A New Way of Doing Business
By Anna Guy
Canadian Canadian unions tend to be entrenched in history—many are over 100 years old now. As Canada’s youngest union, the Building Union of Canada’s mission was to forge a “bold new way of doing business” from the onset.
The formation of the Building Union of Canada (the BUC) in March, 2012, garnered as much attention for its new approach to union organization as it did for its high-profile co-founder, Craig Bromell. The public knows Craig Bromell as the highly-publicized former president of the Toronto Police Association, and for his outspoken dedication to the hardworking men and women represented by the Union. Bromell brings a wealth of union and negotiating experience to the BUC, including experience as a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Police Association and the National Professional Police Association and consultant to the Christian Labour Association of Canada.
When we spoke with Stephen Bromell, co-founder and Secretary Treasure of the BUC (and Craig’s brother), one of the first thing mentioned is his family. He has been married for 29 years and has been blessed with five children, and he knows first-hand these responsibilities are shared by the men and women in the BUC.
As a construction manager, Bromell spent a lot of time on the road between Windsor, Ottawa, and north of Timmins. It was during his time he was able to form a grassroot understanding of the needs of those who make up the construction industry and what they did and didn’t want from a union.
“There is a misconception that union density in the construction industry is high, when in fact only between 25 and 30 per cent of construction workers are in a union,” says Bromell. “Many people would say they felt like they worked for the union, not for their employer, and it became clear to me that employees wanted a partnership between union, themselves and their employers.”
With the BUC, Bromell says everyone can be happy: the employer, employee, and the union. How is this achieved? Bromell points to a few things: One is a Defined Contribution Pension Plan (through Manulife), whereby employer contributes a set amount and employees have more control over their investments.
From the onset, the BUC was very successful with this model, garnering partnerships with some of the country’s largest builders and
developers, and ICI contractors. “This saves the employer a lot of money, and no matter how the market performs, our members get a minimum 3 per cent return—even in a down year. If the market is up, that full return goes to them. Last year, for instance, our return was 9.45 per cent.”
“Because many other pensions are underfunded, they may only get 45 per cent to transfer their funds. With our pension, there are no worries about that. We can arrange Collective Agreements includes wage increases of $2.00 per hour and Pension contribution increase of $1.00 per hour for all of the BUC members.”
“It is a win-win-win for everybody,” says Bromell. “Our members get more money, more value in their pension, health benefit plans comparable, with the employer still saving over five dollars an hour.”
What has the reaction been to a new kid on the block? Bromell says other unions have definitely taken notice. “We have a niche and created something very effective,” he says. “If they don’t want to change their model, that is great, that means less competition for our contractors.”
The BUC is what is known as a “wall-to-wall” union, meaning it can represent different industries. This makes it easy for companies to deal with because it means one collective agreement as opposed to an individual one for each trade on a project—of which there are typically 10 or more. This method also prevents costly jurisdictional disputes.
What makes the BUC team most proud to offer its members is the benefit plan. “From my personal experience, the biggest impact on families is our benefit plan,” he says. “I have five children, so I know how important they are. This benefit plan gives peace of mind and one of the most important parts of the Collective Agreement.”
The BUC continues to get stronger. In July, 2018 employees of Urbacon Design/Build Corp. joined the Building Union of Canada and unanimously ratified their first Collective Agreement. A leader in the construction industry in Canada for over 30 years, Urbacon directly employs all classifications of Skilled Labourers, Carpenters and Heavy Equipment Operators who perform work in the ICI sector of construction in Ontario, and benefited from the BUC’s ability to represent multiple trades.
Of the deal, Field Rep and BUC Exec Board member Tony Cordeiro says, “Our wall-to-wall status at the Ontario Labour Relations Board allows us to represent every trade in construction under one Collective Agreement. We are very excited for the opportunity these employees have given us to work and grow together.”
The day after the Urbacon announcement, CY Rheault employees signed on with BUC as their representation. “These employees showed overwhelming support for the BUC and we are excited to represent them. They have a bright future under our Collective Agreement and we won’t let them down,” says Cordeiro. CY Rheault employs Labourers, Painters and apprentices and is one of the largest contractors in Northern Ontario.
There are no signs of slowing down. Every month, more and more contractors see the benefits of the BUC for their employees and their bottom line. “We are growing exponentially,” says Bromell. “And as we grow, we are able to have a positive impact on the lives of those we represent. The welfare of our members is what drives us everyday.”