12,000 plumbers and pipefitters begin strike at midnight

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With contract negotiations at an impasse, Ontario’s 12,000 unionized plumbers and steamfitters are headed for their first strike in more than three decades at midnight tonight.

The Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC) says in a statement it had been hopeful there would be some movement on the position taken by the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario (MCAO), but the management side has been entrenched on a key issue and has not been willing to move. Because of management’s demands, as of midnight tonight Ontario’s unionized pipe trade workers will be on strike.

Video: UA Local 46 members in the GTA after voting on Thursday to reject the MCAO’s final offer

“It would be a misnomer to call this round of talks a negotiation,” says Ross Tius, chairman of the OPTC bargaining committee. “We have met with the contractors several times over the past few months, and they have not been willing to compromise or change their position. They want to drastically change the working conditions of our members, and that is unacceptable to us.”

The strike means the pipefitters and plumbers will join thousands of sheet metal workers, who have been on strike since the beginning of May, fighting over generally the same issues — contractors’ demands for an end to the long-standing 36-hour week in major markets, and an erosion of the union’s ability to determine which employees are sent to job sites.

The contractors are seeking significant changes to the hours a plumber or steamfitter works.

“The current work week allows the contractor the flexibility in scheduling work which also allows our members to schedule personal appointments and training classes without a loss of employment hours — it’s a benefit to both sides,” a union statement said.

“Instead of working with us, the MCAO has taken an adversarial approach and is forcing our membership to go on strike to protect one of our core values,” says Jim Hogarth, Business Manager of the Ontario Pipe Trades Council. “It’s a sad day when after 30 years of relative labour harmony between our two organizations that they have taken this hardline approach.”

United Association (UA) members voted more than 96 per cent against a “final offer” from the MCAO at local meetings throughout the province on Thursday. The union had been prepared to walk off the job Monday night, but the OPTC bargainers — after receiving the last-minute offer from the contractors — determined that Ontario labour law required them to submit the offer to the union’s membership via secret ballot before a strike could commence.

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