Unionized Construction Industry Faces Reality

January 1 st 1986

A document released in the spring of 1985 by a joint committee of construction unions and unionized contractors outlines a strategy for competing with non-union labour in Canada's tight building market. The report, "Ensuring Our Future," claims that Canada's unionized construction industry "practically built the nation," but admits that "unionized construction incorporated many costly and unusual articles into collective agreements. The unionized industry's high costs and rigid rules and methods have combined to reduce the contractor's ability to compete and the craftsperson's likelihood of continuing secure employment (p. 2).

Citing the labour cost element as the factor that gives non-union labour its competitive edge, the report calls for the removal or modification of costly and wasteful collective agreement provisions and urges unions and contractors to work together to improve communication and jobsite productivity. It recommends that "past differences and attitudinal problems . . . be set aside in favour of a solid joint effort on behalf of the industry" (p. 5).

Simple economic necessity is forcing unions and contractors to co-operate in becoming more productive and cost efficient; nevertheless, this effort is a major step for Canada's unionized construction industry. However, not everyone is pleased. At the convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour in November, delegates strongly condemned the document as a "sellout" and said it will undermine their bargaining position next spring.


Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.