hospital announced it had signed a “historic” agreement with the Unionized Building and Construction Trades of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.

The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada alleges the labour agreement is “restrictive” and decreases the number of eligible workers.

Karen Renkema, vice-president of the association’s Ontario branch, says workers without a specific union card will be unable to work on the project, shutting out local talent.

“We represent contractors that employ 8,000 construction workers across Ontario. Those workers will not be able to work on the project,” said Renkema.

“In essence (what they’re doing is) decreasing the number of workers, decreasing the number of contractors and providing a monopoly to that entity only to be able to work and build the Ottawa Civic campus,” said Renkema.

The City of Ottawa agreed to contribute $150 million to the project, but it does not have a role in the procurement process. The province has committed $2.1 billion for the facility. The Ottawa Hospital is footing the remaining amount through a fundraising campaign and additional revenue streams.

The Ottawa Hospital declined a request for an interview but in a statement said that employment opportunities were open to all construction workers.

“A first in health care in Ontario, the project labour agreement will create equity and alignment among all workers on the project site. Employment opportunities at the new project are open to all construction workers,” the statement said.

Renkema said the hospital’s statement was misleading, as for workers to be part of the project they would have to leave their current union and join one of the unions involved in the project.

“Any worker could come work on the project, but they have to sign the union card for that specific union first. So that could in essence, be them giving up their membership with a different union,” said Renkema.

“They’re being coerced and forced into signing that union card in order to work on the project.”

Ian DeWaard, Ontario director at the Christian Labour Association of Canada, calls the agreement “egregious.”

He says many people in the construction workforce do not belong to the building trade model and do not participate in those unions. The exclusive access only works to exclude people from the industry, said DeWaard.

“Unions exist to support workers who elect to deal with their employer collectively. It’s a worker’s choice to belong to a union that will represent their interests.”

The new Civic campus is expected to open in 2028.

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