Jon Coleman (right) and other members of the Cowichan Tribes-owned Khowutzun Development Corporation are blocking work at the site of the new Cowichan District Hospital on Bell McKinnon Road over union issues. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

First Nations picket halts work at $887 million B.C. hospital over union rules

‘This is Cowichan Tribes territory and we don’t need to be in any unions to work in our own backyard’

Work on the new $887.4-million Cowichan District Hospital near Duncan on Vancouver Island ground to a halt Friday morning after members of Cowichan Tribes-owned Khowutzun Development Corporation began picketing the site.

Jon Coleman, a Cowichan Tribes member and owner of Duncan-based Jon-co Contracting, one of several contracting companies that fall under the banner of Khowutzun Development Corporation, said the dispute is over unionized workers.

He said companies and workers of the KDC had been working clearing the site and hauling gravel for some time.

But Coleman said the BC Infrastructure Benefits, the provincial Crown corporation that provides the qualified skilled trades workforce for the construction of public infrastructure projects operating under the Community Benefits Agreement, got involved.

He said BCIB refused KDC a permit to continue to work at the site because none of its companies and workers are members of unions accepted by the Crown corporation.

“This is Cowichan Tribes territory and we don’t need to be in any unions to work in our own backyard,” Coleman said while standing around a fire at the site’s entrance to stay warm with other KDC workers.

“We’re going to stay here and block construction until we get a permit from BCIB to allow us to go back to work. The other companies and workers have respected our picket line so far and have not gone on site. Cowichan Tribes chief [Lydia Hwitsum] and the band are supporting us in this.”

Labour

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