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Local labour reacts to GLSS delays

Published on

Cathy Dobson

There’s no shortage of available skilled trades to work on the $25 million reconstruction of Great Lakes Secondary School, say frustrated union reps.

“It’s a slap in the face to hear the contractor say that,” said John Swart, president of the Sarnia Building Trades Council.

Officials with the Lambton Kent District School Board have repeatedly said they’ve been told by the contractor that the school at the corner of Murphy and Wellington streets is not ready for the start of this semester because of a scarcity of skilled trades people.

No request by the contractor for workers from any trade has gone unfilled, said Jason McMichael, Sarnia & District Labour Council president. “There is rarely a shortage of trades in Sarnia.”

Anywhere from 10% to 20% of the nearly 6,000 skilled workers that belong to the building trades in Sarnia are not working, Swart said.

“It fluctuates but it’s somewhere in that (vicinity),” he said. “I don’t know why the school board wouldn’t pick up the phone and talk to a local union rep.

“Then they’d know we have the trades available, people that live here who have kids or grandkids that go to school.  People that will do the best work safely.”

The school board issued a statement in June saying the school would not be ready for students this fall because of a labour shortage.

Swart and McMichael say they immediately spoke to local business agents and union managers to confirm workers were available.

“Then we went to the building site and said we’ve got the ironworkers and bricklayers you need.”

Swart said he doesn’t know why the contractor, Jasper Construction based in Concord Ont., isn’t hiring more Sarnia tradespeople if they are needed.

“Did the school board research the track record of this contractor or did they just pick the lowest bidder?” Swart asked.

LKDSB awarded the contract to Jasper Construction in August 2017 with the understanding that the new Great Lakes Secondary School would be ready for the 2018 school year.

Jasper submitted the lowest of five bids that qualified for the job. Wellington Builders Inc. of Forest was the only local bidder and came in with a bid that was $520,000 more than Jasper Construction.

McMichael, who represents nearly 17,000 unionized workers in Sarnia-Lambton, said any suggestion that there aren’t enough trades to get the job done on time could have far-reaching economic consequences.

Sarnia-Lambton’s reputation as a region with a strong and safety-conscious workforce that can provide sufficient trades people for large projects is brought into question by the board’s statement, McMichael said.

Hiring local doesn’t cost more, added Swart. “In general, local trades are not more expensive than anywhere else in the province.”

Without the new school site ready, Great Lakes students started classes this week at the former SCITS building, which is slated for closure as soon as the move is possible.

LKDSB officials say they are meeting with Jasper Construction early this month for an update on construction. As yet, no moving schedule is confirmed.

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