The B.C. government has released its master union agreement for the Pattullo Bridge replacement project, with an estimate that the lengthy provisions will add between four and seven per cent to the project cost.
The 336-page deal with a group of 19 international unions is a template for all major public construction under the B.C. NDP government includes strict provisions for local hiring, an average of 25 per cent apprentices on each job, and annual two per cent raises on specified wages by trade.
Transportation Minister Claire Trevena called the pay increases an “industry standard,” and said she’s confident the Pattullo replacement can be done within the existing $1.377 billion budget. The government has also set up a new Crown corporation called B.C. Infrastructure Benefits Inc. to manage large road, bridge and other government projects.
“We believe the benefits we’re going to see in British Columbia outweigh any potential increase in costs,” Trevena said in an interview Thursday. “We have a desperate need for a skilled workforce, and this will help create that skilled workforce.”
Along with rules for hiring of Indigenous people and other “equity seeking groups, one provision is for workers to come from 100 km of the project site. B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said that’s too restrictive.
“They’re picking winners and losers about the Pattullo Bridge construction, and the winners are their union friends who live nearby in NDP-controlled districts,” Wilkinson said. “And the losers are all of the rest of British Columbians who have to pay for this project.”
The Pattullo was the choice of Premier John Horgan as the next priority for Lower Mainland infrastructure after forming a minority government and cancelling work on a high-level replacement for the Massey tunnel. Horgan announced in March that B.C. would be returning to “project labour agreements” that restrict labour to union rates and membership after 30 days on the job.
The Pattullo, connecting North Surrey and New Westminster, is an aging four-lane bridge to be replaced by a four-lane bridge with bike lanes. Trevena said the bike lanes could be used to expand the crossing to six lanes if that is needed in the future.