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Local union objects to foreign labour on hospital site

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A local union says an Edmonton-based contractor is importing foreign labour to do concrete work on the new $239-million Women's Hospital while giving local trades the cold shoulder.

The Construction & Specialized Workers' Union Local 1258 charges that Pagnotta Industries Inc., a subcontractor on the government-funded project, has so far hired mainly people from outside the province. The union says that of the 22 workers now on-site, only six are local and an estimated 10 to 12 are from Ireland.

Victor DaSilva, the union's business manager, has written to Premier Greg Selinger and Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard to complain that public money is flowing to offshore labour when 120 of his members are out of work.

"This is a very time-sensitive situation due to the fact that Manitobans continue to be on the unemployment line and taxpayers' money is flowing overseas," he wrote.

DaSilva also wonders how Alex Pagnotta, the company's owner and general manager, could have obtained a labour market opinion (LMO), required to import temporary workers, that there were insufficient qualified workers here when so many of his members are out of a job.

He said months before the LMO was obtained, he tried repeatedly to contact the company to inform it of the local labour supply. He said Pagnotta's human resources director was abusive to him on the phone.

He said the company has a reputation for being anti-union and has even advised local workers applying for work at the Health Sciences Centre site to badmouth the union so they can get hired.

Pagnotta denied he's anti-union. He said he the firm has hired "numerous guys locally," although he acknowledged "seven or eight" of the 20 to 22 people now on-site are from Ireland.

"We're an open-shop contractor... We're not opposed to hiring any of their members," he said, "but we're not affiliated with the unions at this time."

DaSilva worried that many more foreign workers will be hired as construction ramps up. The company will eventually have 50 to 60 workers on site. Pagnotta Industries is responsible for the concrete work. EllisDon Corp. is the supervising contractor.

Pagnotta denied he's saving money by hiring workers from Ireland. He said the upfront costs alone are $5,000 to $6,000 per person and he's paying them "as good as, if not higher, than what we would be paying locally."

The Women's Hospital will rise at the corner of William Avenue and Sherbrook Street. The Selinger government says the facility will offer state-of-the-art specialty newborn care. The 300,000-square-foot structure will also include a women's surgical centre and in-patient gynecological unit.

A government spokesman said late Monday the province will look into the union's complaint. "We expect any contractor or subcontractor working on the Women's Hospital to adhere to all relevant laws and regulations and we will explore these reports further," he said in an email.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2013 A5

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Updated on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:54 AM CST: corrects typo

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