Intimidation seems to be the only tool known to the union bosses and criminal owners who have infected Quebec’s construction industry. Their crude methods will redouble Quebeckers’ commitment to eradicate corruption and violence in their province, and the government of Premier Jean Charest should lead with even more aggressive measures against them.
Thanks to a report by anti-corruption czar Jacques Duchesneau, some of the gangs’ ways have been documented. They inflate the value of contracts (by $347-million in 2010) and direct workers to make contributions to beholden political parties.
But unions, too, play a damaging role. Job sites aren’t just closed shops; the unions themselves effectively hire the workers, raising costs for employers. Workers who don’t play along with union politics can forget about gainful employment.
Women, in particular, are left out. Only 1,727 workers in Quebec’s construction trades, around one in 100, is a woman (the rate is 6 per cent in Alberta). Two-thirds leave the industry within five years, with more than half of them citing discrimination in the workplace.
Mr. Charest has a sensible solution, Bill 33. It’s not perfect, but at least it eliminates the right of unions to control hiring – a reform first proposed by a commission 36 years ago. The response? Threats of violence – to Labour Minister Lise Thériault (an anonymous caller threatened to break her legs); to committee chair Guy Ouellette (feces were thrown at his constituency office, with a picket sign saying “Charest, swine, the people will have your skin.”).
The leadership showed its true colours. A woman who was supposed to testify in support of Bill 33 says she was physically beaten by a member of her own union. Other petulant union leaders pulled workers off functioning job sites Monday and Tuesday in a wildcat action.
This situation is out of control. Advocate Jennifer Beeman called the power of union and criminal cliques “gangrenous.” The government can act with greater boldness, striking a fully independent public inquiry into the industry (instead of the partially independent one it has convened). It can even go farther with Bill 33, by allowing non-union members to compete for jobs and increasing fines for wildcat strikes.
The gangs and the union leaders are protecting their own pocketbooks. The public, the taxpayers and workers at large are looking for someone to stand up against them.