Apprentice ironworkers listen as B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement at the Ironworkers Training Facility at the B.C. Institute of Technology, in Burnaby on July 16, 2018.
DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS
This gift to the friends and insiders of the NDP isn’t about training or hiring more young people or providing more opportunities for women.There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Decades after Mark Twain popularized this remark, B.C. building trades unions have breathed new life into his observation.Only 15 per cent of B.C.’s 250,000 construction workers are affiliated with the traditional unions. While the rest have moved on to more flexible models that give workers greater choice, career options and participation in profit-sharing and bonus plans, the building trades cling to old-school hiring halls, rewarding seniority over skill, rigid rules, and antiquated business practices that hurt workers and are financially unsustainable.Desperate to turn back the clock and to justify to their members and government that they remain relevant, the building trades have adopted apprenticeship training as their last line of defence. Unfortunately, neither the facts nor the stats back up their sanctimony.Mastering a craft happens on the job, working side by side with experienced colleagues. What is learned in the classroom is enhanced and refined on the job.It should then come as no surprise that the building trades train only 15 per cent of the construction workforce — that’s the percentage of the workforce they represent. The remaining 85 per cent, members of employee associations and progressive unions or who work for construction companies not affiliated with the building trades unions, are trained in classrooms by instructors and on the job by their colleagues, just like their building trades counterparts.In fact, statsobtained from the Industry Training Authority through a Freedom of Information request show that 23,172 of B.C.’s 28,432 registered construction apprentices aren’t affiliated with a union. That means 81.5 per cent of construction apprentices aren’t sponsored by unions, including progressive ones like the Christian Labour Association of Canada.The majority of apprenticeship sponsorship in B.C. is done by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association and open-shop companies. That the ICBA sponsors more apprentices than any other entity in B.C. is an uncomfortable reality for unions who collect millions in “training” funds from their workers.In a recent column, building trades union president Tom Sigurdson tried to play down ICBA’s number of apprentices by cherry-picking a stat claiming that “there are more than 1,300 registered apprentices in just two of our union trade schools alone: the Electrical Joint Training Committee and the Piping Industry College.”But the ITA’s numbers show that the ICBA and non-union companies have thousands more apprentices in those trades. Combined, ICBA and non-union companies sponsor 10,329 construction and industrial electrician, plumber, sprinkler fitter, steamfitter-pipefitter and welder apprentices. The unions train 2,073. That’s a margin of 5-1 for the open shop.And we’re not certain those union-trained apprentices are even staying in B.C. The Piping Industry College is advertising a program to certify Canadian union plumbers to work (and move to) New Zealand. That’s right: the same unions who claim B.C. has a huge worker shortage and constantly fearmonger about foreign workers taking jobs from British Columbians is shipping B.C.-trained plumbers halfway around the world. The first group of B.C. union electricians started working in New Zealand in March.All of this makes the NDP government’s move to building trades union-only monopolies on major taxpayer-funded projects so offensive. By forcing all workers on the Pattullo Bridge to join a building trades union and to become an employee of a new Crown corporation is a sop to the unions who donated $2.5 million to the NDP over the past few elections.Money talks, folks. This gift to the friends and insiders of the NDP isn’t about training or hiring more young people or providing more opportunities for women. Indeed, the statistics prove non-union apprenticeship is thriving. It’s money at the heart of one of the most offensive backroom deals to come out of Victoria in decades.Chris Gardner is president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at email@example.com.CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.