Alberta Politics
CLAC’s headquarters and training centre in northwest Edmonton (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

CLAC’s big role in the Trans Mountain expansion: Another political pipeline problem in the making?

Posted on June 01, 2018, 1:16 am
10 mins

If Canadians are going to have to pay the $10 to $15-billion cost of expanding the Trans Mountain Pipeline, it’s important they aren’t bound by side deals that are not in the public interest made by the project’s former corporate owner.

When Kinder Morgan Inc. was masterminding the controversial megaproject to expand the pipeline so it could carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to the West Coast, it was understandable that few Canadians paid much attention to how the Texas corporation managed its affairs.

NDP Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean and her baby, the first to be born to a sitting MLA in Alberta history (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But now that the project has been declared a matter of national interest so vital it must be taken over and run by the government of Canada, backstopped by the government of Alberta, all that has changed. And it is quite clearly not in the public interest that the bulk of the work on the project be done by members of the so-called Christian Labour Association of Canada, colloquially known as CLAC.

To say CLAC is controversial in labour circles is an understatement. It is reviled. It is seen in many circles as a “sweetheart union” at best, set up to serve management, not members.

Whether or not this characterization is fair, it is certainly true CLAC has been the go-to bargaining agent for corporations looking to keep traditional unions off their premises and a favourite of right-wing provincial governments like those of the Saskatchewan Party, the former Alberta Progressive Conservatives and the Liberal Party of British Columbia.

According to a handout on CLAC published by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, the organization has no constitutional requirement for a membership ratification vote on newly negotiated collective agreements, has been known to conduct ratification votes on new contracts before a wage schedule has been negotiated, and has accepted voluntary recognition agreements by employers to thwart organizing drives by traditional unions. According to the SFL, CLAC also works with union-busting organizations hired by anti-union employers.

Alas, CLAC’s Wikipedia page won’t help a reader much with these questions as it appears to have experienced the hand of a CLAC-friendly editor.

Nevertheless, it’s troubling to learn – by way of a CLAC news release welcoming the federal and Alberta governments’ plans for the TMX – that “CLAC signatory contractors have been awarded the vast majority of the work” on the project. Moreover, the release says, CLAC expects to see more than 4,000 of its members working along the line during construction.

Jason Kenney, man of mystery, leader of Alberta’s Opposition United Conservative Party (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As an aside, it’s interesting to see how widely at variance CLAC’s estimate of how many of its members will be employed in actual construction is with other estimates that are being bandied about – for example, 14,600 construction jobs.

Regardless, whatever you may think of CLAC, it is clearly not in the national interest for a single bargaining agent with this kind of reputation to carry on with the lion’s share of work of supposed national importance. We can only speculate on the reasons KM picked contractors that use CLAC members, but now that the Trans Mountain expansion is a public project, soon to be run by a Crown corporation, this has become both a public policy problem and a political one.

It’s a public policy problem because so many working Canadians and their organizations believe fervently that CLAC fails to meet minimum standards for union representation and thereby suppresses the rights and pay of working people, undercutting the work done by legitimate unions.

This needs to be remedied forthwith – and with contracted work going on under KM’s supervision during the transition period to Crown operation, this is not going to be easy. Well, that’s tough. That’s the way it is when you have the responsibility of governing. It’s something the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mustn’t be allowed to sweep under the carpet.

It’s a political problem because, face it, both the federal Liberals and Alberta NDP court union members’ votes, and CLAC is disliked enough in labour circles that this development isn’t going to help.

Thomas Lukaszuk, former deputy premier of Alberta in Alison Redford’s government during the 2014 Progressive Conservative leadership race (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Remember, the cost estimates at the top of this story for the pipeline expansion project don’t include the tidy $4.5 billion the federal government has agreed on our behalf for us to pay Kinder Morgan Inc. So by the time the dust through the Rockies finally settles, the cost to us taxpayers will probably be more than $20 billion.

This means the Government of Canada owns it now – literally and figuratively – and that includes the political problems that come with it. The good news is that since we’re paying the piper, our elected representatives should be able to call the tune.

This one’s going to be easier to solve than the political problem on the West Coast, so my advice to Ottawa is to get cracking and find a way to put tick marks beside making sure some real unions’ members directly benefit directly from this work, and ensuring CLAC does its job right for its members too.

Stephanie McLean, first MLA to give birth while in office, won’t seek re-election

A social media post yesterday from Stephanie McLean, minister of Status of Women and Service Alberta in the NDP Government, says she will not be seeking re-election in the general election expected in 2019.

This came as a surprise to political observers as Ms. McLean had indicated early in the year she would seek reelection.

The MLA for Calgary-Varsity said in her statement “my life’s ambition has been the law. As a young lawyer, I am eager to pursue my practice.”

