OGCA viewpoint: What are Community Benefits anyway?

communitybenefits.ca website
The Communitybenefits.ca website

By Giovanni Cautillo

Special to Ontario Construction News

Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) and/or a Social Procurement Agreement (SPA) are defined as agreements that work towards the achievement of strategic social, economic and workforce development goals using an organization’s process of purchasing goods and services. Most CBAs and/or SPAs focus on workforce development as an interconnected set of solutions to meet employment needs.

Free online event: Addressing racism in construction: A conversation with EllisDon

The concept is that a community benefits system prepares workers with needed skills, emphasizes the value of workplace learning and addresses the hiring demands of employers.

So why should contractors care about community benefits programs? Well, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is because the occurrence of CBA and/or SPA language is becoming ever-increasing in the vernacular of buyers of construction. This is then translated to the tenders and ultimately to the contracts our members need to administer and adhere to. Suffice it to say that this type of provision will become more and more prominent as infrastructure and construction projects continue to grow, and hence, it behooves contractors to know and understand how these requirements will ultimately affect them.

Secondly, in an ideal scenario, CBAs would facilitate new entries into construction from currently underrepresented or non-represented groups such as: women; indigenous peoples; new immigrants; minorities; and others, pursuant to the demographic make-up of the jurisdiction in question. CBAs have the potential to greatly augment the current workforce that construction has, but the overriding caveat is that the infrastructure for these programs must be properly primed to adequately deal with all of the idiosyncrasies that come with this type of contractual provision.

While CBAs can be useful tools, getting them right is essential to ensuring that they create meaningful and relevant benefits for communities and that they, in turn, are not unceremoniously downloaded onto the contractor to “figure out.”

The best types of community benefit programs start with an outside organization as the entry point for all of these diverse groups to access. From that launching point, the new entrants to construction would be guided to the areas of construction that require individuals, as well as is in keeping with that individual’s skill sets.

To clarify, I would like to provide you with an anecdotal experience I had with my former association in dealing with community benefits. This example will demonstrate that if you do not properly allocate at the foundational level through an engaged outside organization, then the entire endeavour is doomed to fail.

A specific jurisdiction wanted to demonstrate that they were ahead of the curve on the subject of community benefits and without any industry consultation, (so) they decided they were going to place hard targets within the tenders to mandate that contractors hired from under-represented groups.

The tender in question mandated that contractors hire three additional individuals on a crew to satisfy the CBA requirements. As you can assume, this unilateral position was not to the liking of the contractors and ultimately penalized the contractor if they did not successfully meet the tender requirements.

Clearly the association sent letters of objection to the jurisdiction that this system was being arbitrarily downloaded onto the contractors with a penalty program instead of an incentive-based provision. This was clearly not fair and not well thought out by the jurisdiction. Our protests were successful, and the jurisdiction in question had to relent on this tender but was determined to force this system on the construction industry.

In a subsequent tender, the same jurisdiction once again mandated the same terms as the first tender, but instead of downloading all of the responsibility directly onto the contractor, they noted that contractors were to access a particular outside third party organization, determined by the jurisdiction, to be the source of all community benefit entrants into construction.

I met with the directors of this outside third-party organization to assess the number of individuals that they had processed through their training and ultimately ready to enter the heavy civil sector of construction for our contractors. The directors boasted that they had processed 30 plus individuals that would satisfy community benefits requirements.

This was promising, but when I inquired as to how many of the individuals were prepared to enter into the heavy civil sector to satisfy this tender requirement, the response was two. Not only had the outside organization failed to facilitate the adequate proportion of individuals to the heavy civil sector, but the remaining 28 people were all interested in working in the field of construction that didn’t have the same CBA requirements.

Ultimately, the jurisdiction in question needed to rethink and step back from this in order to approach it with the construction industry to assist in facilitating a successful outcome.

Why the long story to explain community benefits? Because, without the proper planning and linking with the correct stakeholders, our Ontario General Contractors’ Association (OGCA) members could be adversely affected because a specific buyer of construction was trying to do the right thing without the correct tools.

To this end, the OGCA has aligned ourselves with the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN). This group is working specifically within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and with labour organizations to assist in the meaningful facilitation of unrepresented and under-represented groups into construction. They are also advocating for CBA terms to be aspirational and to be incentive-based as opposed to a penalty system should the contractor not achieve the desired requirement.

The TCBN is the proper outside third-party organization that is taking the steps to prepare those groups to enter into construction. Additionally, they are doing so with industry as stakeholders around the table and “asking” – not telling – us what to do. This process will yield a much better outcome since it hinges on all the parties understanding the requirements as well as where people are needed.

The TCBN will be a strong ally in assisting in the proper handling of CBAs moving forward, and possess the clout and understanding to correctly lay the foundation for this system to be properly administered to the ultimate success for the new entrants as well as the contractor firms hiring them.

Recently, the OGCA was requested to be a participant on the TCBN AGM as a panelist. We followed a keynote address from Andrew Anderson from EllisDon, who briefly explained their position on the current racially motivated situation they were facing on some sites.

EllisDon is also an industry supporter of the TCBN, and the OGCA not only echoed their sentiments, but clearly noted that the actions of a few cowardly racist individuals should not paint the entire ICI construction industry as such.

I went on to reiterate that construction was built and thrived through the hiring of immigrants, and personalized the message with my own upbringing and experience with construction. Ultimately, our message was that construction is a welcoming place and a wonderful destination for a career.

In addition to our inclusion with the TCBN, the OGCA is having discussion with the Pinball Clemons Foundation, as well as engaging with RESCON on their antiracism committee.

Lastly, the OGCA is hosting a fireside chat with Geoff Smith and other key staff at EllisDon on Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. to discuss how general contractors can learn from their experience and ensure that workplaces are safe for all workers. I personally encourage all of our members to attend.

Ultimately, the community benefits and social procurement dialogue will continue, but the OGCA wants to assure our members that these discussions are not proceeding unchecked and without our engagement. The OGCA will continue to engage in these conversations to the ultimate betterment of the ICI sector and to always ensure that the contractor’s point of view is heard.

Should you wish more information about community benefits or how the OGCA is positioned to help, or if you require assistance from the OGCA, please contact me directly at giovanni@ogca.ca or via phone at (905) 671-3969.

Giovanni Cautillo is the OGCA’s president. This story was originally published in the association’s weekly eletter on Nov. 24.


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