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Carpenters unions call off 36-year-old fight with City of Sault Ste. Marie

Ontario Divisional Court ruling breaks trade union monopoly, freeing up city's bidding process
(Mikael Blomkvist/Pexels photo)

A 36-year-old trade monopoly on construction projects that's cost the City of Sault Ste. Marie millions of dollars was declared officially over on March 20.

"We have finally shed our construction designation," Mayor Matthew Shoemaker announced to city council at a recent meeting.

"The matter is now concluded. The city remains a non-construction employer under the Labour Relations Act," said city solicitor Karen Fields in a report prepared for council.

Councillors were advised that the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America have decided not to take the matter to the Court of Appeal of Ontario.

That ends a longstanding monopoly that prevented other unions from bidding on city projects.

The court battle started in 1987 when the city's legal counsel missed a court appearance and the City of Sault Ste. Marie was ruled to be a construction employer.

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That meant the city was only allowed to accept construction bids from companies signed with the Carpenters or the Labourers' International Union.

In 2019, the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 66, which effectively broke up the Sault monopoly.

But the carpenters kept fighting, arguing that ending the monopoly violated their right to collective bargaining enshrined in the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On Dec. 12, 2022, Ontario's Divisional Court rejected that argument, ordering the unions to pay $10,000 to the city and three other respondents named in the appeal, for court costs.

"We've finally shed our construction labour designation," Mayor Shoemaker said last week.

"We have seen great financial benefit to the municipality in terms of additional bids on projects like the twin-pad [arena] and the West End Sewage Treatment Plant.

"And we should continue to see more competitive and hopefully lower-cost bids because we are no longer a designated construction employer," the mayor said.

— SooToday