Construction labour stability on edge as pipe trades negotiations resume before Friday’s strike deadline

ua 46 strike vote
UA 46 (Plumbers’ Union) members when they voted 99 per cent on April 25 in favour of a strike if negotiations continue to break down. The union reports that there were 2,013 ballots cast, and only 20 voted to accept the contractors’ last offer. (UA 46 Facebook page)

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The next few days will be crucial for labour stability in Ontario’s construction industry, as negotiations between employers and representatives of unions representing plumbers and pipefitters resume today, while sheet metal workers prepare for a long walk-out and prepare to vote on strategies to enhance members’ strike pay.

Employer bargaining agencies have drawn battle lines relating to ending the 36-hour work week and the long-standing practice of giving unions the power to determine which members they send to job sites from their hiring halls.

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If a settlement isn’t reached when negotiations resume, some 12,000 plumbers and pipefitters will go on strike on Friday. If the workers strike, it will be the first time they have walked off the job in three decades.

Employers negotiating with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) originally asked for the same hiring hall rule and hour changes in earlier negotiations, but backed off, averting a labour dispute – and that union became the first to ratify its collective bargaining agreement before the previous three-year industry wide contracts ended on May 1.

However the employers of sheet metal workers, plumbers and pipefitters are so far holding firm on their work-week and hiring hall “naming” rule change demands.

Union representatives say negotiators from the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario (MCAO) have “not been progressive,” Ross Tius, chairman of the Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC) bargaining committee, said last week.

“It is important that you know that each time we have sat with the contractors, they have presented identical proposals – they have not budged on their proposals to lengthen your work week and move towards 100 per cent name hires (essentially undermining the very fundamentals of the union hiring hall,” Robert Brooker, business manager of United Association, Local 46, wrote to his Toronto-area members on May 16. “These are significant concessions they seek.”

“Over the past three decades, UA Local 46 has been a local looking to move our industry forward,” he added. “Whether it be through training or open dialogue and co-operation with our industry partners, we have been progressive.

“Never has this local been opposed to the use of existing articles within the collective agreement to cover all our contractors needs for five-day coverage on a project. Moreover, through our member funding, we have provided over $5 million during the current contract to secure work for both our members and the contractors.”

“It seems that only one party wants to continue this progress through meaningful negotiations and protect the gains we have made against ever changing legislation that will hurt both of us. The burden of success falls on both parties and it is time they, the contractors, step up to the plate,” he wrote.

“We caution against anything the MCAO is asking – it is the start of a slippery slope.”

“Our sheet metal brother and sisters are currently on strike over these same issues. A strike mandate is not an easy thing to manage. We all want to be on the job, ensuring all plumbing, steamfitting and mechanical jobs are done safely, to the utmost standards of quality and performed by trained, qualified individuals.  But at the same time, we cannot accept, on your behalf, what the contractors are proposing.”

Meanwhile, in an indication that the sheet metal workers may be preparing for a long strike, the Sheet Metal Workers’ and Roofers’ Union Local 30 has called a special June 5 meeting at the Brighton Convention centre regarding strike pay. “The sole purpose of this meeting is to discuss and vote on whether unallocated stabilization funds may be used to provide additional strike pay to Local 30 members who are actually participating in the current strike,” wrote recording secretary Neill Kennedy.

The union reported on its Facebook page that at least two members have been caught doing sheet metal work in violation of the strike. Other members reported they are making adjustments in their lives to overcome the sudden loss of income, as the current $150 per week strike pay would cover less than three hours wages at current pay rates. Some say they are taking other jobs (outside of sheet metal work) to put food on the table and meet their family obligations.

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