Patrick J. Dillon – Biography

Patrick J. Dillon is the Business Manager and Secretary Treasurer of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario. He has held this position since 1997 and was most recently re-elected to that role in 2018.

Patrick began his career in the construction industry as an Apprentice Electrician in 1961 and became a Journeyperson in 1966. Following 18 years of experience in the construction industry, he was elected Business Manager of Local 105 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1991, he was elected Executive Chairman of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario.

Mr. Dillon serves on a number of construction industry boards, including those of the Ontario Construction Secretariat, BuildForce Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Workers Council, the Workers’ Arts and Heritage Centre, the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada, and Helmets to Hardhats Canada. He serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the De Novo Treatment Centre, an industry-funded drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre that helps construction workers and their families overcome addiction.

In the past, Mr. Dillon has also served on the Boards of Infrastructure Ontario, the Prevention Council, the 2015 Toronto-Greater Golden Horseshoe Pan Am Games Committee, and the Appointments Council for the Ontario College of Trades. Between 1996 and 2012, he has served on the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, representing construction workers. Mr. Dillon is also a past member of the Federal Correctional Services Advisory Board.

In July 2012, the Minister of Training Colleges and Universities presented Mr. Dillon with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, in recognition of “outstanding contributions to the Province of Ontario and the people of Canada.” In his hometown of Hamilton, Mr. Dillon is an avid curler and golfer. He is married with two children and three grandchildren.

Can you tell us about Ontario’s construction industry and the Provincial Building Trades Council’s role within it?

Ontario’s construction industry is a major driver of our economy. Construction accounts for 7% of our province’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which translates into $50.7 billion of economic output every year. This represents a major social and economic footprint that helps sustain middle class prosperity. In Ontario, there are 40 recognized construction trades, 12 of which are compulsory-certified, requiring the attainment of a license to perform work defined in the scopes of practice for those trades.

The construction workforce in Ontario consists of 465,000 workers, of whom 150,000 are represented by the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario. There are 12 affiliated construction craft unions that are members of the Council. Each of the unions has a representative serving on the Council’s Executive Board which meets on a regular basis to conduct Council business.

The Council itself was Chartered on January 10, 1958 under the umbrella of the Building and Construction Trades Department – American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations (BCTD AFL-CIO), now known as North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). The primary reason for the Council’s establishment was for construction workers to have a collective voice at the provincial level so as to strengthen the unity and organizational cohesion of the construction craft unions that came together on behalf of all construction workers. Article III, Section IV of the Council’s Constitution and By-Laws lays out a very important aspect of its mandate which is “to promote the development of health and safety practices and procedures to the end of protecting the health and safety of tradespersons in the building and construction industry.” Moreover, this mandate is intimately tied to the goal outlined in Section III of the Constitution and By-Laws, which is “to foster, develop and advance apprenticeship training and to cooperate with Federal and Provincial agencies promoting the interest of apprenticeship training.” The joy that Building Trades workers take in performing their trade safely, with creativity and skilled precision achieved through training, is an essential ingredient to the success of our industry.

What is the relationship between safety and training in Ontario’s construction industry?

There is a well-documented causal link between training and better safety outcomes in Ontario’s construction industry. A recent peer-reviewed report published by the Institute for Work and Health (IWH) found that lost-time injury claims to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) are 31 percent lower on Building Trades construction jobsites than they are in an environment without worker representation. The report, entitled “Updating a Study of the Union Effect on Safety in the ICI Construction Sector” analyzed WSIB data from more than 50,000 companies representing 1.7 million workers in the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (ICI) construction sector between 2012 and 2018. It also found that claims for severe injuries are 29 percent lower on jobsites with Building Trades representation. A major explanation for the union safety effect that is demonstrated in the study, is the substantial commitment (financial and otherwise) to training, which is the lifeblood of the Building Trades’ business model. The dedicated resources in terms of physical infrastructure, training expertise and delivery, including hands-on training and classroom instruction and mentorship, contribute to a model of continuous learning that makes Building Trades construction worksites the safest in our industry.

Every year, the unionized construction industry in the province of Ontario invests $40 million towards training, including apprenticeship training that is delivered across a network of 95 state-of-the-art training centres. The estimated total value of the Building Trades’ training infrastructure is $250 million. These investments are primarily financed through joint apprenticeship trusts which draw on hourly worker and employer contributions that are dedicated towards training the next generation of construction workers. The Building Trades training model relies on some government funding as well, but the bulk of the investments come from the industry itself. Serving public and private infrastructure needs, Building Trades workers apply their skills on a wide variety of construction projects across seven different bargaining sectors.

Can you tell us about the conceptual background and practical application of collective bargaining in Ontario’s Construction Industry, and what it means for construction workers?

