Carpenters Union: Setting the stage for compulsory certification

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            Union plans meetings in August to discuss possible OCOT application

By Mark Buckshon

Ottawa Construction News staff writer

The carpenters union will likely seek compulsory certification status through the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), setting off what may be one of the largest jurisdictional and trade-rule-changing conflicts for province’s construction industry in recent years.

The carpenters will follow the sprinkler and fire protection installers, whose trade board has given “notice that they intend to request a trade classification review,” said OCOT senior communications officer Tristan Austin.

While the sprinkler and fire protection installers will therefore likely be the first trade to seek compulsory status under the newly-created OCOT’s powers, the carpenters – with an extensive scope of work and relationship with many other trades – will likely be the most contentious.

Ucal Powell, executive secretary treasurer of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, said union members will be meeting in August to discuss whether to seek compulsory certification. He said the union has not yet decided on whether it will seek the status.

However, Powell, who is an OCOT board member, said he expects the union will proceed with the application sometime by the end of this year or early in 2014,  resulting in the carpenters being the first trade to seek compulsory certification under OCOT provisions.

Non-union employers are likely to fight this compulsory trade objective. Walter Pamic, incoming chair of Merit Ontario and an Ottawa electrical contractor, said he believes the carpenters’ union has been one of the leading OCOT proponents because it wishes to force compulsory certification status on the industry.

He said if the carpenters achieve the compulsory status – such as applies for electricians and plumbers – costs will rise as workplace flexibility decreases.  “What will happen to the handymen and the residential renovation industry?” he said. “What happens when a labourer, who would do minor carpentry as part of his work, now can’t do that work?”

Other issues include the thousands of individuals who perform carpentry-related tasks without formal certification. Will they be grandfathered? Will there be exemptions?

Powell said: “For the benefit of the industry as a whole, grandparrenting makes sense.” In the meantime, he believes compulsory certification will elevate the carpentry trade’s status.  “We’re not going to be second class to anyone,” he said.

“We want to raise the standard of tradespeople,” he said.  “We want to ensure consumers are protected and health and safety is maintained.”

“Is it fair for any individual who takes up a hammer and saw to say he is a carpenter?” Powell asked.  “The idea that the carpentry trade becoming compulsory will increase the cost of construction is without merit,” Powell said.  “One would expect that a grand-parenting process would be mindful of not immediately upsetting the status-quo.”

Powell said there are more than 21,000 carpenters union members in Ontario.  The union represents carpenters, resiliant floor workers and drywall mechanics. He said, as far as he is concerned, most of Ontario’s qualified carpenters belong to the union.  “You’ve got people calling themselves carpenters,” he said.  “Are they really carpenters?”

Pamic, meanwhile, said he believes the compulsory certification issue is the biggest challenge and danger to provincial competitiveness as organized trade unions – led by the carpenters – advocate for a Quebec-style system where every trade has compulsory certification.

“In Ontario, if you want to renovate a bathroom, you can currently do the work with three people,” he said. “A plumber, and electrician, and a handyman.”

“In Quebec, you would need 13 people to do the same work” adding to cost and creating  jurisdictional conflicts as jobsites become more constrained and inefficient.

Pamic says he expects that employers, labourers, and others will fight the compulsory certification proposals as they move through the OCOT system.

Under the OCOT, relevant trade boards request a trade classification review.  “The trade board must then submit an official request to the (OCOT) board of governors requesting a trade classification review for their trade,” Austin said.  “Once the official request is made, the college has 60 days to strike a review panel and then 120 days for the trade classification review process to be completed.  However, extensions can be granted based on a request from a review panel.”

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