UPDATE: Operating engineers voting today

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Michael Lewis

Special to Ontario Construction News

Thousands of crane and heavy equipment operators represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers are voting Friday on tentative contract agreements that could end a two week strike the union says has crippled Ontario’s construction industry.

Union negotiating committees are unanimously recommending acceptance of the high rise formwork and provincial ICI agreements reached with employers over the last two days. chief union negotiator Mike Gallagher said in a video address to members posted online Thursday. He described the strike as highly effective in exacting an economic toll to compel  employers back to the table, resulting in “excellent settlements.”

A representative of the employer bargaining agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I’m very proud of you for holding the line,” Gallagher said in the address to workers, adding that details of the proposed settlement will be explained at the province-wide ratification meetings.

 “You showed the might that we have as an organization when we take job action,” he said. The work stoppage has “basically shut down the province of Ontario when it comes to the construction industry.”

Members of the IUOE in Ontario walked off the job in a legal strike on May 2 after rejecting the previous contract offer by their employer bargaining agency in ratification voting the day before.

Included among the approximately 7,000 members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793 employed in the province’s ICI sector are about 3,800 crane operators in high-rise forming, with remaining members typically operating bulldozers and other equipment  for on-site excavation and preparation work.

Among the crane operators  are roughly 300 tower crane operators used in condo construction across Ontario, said Gallagher, who is also  business manager of Local 793.

Previous bargaining had been conducted with assistance from a conciliator and the union has said it has remained open to a return to talks. Under provincial legislation construction unions in the ICI sector saw their three year contracts expire on April 30.

According to the Residential Construction Council of Ontario, which represents new-home and condominium builders, however, labour legislation in Ontario mandates that trades involved in low-rise and high-rise residential construction in the Toronto area have a 46-day window from May 1st to June 15th to strike, after which time outstanding issues will be decided by an arbitrator.

The previous tentative agreement was rejected on economic grounds, Gallagher has said, suggesting that the offer did not go far enough in offering compensation for the rising costs union members are facing for travel,  accommodation, parking  and other work related expenses and for the broader inflationary pressures that have emerged in the province.

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