Many stories to tell in the first 50 years of the BC Building Trades

By Jim Sinclair

On June 2, 1967, leaders representing more than 40,000 B.C. construction unions met to formally accept the charter creating the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building Trades Council. It was the culmination of years of discussion during which time unions kept coming to the same conclusion–we’re better off together than when we are divided. The first annual convention of the council was held in October of the same year at the Blue Boy Hotel in South Vancouver. More than 120 delegates were present to endorse founding president Don O’Reilly and lay the foundation for the battles that construction workers would face. For 50 years, the council has been the recognized voice of construction workers in British Columbia.

Two years later, and in response to this development, more than 500 unionized construction companies formed the Construction Labour Relations Association, and the stage was set for years of tough bargaining, strikes, and lockouts.

Through ups and downs in the industry, the council continued to fight for the rights of construction workers to a fair wage and safe working conditions. It’s been a dramatic history, full of solidarity and struggle, but also division and difficult times.

For nearly the entire time, the council and its member unions have been in a battle for survival with well-organized and well-funded groups such as the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) who, more often than not, had the government in their corner as well.

Despite the challenges, enormous victories were won over the years, including good pensions and benefits, safer workplaces, decent camp accommodations, the best apprenticeship programs in the country, and a jurisdictional assignment plan that ended most of the infighting between unions.

B.C. and Yukon Territory Building Trades Council Executive Director Tom Sigurdson

“There’s no question it’s been an uphill battle to maintain and improve conditions for construction workers but there can be no doubt the decent conditions that we do enjoy are the direct result of unions sticking together to fight for all construction workers,” said Executive Director Tom Sigurdson. “We have a lot to celebrate and it’s important for us to take some time to do this and to honour those who sacrificed and fought so hard to enable us to have what we have today.”

More details of the celebrations will be carried in future issues.

A 50th anniversary celebration is planned for October, and the council has contracted Jim Sinclair, the former president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, to produce a book capturing the history of the B.C. Building Trades. Sinclair, who is a journalist by trade, is aiming to have the book finished and printed in time for the anniversary dinner in October. A committee of executive officers will oversee the book and the celebrations.