A move by Canada’s largest province to allow nonunion contractors to bid on public works hit a roadblock with pushback from its largest urban center. The Toronto city council voted last month to opt out of Ontario’s recently enacted mandate that allows municipalities to undo long-time pacts to hire only workers from select unions on hospital, road, education and other public projects.
The council’s 20-4 vote to keep the status quo was praised by union advocates but blasted by supporters of the bill, who argued it would limit competition and efforts to control project costs.
Toronto’s move bucks decisions by Hamilton, Sault Ste. Marie and the Waterloo region, among other cities and towns, to support the open-bid provisions of Bill 66, which was enacted in April.
The Toronto vote came despite a city manager’s report that estimated up to $38 million in annual savings on about $457 million in public construction. Council members opted to keep the city’s pacts with nine unions while adding a new one with the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
“We should be moving toward increasing competitiveness in our procurement process” said City Councillor Jaye Robinson. But the report also says its estimates are based on savings found in studies of other cities and jurisdictions.
But t\ere would also be no guarantee that heavily unionized Toronto would see a boost in competition or savings, the report cautioned. Impacts on apprenticeship and safety were also raised.
Patrick Dillon, secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, said cities pushing ahead with the new bid process “are going to expose the public to major costs down the road.” Union and nonunion advocates both plan lawsuits against municipalities.
Toronto school board on July 2 also voted to reject the measure but with several work rule changes allowing added employer labor flexibility.