From The Star

Amid fierce opposition from all over the province, at least one group of British Columbians is counting the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project as an opportunity.

They are the skilled tradespeople who believe the federal government will have to be a more accountable employer for the controversial energy project than Texas-based Kinder Morgan.

Kinder Morgan’s plans indicated it would hire or contract thousands of construction workers across Alberta and B.C. to expand the pipeline.

But B.C. skilled trades union leaders have criticized the company for not hiring their members, who they argue are the most highly trained and qualified, and instead choosing to contract with companies using both union and non-union construction workers.

The International Union of Operating Engineers, which has provided labour for the majority of National Energy Board approved pipeline projects in the last 60 years, has argued Kinder Morgan’s approach would be detrimental to the quality and safety of the pipeline project, which is already a controversial venture. With the federal takeover, the group is hopeful that will change.

Goretti Guilbault is one of the skilled tradespeople who see the federal takeover as an opportunity in her profession.

She has worked as an operating engineer for 10 years, having become a journeyperson and contributed to pipeline projects in the past. Throughout her career, she’s become an advocate for more equitable hiring within the skilled trades, especially for women, whom she mentors.

Now she wants to take her experience to the Trans Mountain project, which she believes could train and empower a new generation of Western Canadian construction workers — if it’s done right.

“I live here, I work here, I play here and I want to be a part of this,” she said. A government commitment, she said, could “ensure women, Indigenous people, and apprentices get work,” in the trades.

Brian Cochrane, business manager of the operating engineers union, said the B.C. Building Trades — the umbrella organization for construction unions in the province — wants to work with the federal government to form labour agreements that would see Canada use the pipeline as an opportunity to train and develop Western Canada’s construction workforce.

“We want to ensure that our membership and the pipeline trades are engaged in the project,” Cochrane said. “The federal government is going to have a higher obligation to make sure that the Canadian workforce is going to be the one to benefit,” he said, especially because the project is under intense scrutiny.

“It needs to be a world-class project … it needs the best Canadian workers,” Cochrane said.

It’s not yet clear whether the change of ownership will have an impact on who works on the pipeline, and what their working conditions will be. Trans Mountain has existing contracts with companies, some of which have collective agreements with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), a union that isn’t a member of the B.C. Building Trades.

In response to questions from StarMetro, a statement from the federal finance department said the project would continue to be managed day-to-day by the people already working on the pipeline. The project is expected to come under the ownership of the Canada Development Investment Corporation in August.

Meanwhile, the statement said, managers of the project will have to “take on the people who are integral to the actual completion of the project.”

Ryan Bruce, of CLAC, said the union expects those future workers to be CLAC members, because of collective agreements already in place. He expects the project to add 4,000 CLAC jobs.

“It’s the collective agreements themselves that establish the rules for our members,” Bruce said, adding it was too soon to say if anything would change for CLAC workers themselves due to the change in ownership.

Overall, Bruce said the union “felt good” about the federal government purchase, because it removed uncertainty about the pipeline getting built, even if he thought the money could have gone into other significant infrastructure projects.

Bruce and Cochrane both said the temporary nature of the pipeline jobs isn’t an issue — construction jobs are temporary by nature, and it’s better work experience for their members to work on a major project.

For Guilbault, major projects like the Trans Mountain put greater responsibility on workers in terms of safety. “You really need to take pride in your work,” she said. “It gives us experience and it gives us a place to exercise the skills we’ve been taught.”


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