She acknowledged how the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley made it possible for her to remain an MLA and member of cabinet when she gave birth to her first child, a boy, in February 2016. She was the first sitting MLA to give birth while in office in Alberta’s history.

As a result, changes were made to standing orders to make the Legislature more accessible to parents of young children, including permission to bring children into the assembly.

So where was Jason Kenney? Mystery solved

So where was Jason Kenney?

Soon after the final vote on the NDP’s abortion clinic “bubble zone bill” discussed in this space yesterday, cranky Twitterists demanded the leader of Alberta’s Opposition Party reveal where he went during the vote.

The Carmen Sandiego of Alberta politics has kept mum, but yesterday we got a partial answer in the form of a Tweet from Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta’s deputy premier under Alison Redford.

“That didn’t take long,” Mr. Lukaszuk Tweeted, “@Alberta_UCP Staffers confirm that, ironically, ex-Alberta Health Services CEO, ex-PC Minister (female) and other ladies hosted @jkenney at a private house while in the #ABleg House vote was taking place to protect women and healthcare workers.”

Interesting. The former CEO mentioned sounds like Sheila Weatherill, who served as president and CEO of the Capital Health Region from November 1996 to September 2008, departing with a generous buyout upon the creation of AHS. The ex-PC minister is Heather Klimchuk, until 2015 the MLA for Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s mostly upscale Edmonton-Glenora Riding.

Mr. Lukaszuk is understood not to have a particularly warm relationship with Mr. Kenney … who famously once called him “a complete and utter asshole” in a widely distributed email.

Mr. Kenney, presumably, was engaged during the vote building support and raising money for his well-heeled PAC.

16 Comments to: CLAC’s big role in the Trans Mountain expansion: Another political pipeline problem in the making?

  1. Public Servant

    June 1st, 2018

    Thank you David for exposing this. I am familiar with CLAC through personal experience and they are worse than having no union representation at all.

    Reply
  2. Chuckstraight

    June 1st, 2018

    CLAC is not a Union.

    Reply
  3. David

    June 1st, 2018

    Yes, owning a pipeline may present unanticipated issues and perhaps opportunities for the Federal Government to do a better job than Kinder Morgan in some areas.

    It is also interesting to hear a bit about what Kenney has secretly been up to, although we don’t know what he talked about during his party with the former high profile PC women. Perhaps it was casual social gossip about which high profile people have what eating disorders, but I suspect that crowd was all business. More likely there was discussion of political contributions or perhaps what AHS contracts might be available in the future for former health authority CEO’s or former health ministers, should Mr. Kenney attain power. Just like gossip, usually the most interesting things are said when the people present think their conversations are private. I suspect while the moderate side of the PC’s hasn’t survived under the UCP, the culture of entitlement and rewarding friends and supporters may have. It will be interesting to see what these women might provide for Mr. Kenney’s political efforts.

    Reply
  4. Wayne Prins

    June 1st, 2018

    Hi David,
    Your assessment of CLAC’s participation in the Kinder Morgan project is as surprising as it is disappointing. My interactions with you in the past left me with a positive impression of a thoughtful commentator on current events, not of someone blinded by partisan loyalty and hyped up rhetoric.
    All contracts on the Kinder Morgan project have been and continue to be available to all contractors who bid competitively for the work. That much of the work has been awarded to CLAC signatory contractors speaks more to the competitiveness and competence of the CLAC workforce and our contractors then to any particular agenda of the client. This stands in stark contrast to your union friends who are increasingly reliant on legislated restrictions that insulate their contractors from proper competition by giving them exclusive access to publically funded projects. Are you suggesting this is a more desirable situation? Is it fair that some taxpaying citizens be excluded from publically funded construction work simply because they belong to the wrong union? And is it fair that taxpayers should pay more for their infrastructure because the work is awarded exclusively to contractors that are otherwise not competitive? That is a ridiculous suggestion. No doubt you’ll quickly revert to an argument about community benefits – I assure you we are as engaged in the community benefits movement as any of the unions within the old house of labour.
    You also suggest that CLAC fails to meet minimum standards of union representation. You should know better than to perpetuate that type of accusation. If you pay any attention to labour board websites you would see that CLAC continues to successfully raid far more units from your traditional union friends due to incredibly poor representation then we lose to them for the same reason. It’s not even close. Your union friends rely on no-raid pacts to prevent workers from freely choosing the union of their choice (the very reason why Unifor has left the CLC), and yet you have the audacity to suggest that we are the ones acting against the interest of workers and providing poor representation. If you have thoughts on matters related to this I invite you to call me and test them before you publish this kind of material.
    Lastly, your suggestion that the government should intervene to ensure that work, essentially, is taken away from CLAC and given to your friends at the building trades is troubling. Don’t forget, CLAC members are Canadians, and your suggestion that it would be better for the government to strip work away from some Canadians and give it to other Canadians, both of whom will make essentially the same wages and enjoy the same benefits, simply because they belong to a different union is a great example of everything that’s wrong with that type of political favoritism. A far better approach is to leave it to open competition, which is exactly what has been done.
    David, you are capable of a more thoughtful approach to complex issues then to revert to overtly partisan and biased opinions like this. You may feel obligated to perpetuate the stories of your friends in the traditional labour movement, but you know CLAC better than to slag us like you’ve done here. This is unbecoming of the reputation I believe you’ve built over a long period of time. Again, I invite you to reach out to me anytime to help round out your viewpoint on complex issues related to the modern labour landscape.
    Wayne Prins
    CLAC Executive Director