Conceptually, collective bargaining is a way for workers to assert their common interests in the workplace, by negotiating with their employers to help secure fair wages, safe working conditions and benefits such as pension security. Negotiated agreements which may take the form of Collective Agreements or Project Labour Agreements (PLAs) help secure a degree of stability and predictability for employers and workers alike. However, the road towards securing collective bargaining was not an easy one as over the years, strikes, lockouts, and various workplace upheavals took place before the construction industry achieved a degree of relative calm.

Underpinning the collective bargaining mechanism in Ontario’s construction industry is the irrefutable fact that our direct employers, who are for the most part construction trade contractors, must be competitive and profitable for our members to be employed and to build meaningful, long, and prosperous careers in the construction industry. The relationship with our signatory employer counterparts is therefore critically important to the overall success of the industry. The relationship is also highly affected by market trends, and much like the broader economy, demand in our industry fluctuates in cycles that are determined by a complex mix of public and private investment decisions that finance construction projects, large and small. The Building Trades’ relationship with employers is characterized by a degree of cooperation and partnership but at times, it can become adversarial. Regardless of particular negotiating dynamics in any given discipline of the construction sector, the principal driving force that guides the Building Trades’ approach to collective bargaining is a stalwart commitment to fairness for construction workers.

With respect to the practical application of collective bargaining, it is important to note that there are seven bargaining sectors recognized by the Ontario Labour Relations Act, with the largest one being the Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (ICI) sector. Within ICI, collective bargaining unfolds every three years and is conducted by Employee Bargaining Agents who hold bargaining rights for 25 construction trades and negotiate Collective Agreements with Employer Bargaining Agents. Those Collective Agreements explicitly define the wages, schedules, working conditions and other rights and responsibilities assigned to workers and employers, including mechanisms to address grievances in the workplace. Building Trades workers benefit greatly by having Collective Agreements in-place because employers are less likely to engage in exploitative workplace practices, knowing that consequences may be incurred if that were to happen. In practical terms, collective bargaining deters employers from abusing workers, and is a hallmark of Canada’s status as an advanced economy. Moreover, collective bargaining is enshrined as a fundamental right under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is protected by legislation.

The indirect impact of collective bargaining on segments of the industry that have no worker representation is very positive because it places upward pressure on open shop employers to pay their construction workers higher wages than they would have paid if they did not have to compete with unionized employers, to attract workers. This phenomenon is most accurately captured by the aphorism that says that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ preventing a potentially harmful race to the bottom in Ontario’s construction labour market.

How has Ontario’s construction industry responded to the Coronavirus pandemic?

As we approach the second quarter of 2021, dealing with a third wave of COVID-19 infections, it is fair to say that public health authorities and governments around the world are grappling with efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 to protect the safety and health of their citizens.

In the province of Ontario, Premier Doug Ford declared a provincial State of Emergency on March 17, 2020, implementing wide-ranging closures of all non-essential businesses. The announcement also included businesses that were deemed ‘essential’ to keep operating, including those in the construction industry. At the time, construction industry stakeholders were immediately consulted by the provincial government on what would be needed to keep the industry open. The number one priority for the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario was the health and safety of the construction workforce and this message was clearly conveyed to the provincial government. This meant that a number of immediate improvements had to be implemented on construction jobsites, and the industry, along with government, came together to make those changes.

On March 20, a “COVID-19 Advisory for Construction Workplaces in Ontario” notice was jointly released by the Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario (CECCO), the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario (CDAO), and the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario (PBCTCO) outlining essential and immediate actions that had to be implemented on construction jobsites across the province, to ensure the health and safety of workers by reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission which would allow the contractors to operate safely.

Premier Ford declared construction as an ‘essential service’ on March 23, 2020 and the sector was kept open. With the widespread closures of non-essential businesses across the economy however, a portion of Ontario’s construction industry did shut down voluntarily as some owner-clients and contractors closed down jobsites, impacting individual Building Trades workers who stopped working. Premier Ford told workers who were afraid of contracting COVID-19 at work, to go home. In fact, between February and April 2020, the province’s construction industry lost 94,000 jobs as a result of this voluntary retrenchment.

As the construction sector remained open, the Provincial Building Trades Council began hosting weekly conference calls of the Provincial Executive Board, of the Local Building Trades Councils from across Ontario, of the Building Trades Training Providers, and of all the Provincial Councils from across the country. The purpose of the calls was to share critically valuable information about (1) any reported cases of COVID-19 infections affecting construction workers, including whether those infections were contracted on jobsites; (2) overall Building Trades construction employment levels; and (3) the state of jobsite conditions and compliance with established safety protocols, including specific situations that had to be escalated to the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the Chief Prevention Officer (CPO), and/or local Public Health authorities.

