By Anna Guy
Merit Contractors was born out of a plight for competition, fairness and transparency in the construction industry. During a very difficult time in Alberta’s economy in 1986, 15 prescient contractors banned together to help keep Albertans working in the province’s struggling construction industry. They did so by, creating Merit Alberta in the “open shop” or “merit” model: a non-unionized workers model to support contractors with training, advocacy, and education, and foster a competitive business environment.
30 years later, over 40,000 workers, in 1,400 Albertan companies have chosen Merit Alberta for its benefits, training, and human resources tools. Merit grew roots quickly and expanded to other provinces.
In 2008, Merit Canada was established as a united national voice for the eight Provincial Merit Associations representing 3,500 contractors and businesses
“Fairness and transparency are our two main pillars,” says Malcom D. Kirkland. Kirkland is in his fourth year as President of Merit Alberta, and is passionate about the benefits of open-shop, the association (which, at a maximum annual fee of $750 or less, is incredible value) and the ability to support its members to be at the forefront of the industry.
“Our approach to services for our members is to ensure that they are progressive and competitive,” says Kirkland. “Everything from advocacy to webinars are for the benefit of our members, to help them do their job the best they can.”
For example, Merit Alberta administers the largest multi-employer benefit plan in Canada’s construction industry. “Merit’s benefit plan is portable, robust and a price-leader ensuring workers are covered while on the job, between work, even during lay-offs,” says Kirkland. “Merit protects the construction industry’s greatest asset: our people.”
“There is a fantastic training component to Merit,” adds Kirkland. “The College of Construction offers programs in Supervisory Training, Construction Skills, Management Training, Safety Training, and Seminars, Webinars, and E-Learning for workers looking to acquire or upgrade their skills.” Through these tools, members are equipped to manage, motivate and direct their workforce to achieve maximum productivity.”
Merit also values education of the youth of Alberta, and has provided more than $25 million in scholarships and tuition refunds as a reflection of this.
The goals of Merit Alberta
Are the Association’s founding principles still relevant today? Kirkland says, absolutely. One of Merit Alberta’s biggest advocacy issues is to ensure that all construction contracts are open to the free market, and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder through open and fair competition, regardless of union or non-union affiliation.
“We insist and believe its fair and transparent that taxpayer money is made available from bids whether unionized or non-unionized,” says Kirkland. “In the past, there have been situations where governments allocated money for infrastructure projects indicated it is to be done by unionized contractors. We believe public tax dollars must be open to everybody.”
Merit Alberta cites research behind this philosophy, that has indicated the public benefits from this more competitive environment because costs go down, and costs go up by as much as 30 per cent when bids are only open to unions.
Kirkland said Merit Alberta is working to protect its members from the low cost of oil, and the province’s challenge in attracting outside investment. Merit Alberta knows its members are busy running their businesses, and takes advocating on behalf of its members very seriously.
Since late 2017, amid changes of the Province’s labour and employment standards legislation, the government passed Bill 30. Labeled “an Act to Protect The Health And Well-Being Of Working Albertans”, Merit Alberta is working hard to ensure its members are aware of Bill 30’s “significant” changes to Alberta’s WCB and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation. “While the Workers’ Compensation Act is being amended, the Occupational Health and Safety Act is being repealed and completely replaced, with far reaching cost and operational implications for many employers in Alberta.”
An equitable and competitive marketplace for construction contractors does not happen by accident. Merit Alberta succeeds by making sure the voice of open-shop contractors is heard by all levels of government. While promoting a competitive and prosperous economy, all Albertans come out winners.