The Christian Labour Association of Canada has 43,000 members and is playing a growing role in industrial construction, including work at the oilsands in Alberta. That has upset some unions because they see CLAC as overly friendly with employers and a trigger to lower pay standards. Because CLAC espouses a non-confrontational approach and has had only five strikes since it was founded, some unions say it isn’t a union at all. Started in 1952 in Ontario and British Columbia, CLAC says it is a bona fide trade union recognized in five provinces and in federal jurisdictions in Canada. CLAC also says it is not a religious organization and is not affiliated with any church or church-based organization. CLAC is known for its wall-to-wall contracts, which give it jurisdiction over all of the construction trades on a jobsite. ENR correspondent Jonathan Barnes recently spoke to CLAC’s executive director, Dick Heinen, about his organization.
What’s up with the Christian name?
The name is based on historic Christian values, such as respect, integrity, dignity, and fairness. Because we value things like respect, integrity, fairness and justice, that does not mean we are a roll-over organization. We’re also a union that believes in freedom of association.
We’re affiliated with no political party. We made a conscious decision to be apolitical in terms of affiliation.Does management like your union more because of its anti-strike policy?
We’re not strike-happy. Does management like that? Probably. We’ve had five strikes, none lasting particularly long. One time a company decided they weren’t going to negotiate with us. Another strike was on safety issues. Every one of our strikes was short-lived.How is CLAC able to avoid periodically striking?
We’ve built a fairly onerous system into our organization that requires that steps be taken to make sure that a strike is a last resort. We’re an organization that is much more partnership-based. We believe that mature people can sit down together and find resolutions to their conflicts.
Aside from the religious-sounding name, what’s different about your union, compared with other unions?
We’re a wall-to-wall collective. We don’t have jurisdictional issues, which characterizes other trade organizations. Within the building trades, there are strict lines of jurisdiction, but we don’t think that always makes sense in the construction industry. There are people who think a multi-craft union allows untrained people to do jobs that they should be trained for. That’s not where we are, either.
Why do you think wall-to-wall agreements are effective on construction sites?
You can get the job done with fewer people with a wall-to-wall agreement. Being able to work with fewer people is crucial in a market where there is a labor shortage. And of course, there are workers who have two tickets… A wall-to-wall agreement allows for more streamlining and less redundancy.