By Brian Morton, Vancouver Sun - Published: Friday, November 02, 2007
B.C. carpenters end 'epic struggle'
Members vote in favour of breaking away from U.S.-based union
B.C. carpenters have voted in favour of a settlement allowing them to break from their U.S.-based union in favour of a newer Canadian union.
Approximately 5,000 members of the Construction, Maintenance and Allied Workers Union [CMAW], representing the majority of unionized carpenters in B.C., voted 76 per cent in favour of the terms of a B.C. Labour Relations Board report allowing separation from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners [UBCJ] based in Washington, D.C., a news release said on Thursday.
"We're the first construction union to successfully break away from the international parent outside of Quebec," CMAW president Jan Noster said in an interview Thursday. "We've been in this epic struggle for the last 11 years. We want to control our own destiny in B.C. and not have decisions on construction sites made in Washington, D.C."
Despite that, Noster noted that the Labour Relations Board decision also means CMAW will have to pay the UBCJ $6 million. The CMAW and UBCJ will also both have the right to represent carpenters in B.C.
But Noster maintained that the $6 million was a small price to pay for independence. He also said that 95 per cent of carpenters are representing by the CMAW, which was formed in 2005.
"Only a handful of employers will remain with the UBCJ," he said.
Noster said the break was necessary because members felt the U.S.-based union was undemocratic and wasn't responding to workers' needs. "Mandatory bylaws were imposed. They refused to change with the times."
Noster said the decision will mean better relations with B.C. employers and give new union the opportunity to recruit non-union workers, including those from other trades.
"We'll be able to deal with the employers in a much more responsive way, [because] we don't see ourselves as having a type of adversarial relationship. We want to build on that."
Noster said that union membership in the trades has been dropping steadily over the years, including during the current construction boom, but that it's a trend he hopes to change.
He said unionized carpenters make between $37 and $41 an hour, compared to non-union carpenters who make $35 to $40 an hour. "It's comparable and some non-union [contractors] pay more, but they lack pensions and benefits packages.
"Just 20 per cent of the construction industry in B.C. is now unionized. In the early 1980s, it was 85 per cent. There is no doubt in my mind that this will have a positive impact on being able to reverse the trend."
According to the release, CMAW also represents industrial shop workers and shipyard workers in the Lower Mainland and school board workers in the B.C. interior. It is affiliated with the 150,000-member Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada [CEP].
"Our plan is to represent trades people on a wall-to-wall basis," said Noster. "We're going after that huge non-union workforce. We [also] have 150 electrician members right now."
Meanwhile, Tony Heisterkamp, outgoing president of the B.C. Provincial Council of Carpenters [the UBCJ's local entity], said the decision means that "finally we can control our own destiny without having to go to the international parent body."
He said the new union will likely get a lot more interest from carpenters who "didn't want to send their money south."
CEP national president Dave Coles said in a statement that the B.C. vote is historic for Canadian construction workers. "B.C. carpenters as of today are a Canadian union with a model of all-employee organizing that we believe is the way of the future for workers in the Canadian construction industry."
© The Vancouver Sun 2007