Labour duking it out 

Two unions squabble over highway construction workers

click to enlarge A coalition of road-building teamsters, operating engineers and labourers send this truck once a week from Burnaby up the Sea to Sky highway to attract workers to their union. Photo by Vivian Moreau
  • A coalition of road-building teamsters, operating engineers and labourers send this truck once a week from Burnaby up the Sea to Sky highway to attract workers to their union. Photo by Vivian Moreau

A turf war is heating up between two unions vying to represent construction workers on the 100-km Sea to Sky Highway improvement project between Vancouver and Whistler.

A coalition of teamsters, engineers and labourer unions are stepping up their drive to lure construction workers away from an upstart Christian-based union.

With ads placed in local newspapers and by running a 40-foot semi trailer to Peter Kiewit Sons’ construction sites, the teamsters, engineers and labourers (TEL) council hopes to lure workers to their 75-year-old group which represents 25,000 road-building workers in B.C.

"CLAC (Christian Labour Association of Canada) is an employer-friendly union," said Brian Cochrane, president of the TEL group. "They go around signing up collective agreements often time before there’s any employees on site."

According to provincial labour standards, the TEL Group must sign up 55 per cent of Peter Kiewit Sons’ workers in the next few weeks in order to provoke a vote over which union should represent them. There are about 60 workers on the project at the moment, although there could be as many as 500 at the height of the project, a consortium spokesperson said. The highway project is scheduled to be completed by 2009.

Cochrane contends that although Peter Kiewit Sons’ workers are making wages close to what the TEL Group would negotiate, the group would work toward getting better benefits for workers.

"Our benefits package is probably 75-80 per cent higher than their package, which is simply an RRSP contribution," Cochrane said from the group’s Burnaby office.

"That’s not true," said CLAC spokesperson Kevin Jeske. CLAC offers an array of benefits including life, health and dental insurance, he said.

The Christian-based association represents 10,000 construction workers in B.C. and says its policies of integrity, fairness and dignity contribute to its average growth of 11 per cent over the past five years. It does not support any specific church or political party.

"We are the fastest growing union in B.C. because most of our employees want to enjoy coming to work," Jeske said from CLAC’s Surrey office. He denies being an employer-friendly union to the detriment of workers.

"We negotiated a good collective agreement that responded to worker concerns and one in which they have a real influence over what their agreement looks like."

TEL Groups’s Cochrane says he is concerned CLAC will bring in amendments to working conditions after the fact. As an example, he pointed to a 2003 agreement CLAC signed with JJM Construction that reduced overtime base rates.

CLAC’s Jeske says the recommendation to membership was to reject the 2003 agreement but workers voted in favour. He noted that prior to the agreement being signed the JJM workers had not been receiving any overtime compensation.

Cochrane says Peter Kiewit Sons has an excellent safety record and TEL Group is keen to work with them once they deal with CLAC.

"We would like to partner up with a company like PKS because for the most part they treat their workers well," Cochrane said. "We like being involved with good contractors because it makes for a much more enjoyable relationship than working with contractors that go out and deliberately abuse their employees."

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