Participation rates on these calls were very high and the information-sharing proved critically important to the Building Trades learning from one another about appropriate courses of action when confronting different situations, and assuaging Building Trades workers that the union leadership was listening to and acting on their behalf, and in the interest of safety. The calls further allowed an opportunity for trades to be alerted about other trades’ infections at particular jobsites, so that they could take responsive action to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

Subsequent indications showed an overall improvement to jobsite conditions, relatively low numbers of construction worker COVID-19 infections, and reasonably well-functioning labour relations. However, along the way, there have been challenges in bringing some jobsites up to standard, requiring a lot of effort from dedicated union representatives exerting maximum pressure on employers to comply. The Council’s Director of Occupational Services, working with the Council’s Health and Safety Committee in consultation with all Building Trades, prepared a “Recommended COVID-19 Safety Protocol and Prevention Measures” document on April 23, 2020. This document was widely distributed with the construction industry in Ontario, serving as a template for established best-practices that employers, regulators, and workers utilized to ensure, as much as possible, safe workplaces in the context of challenges posed by COVID-19. Furthermore, on June 1, a document entitled “Recommended COVID-19 Safety Protocol and Prevention Measures – Worker Camps” was specifically geared to projects being performed in remote areas of the province, especially in Northern Ontario, specifying the steps that were needed to ensure safe and Coronavirus-free worker camps. On July 15, the Building Trades Council released its “Recommended COVID-19 Risk Reduction Strategies for the Reopening of Training Centres” document which accelerated the revival of the province’s construction Training Providers who resumed delivering the best skills training to the next generation of Ontario’s construction workforce parallel to the province’s phased reopening plan.

On September 30, the Council released its “Guidelines for Dealing with COVID-19 Infections in the Construction Workplace” document which was prompted by the reported lack of clarity and lack of consistency regarding the way in which some workers were instructed (in comparison to others) to await their COVID-19 test results after having been exposed to the virus in the construction workplace. Some Public Health officials told workers to go back to work, while other workers in different parts of Ontario were instructed to self-isolate while awaiting their test results. The Council believes that Ontario needs a singular, unambiguous policy on testing, and that workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 should self-isolate while awaiting their test results. This position has repeatedly been made clear to the provincial government and to Public Health authorities.

The various documents and protocols prepared by the Council in consultation with Building Trades unions and the broader construction industry throughout 2020 have served as important reference points to help navigate the complexities of the virus spread, including its medical risks and manifestations, the dynamics of its transmission in the context of various construction workplace settings, and what needs to be done at jobsites and training centres to ensure sanitization, to hasten testing, and to lower the risk of transmission.

Whichever direction the Coronavirus pandemic takes over the next several months, the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario will continue to work diligently with employers, government officials, medical experts, and our construction unions to make sure that every possible step is taken to protect the safety and health of Ontario’s construction workers so that we get through this pandemic together.

Do you have a message for young people who may aspire to start a construction trade as a long-term career choice?

My message to young people would be that they can absolutely have a long-lasting, safe, gratifying and prosperous career in the construction industry by joining the Building Trades. I would encourage them to be open-minded, to freely channel their curiosity as they discover their personal inclinations about what they like and how they learn. Successfully navigating different career options requires patience and an appreciation for the wide spectrum of construction trades that exist, and any one of those trades could be an excellent fit for a variety of young people, including those who excel at ‘hands-on’ learning. I would strongly encourage youth to spend some time researching what is involved in each of the construction trades, and to carefully assess the numerous advantages of working in a unionized setting, with respect to skills, wages, benefits, health and safety. Beyond the purely transactional aspect of the labour market, there is a social responsibility dimension to all workplaces whereby employees ought to be treated fairly by their employers. Organized labour plays an important role in helping to secure that basic fairness which may otherwise be lacking. In the construction industry, the Building Trades are at the forefront of fulfilling that role.

Furthermore, the ‘earn while you learn’ model of Building Trades apprenticeship training gives young people unique access to a steadily-increasing source of income that they probably would not have access to if they pursued a post-secondary academic degree, oftentimes incurring significant student debt along the way, prior to joining the workforce. Building Trades offer an exceptional advantage to the next generation of construction workers through an unparalleled commitment to training that is reflected in safer workplaces. I think that those two features are especially appealing to young people who may be contemplating a career in construction.

Lastly, the strength of Ontario’s construction workers lies in the collective power to have a meaningful say in our workplace. The need for emboldened workers asserting their rights grows in tandem with the drift that we are witnessing in the broader economy which is moving towards greater precariousness, inequality, and the proliferation of casual (as opposed to stable) work. In some ways, if Ontario’s private enterprise system did not produce systemic patterns of exploitation and worker discontent, there would be no need for unions. The reality, however, is that economic disparities are a permanent feature of free market economics and collective worker action is therefore needed to confront and correct those disparities, resulting in a more balanced economy. Preserving a strong middle-class is not something that happens on its own; rather, organized labour is an essential part of maintaining an advanced economy in the province of Ontario, and the Building Trades are proud to contribute to that effort.