British Columbia

Legal challenge against B.C.'s union construction deal won't be heard in court

The B.C. Supreme Court has turned down hearing a legal challenge by a coalition of some of B.C.'s largest non-union construction workers and contractors, who say the province is denying them jobs on taxpayer-funded projects.

Coalition of non-union construction workers say B.C. is denying them work on major projects

Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, says the province's labour deal is unfair to construction workers who don't belong to unions. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The B.C. Supreme Court has turned down hearing a legal challenge by a coalition of some of B.C.'s largest non-union construction workers and contractors, who say the province is denying them jobs on taxpayer-funded projects.

The province introduced the Community Benefits Agreement in 2018, a labour deal that requires workers to join one of 19 building trades unions if they want to work on provincial infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars.

Projects under the agreement include the $1.3-billion Pattullo Bridge replacement and the four-lane expansion between Kamloops and the Alberta boundary on Highway 1. 

The coalition, which claims to represent 85 per cent of B.C.'s construction workforce, says it wants the court to strike down the province's deal because it's not fair to workers who don't belong to unions.

"It's discriminatory," said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

"What we're asking for today is a fair shot … so that every man and woman working in construction has an equal opportunity to work on these projects."

Coalition to appeal ruling

The court, however, ruled Monday the case should go before the Labour Relations Board.

B.C. Building Trades, which represents 35,000 unionized construction workers, said it welcomed the move. 

Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association, said the coalition will appeal the ruling. 

"We're going to insist that the appropriate venue for treating violations of the Charter is the court."

The government says the labour deal ensures fair wages and prioritizes apprentices, as well as Indigenous, female and other under-represented workers.

"We are pleased our arguments were accepted by the court and as a result the applicant chose to stand down the proceedings," the B.C. Ministry of Transportation said in a statement. 

With files from Deborah Goble

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