BY BILL PHILLIPS
More than 40 organizations, 30 of them labour unions, were represented at the annual Labour Day ceremonies in Canada Games Plaza Monday.
Organized by the North Central Labour Council, the day featured a march through the city and then speeches, activities, and food.
“Pretty much every union in the community is represented here,” said Aaron Ekman, financial secretary for the B.C. Federation of Labour. “It’s important to do that march through town to show that there still is that struggle going on … to try and ensure working people get a fair shake.”
He stressed when a wage is paid to someone, that money doesn’t disappear, it gets circulated through the community.
Ekman also praised the provincial Community Benefit Agreement, announced in July.
Highlights of the agreement include: A targeted approach to maximizing apprenticeship opportunities on major public-infrastructure projects; focus on priority hiring and training of Indigenous peoples, and women. co-ordinated access to existing training programs, while identifying and addressing skills gaps; priority hiring for qualified individuals who live within close proximity of the projects; hiring flexibility for contractors, who can request named hires; wage alignment to prevailing industry rates to promote good wages for all employees.
The first projects to be delivered under the new community benefits framework are the new Pattullo Bridge, and the four-laning projects on the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and Alberta.
“It’s been negotiated by the building trade unions, in particular, and government through a new Crown agency, to ensure that workers aren’t just treated fairly, but that British Columbians get work first,” said Ekman. For those of us here in the northern and rural areas, we want to ensure that northern British Columbians are getting work first on projects that are close to them.”
He said the percentage of union workers across the workforce, as a whole, is in decline, which isn’t a good thing.
“Across the country, it’s in the steepest decline in British Columbia,” he said. “That’s a problem. You can gauge a strong economy by what percentage of workers are in a union because, statistically, those who are in a union are going to make more money than those who are not, doing the same work. When you have a larger group of the population that makes decent family-supporting wages, they can can afford to send their kids to post-secondary education and they can afford to support local businesses in their communities.”
That, he said, is why it’s important that when large mega-projects are built, it’s important to have contracts that prioritize local workers first.
“That’s the nuts and bolts of how you’re going to have a sustainable economy, not just in Vancouver, but across the province,” he said.