Ontario Liberals-Tories team up on labour bill

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

Credits: Jack Boland / Toronto Sun / QMI Agency


LONDON, Ont. -- The Liberals and Conservatives joined forces Thursday to ram through a bill that would help a London construction giant avoid hiring union workers, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath charges.

Introduced by Lambton-Kent Middlesex Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton in May, Bill 74 rewrites labour law to benefit a single company, and Liberal Party supporter, EllisDon, Horwath said.

"It's absolutely misplaced in terms of priorities and it's problematic to think the government and the Opposition would team up to ram this bill through for a company that is, frankly, one of their major donors," Horwath said.

"We have a company that is being given special legislation to basically break part of their contract. That is not how things are supposed to work in Ontario."

In the legislature Thursday, the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to give Bill 74 a timetable Horwath said will limit debate and public consultation.

EllisDon founder Don Smith, who died in July, served as president of the Ontario Liberal party for three years in the 1980s and raised $11 million in the three years leading up to the Liberal victory in 1987 that made David Peterson premier.

An EllisDon vice-president said Thursday the issue has been miscast as a battle between the company and unions, and the bill does not break longstanding deals, but upholds them.

"The bill is designed to simply maintain the status quo," Tom Howell, vice-president of labour relations, said.

The dispute centres on a complicated set of agreements in the construction industry between EllisDon and subtrades.

EllisDon has different collective agreements in Toronto and outside Toronto based on legislation from 2001, Howell said.

Basically, the company has more restrictions on the subtrades it hires inside Toronto and fewer outside the city.

But a dispute with two unions led to an Ontario Labour Relations Board decision in 2012 imposing additional restrictions on the company on whom it can hire outside Toronto, Howell said.

That means the company has to hire more expensive unionized labour, while its foreign-owned competitors in Ontario can hire whoever they want, Howell said.

"There would not be any restrictions imposed on the large number of foreign competitors that have entered the market. It would have an significant impact on EllisDon to compete outside Toronto."

Bill 74, said Howell, simply returns the old ground rules set in 2001.

Some unions, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, see things differently.

Bill 74 would release EllisDon from a collective bargaining agreement dating back to 1958 that requires the company to hire unionized labour on its projects, the union says.

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