Carpenters Union seeks compulsory trade certification, setting the stage for juridictional challenges

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Process starts with close vote at OCOT trade sector board meeting

Ottawa Construction News staff writer

The Carpenters Union has started the process to seek compulsory certification for the general carpentry trade through The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), setting the stage for potentially serious jurisdictional conflicts within Ontario’s construction industry.

The process started at the a meeting of the OCOT’s eight member General Carpenter Construction Trade Sector Board on Feb. 20.

The sector board includes an equal number of union and employer representatives including Tom Cardinal, the Sudbury-based president of the Carpenters District Council of Ontario (CDCO).  The union had indicated last summer that it was considering making a move towards compulsory certification, which would set qualifications and regulate who could become a carpenter in the province, restricting carpentry work to certified carpenters rather than labourers, handymen, or other trades.

Someone familiar with the OCOT’s General Carpenter Sector Board said union representatives caught employers off guard with the February certification motion.

“They timed it when they knew an employer would be the chair of the board, and thus would only be able to cast his vote in a tie situation,” the individual said.  This meant, with three regular employer members, and four worker representatives, the request for certification could pass with a 4-3 vote in favour. (The chair, Paul LaFleshe, a project manager at Bestco Construction in Ancaster, declined comment.)

The next stage, once the overall divisional construction OCOT board ratifies the sector board decision, is to determine the three-member adjudicators’ review panel membership, which will decide on the certification request after receiving written and oral submissions.

An OCOT spokesperson says the decision on who will belong to the review panel has not yet been made.

Tyler Charlebois said the “divisional board” representing the construction industry “is required to pick two review panel members from the Roster of Adjudicators within 60 days of the request for the TCR (trade classification review) being sent to the Board of Governors (the request).

They will, Charlebois says, meet “to review the Roster of Adjudicators and their brief bios,” selecting one representative of an employer and one employee representatives.”  The Ontario Labour Relations Board selects the third adjudicator, who chairs the hearings.

The roster of adjudicators reflects a diversity of individuals who have applied for the responsibility and been approved through the OCOT’s appointments council. There are 16 adjudicators with “construction trades experience” on the roster, along with six with industrial trades experience, two with motive power trades experience and one with service trades experience. Charlebois says adjudicators can be selected from anyone on the roster, but it is likely that the final choices will be from the construction trades.

The OCOT’s appointments council declined to provide any biographical information about the adjudicators.

“I have looked into your request for additional information about the background info for some of the adjudicators on the OCOT roster…and unfortunately, I’ve learned that legally we are 
not allowed to provide that info for privacy reasons,” said Tanya Blazina, senior media relations co-ordinator, communications branch of the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

She said the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act provides that disclosure of personal information is ‘presumed to constitute an unjustified invasion of personal privacy where the personal information…relates to employment or educational history’. The information contained in the adjudicators’ biographies falls under this stipulation.)”

Of course, many members’ identities can be discerned from public information and details are outlined here. As well, several adjudicators have served on one or more review panels.  (They are paid per diems for their work.)

However, notably, one person on the adjudication roster hasn’t been called to adjudicate any file in more than a year and he says he will probably not be asked to adjudicate  the carpenters’ union request for compulsory certification.

Terry Varga, training co-ordinator for the Construction and Allied Workers Union (Labourers Union – LIUNA) local 607 in Thunder Bay, says he is the only adjudicator representing the labourers’s union, which he says employs more workers provincially than any other trade classification.

“The carpenters have 7,000 members in Ontario,” he said. “We have more members in Toronto doing residential framing, than the carpenters in all of Ontario.

“What are they trying to pull here? They (the carpenters) are trying to get compulsory certification to grab jurisdiction – there’s not any other reason,” he said.

Varga said his original application for a place on the adjudication roster was declined, but he was later approved – and then, he says he experienced the silent treatment.  Virtually all of the adjudicators on the roster have served on at least one apprenticeship ratio review panel (some have had more than one assignment), but Varga has been left out in the cold.

(The OCOT appointments documentation says that acceptance to be a member of the Roster of Adjudicators does not guarantee any assignments.)

Varga acknowledges he would have a conflict of interest if he sat on the carpenters’ trade certification panel, but he is suspicious about why he wasn’t called for any of the apprenticeship reviews.

He believes the entire process should be put on hold, reflecting other LIUNA members and locals, who have joined a coalition of employers and non-union organizations seeking the OCOT’s end.

CDCO president Tom Cardinal was travelling and not available for comment.

Non-union employers are likely to fight carpenter’s compulsory trade initiative. Walter Pamic, vice-chair of Merit Ontario and an Ottawa electrical contractor, said late last year he believed 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 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?

Ucal Powell,  previously executive secretary treasurer of the CDCO and a current OCOT board member, said in an earlier interview he expects that compulsory certification will be handled with respect of industry realities.  “For the benefit of the industry as a whole, grandparenting makes sense,” he said in an earlier interview. 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 grandparenting 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, resilient 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.

Charlebois said interested parties will have opportunities to present their arguments about the trade certification application once the review panel is selected and it will take several months for the consultation and review process to be completed with a decision.

Besides LaFleshe and Cardinal, other general carpenter trade board members include: Matthew Baker, Del Boudreau and Jason Yull, employees; and Tim Henhoeffer, Steve Barkhouse and Martin Templeman, employers.


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