Port Mann Bridge replacement nears completion, August 2012. The province said the Port Mann-Highway 1 project came in on budget, $2.46 billion for the design-build contract, $3.3 billion for the total cost. (TI Corp)

B.C. Building Trades, not taxpayers, financed my Red Seal training

Union representative responds to Tom Fletcher’s column

Re: NDP’s construction rebuild showing some big cracks (B.C. Views, June 2).

Another week, another anti-worker rant from Tom Fletcher.

The intrepid legislative columnist for Black Press, Fletcher works tirelessly to deliver us biased news and views from Victoria. His last column was no exception.

I’m a journeyed insulator with B.C. Insulators Local 118, which is an affiliate of the B.C. Building Trades Council and the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers. I’m also the elected vice-president of my local union and co-chair of the Building Trades’ women’s committee.

I spent five years working as a non-union apprentice insulator, acquiring thousands of hours on the tools, and not once was I sent back to school to advance my apprenticeship. It wasn’t until I joined Local 118 that I gained sponsorship as an apprentice and began working toward my Red Seal. During my classroom hours, my union provided a per diem of $25 a day to help with the bills.

Fletcher criticizes Building Trades affiliates as old-school with words like “brotherhood” in their legal names. Yet in the same breath he touts the alleged progressiveness of the Christian Labour Association of Canada.

He then goes on to buy the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association data on apprentices, devoid of any context. To be sure, B.C. Building Trades’ unions represent close to 50 per cent of industrial, commercial and institutional construction (ICI), and it’s these workers who will be building public infrastructure in B.C.

And while the non-union sector sends apprentices off to taxpayer-funded post-secondary institutions, union apprentices earn their credentials at ITA-designated training centres primarily funded by members’ money.

And where’s the data on apprenticeship completion rates? The Industry Training Authority reported an apprenticeship completion rate of 41 per cent in 2018/19. Unionized apprentices complete at higher than 80 per cent and some unionized trades are as high as 85 per cent.

And how about safety? Academic research on the ICI sector in Ontario between 2006 and 2012 revealed that unionized construction sites are 23 per cent safer than non-union construction sites. But don’t believe me – check out the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine that published it.

Fletcher also appears to tout the excellence of the non-union sector in their building of the Port Mann Bridge, glossing over any memory of the bridge ultimately costing $3.3 billion, which was 41 per cent higher than its original budget of $2.34 billion.

RELATED: Port Mann bridge on time, on budget, B.C. government says

RELATED: Cost jumps 35% for Trans-Canada widening at Revelstoke

Finally, Fletcher seems to pin the union camp agreements that determine food and beverage requirements on remote job sites on the governing New Democrats, when those exact agreements – right down to the type of salad dressing and size of place setting – were arrived at under the B.C. Liberals.

Here’s what I know as a tradeswoman in the Insulators Local 118:

My union fought for decades and finally helped achieve a Canadian ban on asbestos products earlier this year, ensuring construction workers are no longer exposed to the dangers of asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma.

My union has supported me throughout my career as I advanced my apprenticeship and became an advocate for tradeswomen and young workers.

My union encourages me to volunteer and give back to my community in a variety of ways.

My union dues fund services for members, including safety programs, training and apprenticeship and drug and alcohol counselling.

But what do I know? I’m just an actual tradesperson.

Ashley Duncan, vice-president, B.C. Insulators Local 118, Vancouver

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