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      June 1st, 2018

      Unconvincing.

      Keep posing, but you aren’t fooling anyone.

      Reply
    • Declan Regan

      June 1st, 2018

      David is right, now that this is public infrastructure low bid contractors like your CLAC signatories should be getting a longer look. I understand why your association and contractors would oppose that. You offer less long term local benefits then the Building Trades. Your outreach to minorities might not stack up. Your female numbers may be lower. Training for long term benefits is far less. Your local hiring provisions are definitely not as strong. BTs offer the best of these four pillars of community benefits. When weighing who is awarded a contract smart owners look at more then the low bid. CLAC, in my opinion, would not offer the training that real unions currently offer. For example, the Operating Engineers, have training facilities in both B.C. and AB. They specialize in ensuring that workers understand the job they are being sent to. They invest in long term training and are always upgrading their members skills. This translates into better production, safer work sites and a better final product. Real Unions also offer members something CLAC generally lacks in, representation, in my opinion. You mentioned for David to check the ALRB to see all the great raiding you’ve done. One thing I usually find missing on the ALRB is arbitration cases. I’ve noticed CLAC has been turned down multiple time on your Grievance Review Process. Employers generally invite CLAC into their worksites to ensure less issues with grievances, human rights complaints. If you can tell me how many times CLAC has been to arbitration over the past two years in B.C. or AB, I’d bet it’s slim to none. I know you’ll tell me you do representation differently but what most see is you do it less and ensure you spend as little as possible to represent your members. When it comes to governance you, I think you lack in comparison. How many of you LROs are from the fields they represent? How many have toiled on a pipeline project in -30? They do representation differently because they’ve never actually done the job.

      We hope the governments of AB and Canada see what is on offer in the full package and see CLAC for what it is, employer favoured and a mechanism to prevent real unions to represent, of course all of this is just my opinion. 😉

      Reply
    • Scotty on Denman

      June 2nd, 2018

      Is the transposition of “then” [sic] for “than” supposed to be a ‘Blue Collar’ affectation?

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        June 3rd, 2018

        No, it’s almost certainly a typo. No editors here, just like at Postmedia and the Globe. DJC

        Reply
  5. Athabascan

    June 1st, 2018

    Welcome to Alberta where anyone climbing into bed with an employer can call themselves a union.

    Maybe when the NDP is finished shilling for the tar sands, they can find time to deal with this kind of labour relations aberration? Time is getting short for the Notley government.

    Please do the right thing and get rid of this malignant cancer posing as a legitimate union.

    Reply
  6. Camjournal

    June 1st, 2018

    Hi David,
    We all have opinions but I don’t see Wayne specifically questioning any of the facts you’ve put forth from the SFL.
    Wayne doesn’t like your opinion of his “Union” and seems to be asking for someone to call him to discuss it and then write an article about his organization. I nominate you for this noble task to set the record straight. I look forward to it.

    Reply
  7. Doug Brown

    June 1st, 2018

    I like the idea of governments multi-sourcing union contracts. For example, the province of AB could source 60% of its teachers from the ATA and 40% from some other representation. Periodically, the union with the more competitive pricing would gain share relative to another. Allocation of contracts would be regional to minimize administration. Most companies procure resources along this model.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      June 1st, 2018

      Oh, way to go. You just made a neo-liberal case for bringing back slave auctions. How about we bid for your job? The lowest bidder gets it.

      Your mother must be so proud.

      Reply
  8. William Prettie

    June 3rd, 2018

    This is from years ago and my long-time experience on equipment in the oil patch and mining. At that time we had a saying that is apparently still valid according to the comments above. “Friends don’t let friends do CLAC”

    Reply
  9. Ken Barry

    June 4th, 2018

    Anything with “Christian” attached to it should be a red flag warning to run away as fast as you can and don’t look back. This is a scab union at best.

    Reply
  10. Chris

    June 5th, 2018

    If you really, really want to drive a stake into the NDP’s already-dim reelection chances, then by all means start mandating union-only shops for government programs/contracts.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      June 6th, 2018

      You are off-topic.

      Your rhetoric convinces no one.

      Reply

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