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Home  »  News  »  Merit Ontario pushes for open tendering at Toronto Transit Commission
Merit Ontario pushes for open tendering at Toronto Transit Commission
Daily Commercial News - 8/10/2012

Greg Meckbach, Daily Commercial News, August 7, 2012

Link to story.

Merit Ontario is trying to get the Toronto Transit Commission to open up bidding to all contractors, including those who do not require workers to join a union as a condition of employment.

Currently, only contractors certified with specific unions are eligible to bid on TTC construction projects, sources say.

“This is an internal policy, which they brought into play in the 1950s and we’ve been questioning them for decades, ‘Does this make any financial sense to have closed bidding?’ We would argue absolutely not,” said Frank Viti, president and chief executive officer of Merit Ontario.

“The best provider, regardless of open or closed shop status, should be awarded the work.”

In a paper, Viti wrote that allowing open shop contractors to bid on projects would save the TTC millions of dollars annually and increase competition because 73 per cent of construction firms in Ontario are open shop, which restricts the TTC to hire from a pool comprised of only 27 per cent of contractors, he explained.

Viti said Merit Ontario has been talking to non-political managers at the TTC in the hopes of changing its construction procurement policy to allow open bidding.

“There are several members of the senior management team at the Toronto Transit Commission in support of this and we would hope that they would do this immediately,” Viti said.

A TTC spokesperson recently confirmed that all contractors must be unionized. Despite repeated requests from the Daily Commercial News since early July, the transit agency has neither confirmed that the contractors must be certified with one of the Building Trades, or the rationale for the policy.

But two sources have told the Daily Commercial News that the TTC will only accept bids with contractors certified with the Building Trades.

“There’s nothing legally binding them to this closed tendering policy, but for the sake of labour peace or appeasement, they voluntarily do a closed tendering system,” said Randy Hillier, Member of Provincial Parliament for the Eastern Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, and the labour critic for the Progressive Conservative Party.

“You have to be part of the Building Trades council and have to be unionized.”

Even employers certified with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) are not eligible to bid on TTC contracts, said Andrew Regnerus, CLAC’s provincial construction coordinator for Ontario.

Pat Dillon, business manager for the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, said the policy was not in place in 1960 when five workers were killed digging a watermain tunnel at Yonge Street and York Mills Road below the Don River in Toronto.

They were not working on a TTC subway project, but Dillon said: “Organizations, whether they be cities or subsets of cities such as the TTC, have responsibilities to make sure that their projects are done as safely as possible and with qualified trades people and qualified contractors.”

But Viti counters that Merit Ontario has released a study concluding that the number of reported workplace injuries is actually higher in unionized environments and therefore there is no justification for a policy of restricting bidding on public construction jobs.

The paper, The Union Safety Effect: Myth or Fact?, written by Joseph C. Ben-Ami, was published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies.

It can be downloaded from the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies website in PDF format.

Citing information from the Construction Safety Association of Ontario, which in turn cited information from Statistics Canada and the Association of Workers Compensation Boards, Ben-Ami included a table showing that the lost time injury rate in Quebec ranged from 3.33 to 5 while in Ontario it ranged from 1.38 to 1.9 from 1998 until 2007.

However, Ben-Ami wrote that only about 20 per cent of Ontario workers were unionized.

“This assertion by the union contractors that they have a superior safety record is categorically false when you look at the information and the data,” Viti said.

“Quebec construction is 100 per cent closed shop. It has almost twice the rate of fatalities and injuries as the province of Ontario.”

In his paper, Ben-Ami wrote that some researchers have said that non-union contractors under-report workplace accidents and injuries in order to avoid the costs associated with making such reports.

“An analysis of data sets that do not suffer from reporting bias, however, fails to substantiate this explanation,” Ben-Ami wrote.

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