An agreement to hire locally for constructing the Eglinton Crosstown was billed as a ground-breaking move that would leverage major transit projects to create jobs for disadvantaged communities. But more than a year after the consortium building the LRT agreed to put forward a plan, labour and community organizations say it has yet to deliver.
In 2014, the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) and Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, signed a widely lauded framework outlining principles for “community benefit agreements” for Toronto’s light rail projects.
The agreement said companies selected to deliver the transit lines would be asked to commit to offering employment and apprenticeship opportunities to “historically disadvantaged” and “equity-seeking groups,” to ensure that some of the billions being invested in the projects would stay in local communities.
A construction consortium called Crosslinx won the bid for the second phase of the $5.3-billion Eglinton Crosstown in July 2015. But according to the TCBN, the company has yet to release any clear targets for so-called “diversity hires.”
Crosslinx declined to answer questions about its community benefit plan and instead referred the Star to Metrolinx, which is in charge of the light rail project. Agency spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said Crosslinx has submitted community benefits and apprenticeship proposals, and Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario are in the “final stages” of reviewing them. She said the provincial agencies “expect to have an announcement very soon” and the agency is committed to the community benefits project.
“Metrolinx recognizes that its major infrastructure investments should also provide benefits for the communities in which infrastructure work is being done, including employment, apprenticeship, and local supplier opportunities, where possible,” Aikins wrote in an email.
But some labour groups are getting tired of waiting.
Work on the second phase of the Crosstown, which includes the LRT line’s tracks, stations, signalling and other operating systems, has already begun. The first station broke ground in March.
According to John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and the labour chair of the TCBN, it’s vital that Crosslinx set clear hiring targets. Without them, the community plan will be ineffective.
“We’ve been arguing that everything we’ve learned from community benefits agreements across North America is you have to actually set goals — specific goals, expectations — and then work very collaboratively to be able to meet those goals,” he said.
Once an agreement is in place, he added, it will take time to engage employment agencies and other groups to recruit suitable candidates.
“We’re frustrated as hell that they’ve not come forward with that commitment.”
TCBN has proposed that 15 per cent of employee hours on the Crosstown should go to people from groups traditionally shut out of construction projects, including women, aboriginal people and others from racialized communities, and newcomers to Canada.
(Full disclosure: the Star’s charitable Atkinson Foundation is a sponsor of the Toronto Community Benefits Network.)
Neither Metrolinx nor Crosslinx would say whether the plan the company has submitted includes the 15 per cent goal, or any defined targets.
The debate over the Crosstown hiring is a major test for the community benefits framework, which took years for Metrolinx and the TCBN to negotiate.
It was modelled after similar agreements in the United States, and was initially considered so successful that it inspired provincial community benefits legislation.
Nigel Barriffe, who works with the Good Jobs for All Coalition, said it’s crucial that the Crosstown be done right, especially because Metrolinx is currently in the procurement phase for the $1-billion Finch LRT. That line will run through several historically disadvantaged areas in North Etobicoke.
“If these contractors know that they can just ignore the will of the people, and just go ahead and keep building without putting in these hard targets and hiring people from the community, then that’s exactly what will happen in North Etobicoke,” he said.
With files from Laurie Monsebraaten
With files from Laurie Monsebraaten
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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