Building Trades of Alberta calls out union undercutting

The organization, which represents over 60,000 unionized construction workers in the private sector, is calling our bad labour practices by other unions.

Last week, Building Trades Alberta shared a letter to their social media accounts (see Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) regarding concerns they have about actions of a union that they claim has been undermining labour organizing within Alberta’s construction industry.

Building Trades of Alberta, represents 60,000 unionized construction workers in 18 affiliated unions throughout the province, including bricklayers, carpenters, construction and general labourers, elevator constructors, electrical workers, insulators, ironworkers, painters, millwrights, masons, sheet metal workers, teamsters, and plumbers.

Terry Parker, the executive director or Building Trades of Alberta, addressed his 7 September 2023 letter to Douglas McCarron, the general president of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

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In the letter, Parker expressed concern regarding the actions of one one of McCarron’s locals in Canada.

According to Parker, Local 1999 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (also known as National Construction Council) has been implementing a wall-to-wall approach to unionization, which he claims might be one of the most damaging activities to labour organization in Canada.

The wall-to-wall approach that the Carpenters International has moved to implement across Canada could be one of the most damaging activities to the labour movement this country has seen since the federal and provincial governments first allowed the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), to masquerade as a labour union in our country.

Traditionally, construction trades in Alberta have organized by trades. For example, plumbers would be in one union and bricklayers would be in another.

The idea behind the wall-to-wall approach, however, according to Local 1999’s website is to represent several trades at once, which they also refer to as “multi-trade”. They claim that “this approach increases opportunities for our members and gives us a competitive advantage in securing projects.”

Parker tells McCarron in his letter that Building Trades of Alberta believes that the intent behind wall-to-wall organizing was to initially counter the erosion of market share that construction unions had seen as anti-union legislation in Canada fostered the growth of unconventional “unions”, such as CLAC.

(Read more about CLAC here.)

The Building Trades of Alberta affiliates are aware that due to some of the worst anti-union legislation in the country, our competition has enjoyed unprecedented growth. . . .The double breasting that allows major companies to compel us to compete with their CLAC or Non-Union bidding models, has been a disaster and has caused Alberta to lose its ability to attract workers. We believe that the concept of your plan was to combat this erosion of market share.

Double breasting is the practice of employing nonunion workers, especially in a separate division, to supplement the work of higher-paid union workers.

However, Parker explained that Local 1999 has instead “been dispatching union members at lower rates, less pension, no long-term collective agreements, and limited representation, to local 1999 employers.”

Naturally, as so-called unions negotiate lower wages, less pension, and shorter contract lengths, it’s going to appeal to employers. This undercutting will, of course, lead to organizations such as Local 1999 receiving more contracts, and leading to the loss of market share to traditional union, such as those represented by Building Trades of Alberta.

In a media release published by the Building Trades of Alberta in July, Parker claimed that Local 1999 was “pitting workers against each other in a race to the bottom”, which he claimed “attacks the very principles that are the source of working people’s strength”.

Through negotiated collective agreements with strong wages, pension security, and health benefits, Build Trades members have helped to build the country we love, with a strong middle class, and hopef or a better future.

A media release published last month saw Parker say that “organizations that don’t have the best interests of workers at heart will drive away potential investment and make Alberta less appealing to tradespeople from across North America.”

Interestingly, Sam Kemble, who has been the executive operations officer for National Construction Council since March, according to his LinkedIn profile, also happens to be the president and director for With People, which provides “human resources, recruitment, workforce delivery, development and workforce management services” and has been around since 2012.

According to the Indeed profile for People Solutions HR Inc., another recruitment firm, Kemble is their CEO. The website link on that profile actually sends the reader to the website for People Solutions Inc., which appears to be the recruitment arm of United Workforce Group, another multi-sector union.

Kemble was also the labour relations representative for Construction Labour Relations Alberta, an organization that represents employers within Alberta’s construction industry, a position he got straight out of university and maintained for a decade.

Parker closes his most recent letter by inviting McCarron to stand together with their members in solidarity.

Historically, unions were most effective when we stood in solidarity and fought against the forces who sought to destroy the workers’ power to collectively bargain. We stood up to ensure our members would make a respectable wage, put away a reasonable pension and have their families covered by a health and welfare plan. We urge you to reconsider the direction that the Carpenters International is heading with the NCC, local 1999.

You can read a copy of Parker’s letter from last week below.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

2 replies on “Building Trades of Alberta calls out union undercutting”

Hello Kim, Your link about Kemble: labour relations representative for Construction Labour Relations Alberta. Goes to a PDF unrelated to him and his position in that organization. Thank You for the great coverage.

He’s actually listed on page 109 of the document. I’ve updated the link to go directly to that page. It’s on his LinkedIn profile, too. Thanks for the heads up!

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