Maintenance workers at Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, NLHC, are incredulous that their work is being contracted out as a solution to the housing crisis, instead of filling job vacancies and paying overtime.

“Everybody knows that contracting out costs a lot more than doing the work in house,” says Jerry Butler, president of CUPE 1860, which represents approximately 210 employees at NLHC. “In fact, a joint study done years ago by CUPE and the housing corporation showed that contractors between 25-30% more to do the work.”

He also wants to know why the government has taken this long to address homelessness.

“There are housing units that have been vacant for years, while shelters are bursting at the seams, and waitlists grow longer,” he says. “Often these units only need a small repair, but they are left vacant so long they require intensive remedies.”

Butler says the housing corporation has been reducing staff through attrition and leaving positions vacant and has been letting contractors remove the inventory maintenance workers need to do their jobs.

He is also concerned that contractors are being hired arbitrarily instead of by tender and says they often have to go behind contractors and fix their work.

“Private contractors are not accountable to the tenants the way we are,” he says. “A contractor will tear down a ceiling in a unit that has had a leak and not come back for weeks, allowing mold to grow. Whereas we would remediate water damage immediately.”

Butler says the work could all be done in house if the housing corporation would fill the vacancies and be willing to pay overtime. “Let our members do their jobs,” he says.