Just days after the official groundbreaking for the new Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 183 headquarters in Vaughn, Premier Doug Ford attended a union rally at Queens Park and announced that the government will undo recently introduced legislation that LiUNA believe would have threatened its members’ livelihoods.
Kathleen Wynne’s former Liberal government tacked the “Section 14” provision onto its budget bill in the spring, before losing the provincial election – causing LiUNA to openly campaign in favour of the Conservative opposition.
The story goes back four decades and an ongoing jurisdictional dispute between LiUNA and the Carpenters’ Union. In 1978, the government established the “formwork exemption,” recognizing existing LiUNA bargaining agreements, while creating the province-wide bargaining system for construction unions in the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sector.
However, the Liberal Government, following lobbying from the carpenters, in April introduced and passed legislation to end the exemption.
Angered by the decision, LiUNA members joined the fight against the Wynne government and saw signs of the political reward from the Conservatives when Ford showed up at the Oct. 18 union rally. The union was, in part, celebrating the start of construction of its massive new headquarters in Vaughn.
“Before the provincial election, thousands of LiUNA members came out to fight against Wynne’s draconian back door legislation aimed to directly hurt the futures of LiUNA members,” said Joe Mancinelli, the union’s international vice-president and regional manager Central and Eastern Canada. “Today Brothers and Sisters your voice was heard.”
In April, Mancinelli described the legislation as “an aggressive and draconian bill that takes the jurisdiction of one union and hands it to another trade union.”
He said then that thousands of LIUNA members would be forced to leave the union and lose vested pensions if the bill went ahead. “This is one of the most regressive bills we have seen in 40 years of labour legislation. Not only in the way it’s been rammed through but also in the level of favouritism.”
Carpenters’ Local 27 president Mike Yorke said then that the carpenters had written to the government in 2016 asking for a review of LiUNA’s ICI formwork exemption, as LiUNA and its affiliated contractors in the southwest were looking for more work in the Toronto area.
The Liberal government then appointed labour mediator Kevin Burkett to investigate and make recommendations. The carpenters said Burkett’s appointment was agreed to by all parties and all parties participated in the review.
Burkett’s final report noted: “The mandated system of single trade province wide collective agreements in the ICI sector of the construction industry (which recognizes the affinity of trades employees for their craft union) serves an important public policy objective – stable labour relations in the ICI sector of the construction industry – and should be preserved and protected to the greatest extent possible.”
The Minister of Labour then appointed Michael Mitchell – an expert agreed upon by both parties – to advise him on implementing the Burkett recommendations, which led to the specific legislation currently before the Ontario Legislature, the Carpenters’ Union said in April.
“There were two separate experts who undertook reviews to advise the government on how to move forward,” said Tony Iannuzzi, executive secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario. “It’s disappointing to see certain unions who disagree with Bill 31, engaging in bullying and fear mongering in an attempt to maintain their unfair advantages.”
“We feel that the status quo in terms of the formwork exemption works to the detriment of the unionized carpenters and unionized general contractors,” Carpenters local 27 president Yorke said in April. “The carpenters are being handed absolutely nothing. This just levels the playing field, and makes the formwork sector fairer for both parties.”
However, the labourers made it clear that they considered the matter serious enough to justify a political response, and Mancinelli threatened to unleash LiUNA’s strength during the election campaign.
“If Schedule 14 stays in the budget bill, LiUNA will have no choice but to work vigorously against this government to ensure we elect a government that truly does care about the interests of workers instead of playing favourites,” he said then.
“There is still work to be done and LiUNA looks forward to working together for the betterment of labour across the province and across North America, Mancinelli said in an online posting after the recent Queen’s Park rally.