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Chomiak: Forcing workers to join unions provides project stability

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The practice of workers joining unions on large-scale public construction projects like the new Bipole III transmission line has more to do with fairness and sensible management than discrimination, Energy and Mines Minister Dave Chomiak said today.

Chomiak was responding to criticism earlier today from Tory Opposition Leader Brian Pallister, who said the NDP’s practice of forcing workers to join unions on big ticket construction projects is discriminatory and unnecessarily adds to costs.

"He’s back to the 1940s," Chomiak said of Pallister. "The no-strike, no-lockout provisions in Hydro contracts has been in effect since Duff Roblin’s time.

"It provides for labour stability. It’s been used by such radical people as Mike Harris in Ontario. It’s pretty well standard process."

Pallister said today his Progressives Conservatives oppose any government policy they say forces workers to pay union dues--even if they are not a member of the union--just so they can get a job.

Pallister added that "forced unionization" prevents as many as 70 per cent of the province’s construction workers from making their own choice on whether to join a union.

Chomiak said the practice was successfully used on the floodway expansion project and has been carried over to the east-side road construction project — to link remote communities east of Lake Winnipeg year-round — and Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III transmission line project.

Pallister said this policy affects $22 billion in government projects and is estimated to cost Manitobans an extra $3 billion in unnecessary spending.

Chomiak said that’s inaccurate.

He said it instead provides for stable costs and pricing at a time of labour shortages.

He said project labour agreements protect the province and Hydro in that they outlaw work stoppages or strikes and allows construction deadlines to be met.

A project management agreement also ensures that all workers working on the project receive the same wages and health benefits regardless of the contractor they are working for.

Pallister made his comments in the middle of an ongoing court fight between five construction workers who have taken Manitoba Hydro to court over the issue. A statement of claim was filed last June.

Barry Millen, Terri Fordham, Rick Lesiuk, Floyd Stoneham, Michel Paul Pilotte and Merit Contractors Association of Manitoba claim the policy prevents employees from working on large-scale projects Bipole III transmission line unless they join a designated trade union, and is a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case remains before the courts.

Chomiak said project management agreements are based on the 1946 Rand formula which was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

"I even have a great quote from Vic Toews talking about how great it is to have the Rand formula," Chomiak said.

"He said, ‘I have no problem defending it. It’s a historic compromise and is in fact a great deal generally for workers who need a collective voice.’"

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