A construction trades group has filed a civil suit against BC Hydro for terms within Hydro's request for proposals that wouldn't allow union members to go on strike during the construction of the Site C dam or recruit other non-union members into unions.
These terms go against the Charter Rights of free association and free expression, the group claims.
This adds to the growing list of legal troubles for the dam, which would be the largest single infrastructure project currently on the books for the province if it goes ahead.
The suit, filed Monday, is a notice of civil claim. It does not immediately necessitate a trial.
B.C. and Yukon Territory Construction Trades Council (BC Building Trades) represents 13 construction unions across B.C. and the Yukon.
Last December, the province announced the Site C project would go ahead, with an estimated cost of up to $8.8 billion.
The dam would be located about seven kilometers from Fort St. John.
BC Hydro hopes to begin construction this summer, but the project faces legal challenges from affected landowners and First Nations in the area.
BC Hydro has begun seeking contractors for the work of building the dam and preparing the site.
According to the BC Building Trades, BC Hydro has issued a request for proposals for companies who want to do this work. Included in this are terms that "there will be no strikes, lockouts, slowdowns or any other interference or interruption to the performance of labour productivity at the worksite throughout the term of this contract."
Picketing will not be allowed, and the contractor will not attempt to hire or attempt to hire workers from another company.
BC Building Trades said that these terms are contrary to the rights of free association.
"BC Hydro, with knowledge of those collective bargaining relationships and collective agreements (for trades council related unions) has intentionally and unlawfully interfered with those relationships and sought to have various provisions removed from those collective agreements," they wrote in their claim. "Affiliated unions will suffer irreparable harm and damages will not be an adequate remedy."
BC Trades Council also said there would be no common agreement with site-wide standards, and wages would differ by contractor. Temporary foreign workers could also be employed, they claimed in materials released to media.
The group is asking for a different type of labour agreement, a Project Legacy Agreement, which was used in the WAC Bennett Dam and other projects.
"Why is BC Hydro rejecting this proven model — and violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?" Tom Sigurdson, BC Building Trades Executive Director, asked. "Only through a Project Labour Agreement can the Building Trades guarantee the quality labour supply Site C will need … this is a huge departure from everything that’s worked before.”
He also said that no private company would have the kind of mobile workforce to do the work without the support of the unions his group represents.
Daniel MacPhee — whom the trades council described as a heavy duty mechanic living in Fort St. John who is also a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115 — is named as a plaintiff in the suit.
But despite all this criticism of BC Hydro’s labour model, the group supports the Site C dam “as an essential project for the future of B.C.”
“It’s going to help our economy in B.C.,” Sigurdson said.
As to the lawsuit, Sigurdson said he “(didn’t) think this is going to drag on for years.”
“I believe our council has asked for an expedited hearing, and we hope to move this along,” he added. “We don’t want it to be wrapped up in a challenge forever.”
In response, Susan Yurkovich, executive vice-president for
Site C, said that her company has put in common terms with potential companies "to provide labour stability, ensure a safe and respectful workplace, and to meet our commitments as part of our environmental approvals."
"BC Hydro is carefully considering the Building Trades's input along with other input received and will communicate any changes to proponents," she said. "Shortlisted proponents for BC Hydro's current Turbines and Generators procurement for Site C are currently actively negotiating with the Building Trades. These common terms are part of discussions underway."
Questions about whether or not they would allow temporary foreign workers to be employed in the construction of the dam were also not returned.