Longstanding myths

“There is a myth that says that unions are anti-business, that unions hate their employers and that unions think that every employer is evil,” said Bob Blakely, chief operating officer of Canada’s Building Trades Unions.

“That’s not the case in our business. We have a business that is extremely competitive and virtually every job is earned by the contractor, usually through past performance on a job or by being the low bid.”

Construction unions deal with a lot of the administration that comes with employing a large workforce, allowing the contractor to concentrate on organizing the workflow of the project.

“Unions do a lot of the HR planning for the employer,” said Blakely. “When the employer wants an employee, they don’t go to the newspaper, they phone the union hall and the union finds them the person. If they want someone who climbs steel and is prepared to work 350 feet in the air, freefall, the union will find them that person.”

Planning for tomorrow

By keeping the workforce informed and safe, and by ensuring that all employees are properly trained, unions help to keep projects on track—meaning that they’re more likely to reach completion on time and, therefore, have minimal impact on the day-to-day lives of Canadian taxpayers.

“We train a lot of the construction workforce at our 350 training centres across the country, where we spend $160 million on training annually. Our infrastructure in those training centres probably costs around $650 million,” said Blakely. “We’re trying to build for the future, so that our employers have an edge and others will want to do business with us.”

Employer advantages

Blakely believes that there are a variety of reasons why it’s beneficial for an employer to have unionized workers on their team. “If an employer in a small town needs to take his workforce from three employees to 60 employees, for 14, 28 or 35 days, the unions can send highly trained people,” he said.

“When the job is done, the employer can just lay them off. He doesn’t have to worry about the cost of carrying the workforce, or paying any termination costs. All he has to worry about is paying them the hourly rate.”

“We’re trying to build for the future, so that our employers have an edge and others will want to do business with us.”

Healthy working relationship

The construction industry seems to be going some way to dispelling some of the age-old misconceptions that are held about the relationship between employer and union.

It doesn’t need to be fractious; that’s counterproductive and does not benefit anyone. When all parties are working together with shared goals, conflict is a rarity.

Blakely feels that unions only get mentioned during some sort of dispute, a fact that doesn’t help the public perception.

“A good news, labour relations story never makes the paper,” he said, “We don’t hate employers, that’s a myth. In fact, we partner with employers everyday when we represent our industry to government.”