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Oct
2015
15

IUOE: Project Labor Agreement Vital to Ensuring Local Hire, Avoiding Temp Workers on Site C Dam

Site C Project Labor Agreement

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As BC Hydro begins the contract process for construction of the Site C dam on the Peace River near Fort St. John, British Columbia, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115 is putting pressure on the region’s leaders to help ensure local workers get jobs on the project.  The $8.3 billion project will be located downstream from the existing W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams, and would be the third of four dams that were proposed in the middle of the last century for the Peace River.  It is the first large dam built in British Columbia since 1984.  

The IUOE would like a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to be attached to the project that would prioritize hiring locally, regionally, and provincially before going national to fill the jobs.  Similar PLAs are currently in place for the expansion of the John Hart Dam in Campbell River and the Waneta Dam near Trail, both of which are operated by BC Hydro.  For Site C, however, the company has decided on an “open managed site model.”  

Energy Minister Bill Bennett recently claimed that the use of a PLA could add $3 billion to the project.   Speaking to Alaska Highway News, IUOE Business Manager Brian Cochrane disputed the number, saying it is entirely made up:

“That is just preposterous.  (He) is just kind of throwing numbers in the air. If that’s actually the case, then (Bennett) is saying that hiring Alberta workers (or) people that aren’t British Columbians is saving the project $3 billion. I don’t think that the wage rates from Alberta are that significantly less. The numbers are just completely out of whack.”

The demand for local hiring is especially strong given the conservative government’s interest in shutting out unions who have traditionally worked on such projects.  The region’s workers have also been especially hard-hit by conservative policies that allow for large numbers of temporary foreign workers to be brought in for large projects.  Earlier this year, the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council took BC Hydro to court for their new policy, which favors open shops.  At the time B.C.and Yukon Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson said: “We were amazed – it was such a departure from the labour agreements we have had for decades.  We told them we couldn’t make their project work under their proposed model.”

In late May, a deal was reached between the parties to better allow unions to participate. Under that agreement, contractors who can demonstrate that they have a negotiated collective agreement and provide a reliable source of skilled workers will get preference in the bidding process. This applies only to the main section of the dam.  Local hire for other sections of the project, however, has never been ironed out. And though it does not jeopardize the project’s success, it is considered by many to be a major offense to build locally without having the project lift up the community.

Many of the contracts needed for the project have yet to be solidified, but IUOE’s Cochrane argues that the company who won the first contracts, Morgan Construction, is not going to use local labor.

“We know from our members that have talked to (Morgan) that they’ve said they plan on bringing their crews in from Alberta,” he said.

IUOE Local 115 recently sent a latter to municipal officials asking for support in their quest to ensure local hire.  They claim that without a PLA, foreign laborers will be used:

“The Site C Dam has just begun construction and already there are workers from outside the province with minimal, nearly non-existent, local content.  At the same time, the mayor and councillors of Fort St. John are preparing policies that would attract workers from outside the country. This is of particular concern to us, and as many of our members live and work within your community, we believe it should be of particular concern to you as well.”

Upon completion, the Site C dam is expected to have a capacity of approximately 1,100 MW and an annual output of 5,100 GWh of electricity.

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