Merit OpenShop Contactors Association of Ontario
Since its inception in 1990, Merit OpenShop Contactors Association of Ontario (Merit) was known as the United Independent Contractors’ Group of Ontario. The organization began as a leading voice for fairness and transparency in construction. It was comprised of a number of industrial, commercial, and institutional general and sub-contractors who joined together in order to address the unfairness of restrictive clauses in public sector tendering.
In 2002 a new name was introduced, the OpenShop Contractors Association. The change was a response to the growing need to address the wider concerns of open shop employers from across the province. The Association became known as the Merit OpenShop Contractors Association of Ontario in 2009; the final change occurred in order to reflect the commitment to Merit Canada, the national organization for open shop associations.
Presently, there are eight Provincial Merit Associations and a Merit Canada office representing 3,500 contractors & businesses with over 300,000 employees.
Equitable and competitive marketplace for construction contractors
“Merit Ontario has been growing its footprint across the province for the past several years,” says Michael J. Gallardo, Executive Director. “There are many open shop contractors across the province in need of support with human resources as they do not have the capacity to hire professionals internally or they are not readily available in their community.”
Merit’s ultimate goal is to have an equitable and competitive marketplace for construction contractors. This would be accomplished with legislation that allows all qualified contractors to bid on all projects. “The Association has helped to fill in the gaps in human resources and will continue to serve as a hub on new legislation in labour relations, on updates and requirements regarding the employment standards act and new policies and directives from the government of the day,” says Gallardo.
Since Merit represents a specific or niche market, they are able to offer information applicable to their membership that is relevant and impactful. “We have offered several business seminars and training sessions for contractors and will continue to build on these positive steps,” says Gallardo. “There is a lot of information readily available for contractors, understanding what is applicable to you is what makes membership most valuable.”
Serving contractors’ needs as the industry shifts
Infrastructure investment has been making headlines regularly. With commitments from both federal and provincial governments for new roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, and replacing aging infrastructure is expected to be in the billions of dollars. “Municipalities throughout the province will need to manage costs related to infrastructure projects related to public transit, roads, affordable housing, bridges, water treatment facilities, and so forth,” says Gallardo. “Investments in infrastructure are key drivers for the economy as they assist to create good paying jobs, even during slow growth periods.”
The prominent shift continues in the residential construction sector; booming faster than ever before. In the Greater Toronto Area, real estate over the last few years has been skyrocketing and condominiums and new builds are set to continue to grow to meet demand. “With interest rates keeping at record lows, the housing market hasn’t cooled in the GTA prompting nearby cities and towns to meet the demand from the urban sprawl,” says Gallardo.
A large influx of money is pouring into infrastructure projects currently at both the federal and provincial levels. As contractors look to bid on various projects throughout the province, knowing when and where a project will be launched is important. “There are several resources that a contractor can turn to, and various partners that can provide this timely information,” says Gallardo. “These services will grow the next few years as contractors will look to get this information.”
“Safety training and education will also see a spike upwards as the provincial government has been quite active over the past few years on training such as the new Working at Heights training standard,” says Gallardo. “Those companies that offer training, the contractors will need providers that can meet the demands from government mandated training. As members look to stay ahead of the curve, the demands simply need to be met.”
Advocates for increased competition and fairness
Merit Ontario is a network of safe, professional, and world class companies that promote the well being of its workers to meet demands on time and on budget. Since they serve as an information and human resources hub, they consistently look towards providing newer programs to meet industry demands.
“We are a mixed trade association of open shop contractors,” says Gallardo. “We advocate for increased competition and fairness in the marketplace for bidding in construction. We also advocate for responsible and responsive city procurers to allow for open tendering for efficiencies and cost reductions on behalf of the citizens they represent and the tax dollars that they are entrusted with.”
Merit is committed to the development and well-being of a safe and intelligent workforce. They offer grants to assist with apprentice development and training to support contractors that wish to develop the pipeline of workers entering the trades. “We support the development of middle to senior management workers that can utilize our supervisor training offerings to better their workforce and leadership training to elevate the management skills of office and field staff as they run crews or teams on various projects,” says Gallardo. “We provide industry sector training that will assist contractors meet the needs of clients, and work with industry partners to provide employees with industry specific training that may not be available to them in their areas with custom solutions to keep costs lower for contractors.”
Merit offers a benefit plan to a contractor this is planned by fellow contractors to support employees and their families. “With recent increases in plans across the board, our plan is competitive and robust to endure the ups and downs of the industry,” says Gallardo. “We believe that by offering a benefit plan to members, they can protect their greatest asset – their people, which are the hardworking men and women in construction.”
Many of their members are quite active in the community involved with local charities and local community groups as they help build these communities whether through construction or by their support and sponsorship of local initiatives.
The Association strives to ensure that contractors that join the Association make use of the Association’s tools and resources that helps it to become a more intelligent contractor. “Construction, whichever segment you look at whether it is non-residential, residential or heavy civil can be a very complex environment for companies that may not have the human capital within their operations,” says Gallardo. “If we can assist to bridge that gap, that is, to provide information and assistance whether it’s in the form of training or support via our network of professionals, we have achieved success.”
Companies that are more complex, that may be more sophisticated in areas of human resources and training, benefit by being a part of network of professional contractors that value safety and support a well educated and well trained workforce of construction workers.
“The merit OpenShop values promote the belief that people and companies succeed based on free enterprise principles within the free market system,” says Gallardo. “This free market system can be best described as allowing open and fair competition. In doing so, it assists all branches of government to be responsible with taxpayer dollars and holds government accountable in awarding contracts based solely on merit to the bidder that is qualified and responsible with meeting value with cost.”
Merit supports innovation, flexibility and for companies to provide solutions to various clients in construction. “With so many projects on the horizon, our goal is to be an attractive option for new entrants that want to work hard, work safe and simply contribute to a sector that is a key economic driver for Ontarians and the country as it recovers from economic and job losses in the energy sector,” says Gallardo. “We want to continue to grow and support areas of growth through programs, services and investments in support for contractors.”