Plumbers, pipefitters put strike action on hold for 48 hours after receiving last-second employers’ “Final offer”

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sheet metal workers pickring
Sheet Metal Workers’ and Roofers Union Local 30 members picketing outside the offices of the Toronto Sheet Metal Contractors Association earlier in the strike

Ontario Construction News staff writer

Final-second negotiations between the Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC) and the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario (MCAO) have led to a 48-hour hold on the anticipated strike by 12,000 plumbers and pipefitters scheduled to start at 12:01 a.m. today.

About 2:00 a.m. the United Association (UA) Local 46 posted on its Facebook page a statement signed by OPtC steering committee chair John Graham, saying:

“The contractors have submitted a ‘Final Offer” to your bargaining committee. The offer raises several concerns to which we have elected to review internally over the next 48 hours prior to issuing a statement to our membership as to our recommendation(s).

“We thank you for your patience during this round of bargaining. If you have concerns please raise them with your Local Union representatives.

“Further to the above please report to work as usual until you receive further notice,” Graham wrote in the statement, suggesting some sort of movement on critical issues including a reversion to a 40 hour work-week from 36 hours, and the end of union hall control over employee selection for job sites.

If the UA plumbers go out on strike, it will be the first time the union’s members have walked off the job in three decades. They will be joining thousands of sheet metal workers, who went on strike at the beginning of May over the same issues.

Wayne Peterson, executive director of the Construction Employers Co-ordinating Council of Ontario (CECCO), said on Monday he believes neither the union nor the employers want a strike, and there could still be negotiated end to the impasse.

Peterson noted that some UA Ontario locals already have the 40-hour workweek and employer naming rights, and compromise proposals might include sunset clauses on the provisions the employers are seeking, or more specific and narrow definitions of when they would apply in practice.

Earlier on Monday, UA Local 46 leaders representing Toronto ICI plumbers issued a memo Monday morning saying “in the event of a strike there will be an official notice from Local 46.”

The union also made it clear that all of its members “working in the industrial, commercial, institutional, ICI service and control sector will be affected and go on strike. There will be no exceptions to this rule.”

“Any member working contrary to this and crossing picket lines and working during the strike and will be charged and face expulsion from the UA.”He said employers want to resolve the “naming rights” issue so they can bid jobs and work throughout the province with a labour force they know and trust.

Peterson described one situation where a union member constantly argued that the union should adhere to its hiring hall list – and always send the first person on the list to the employers.

But that person was on the list as available for a reason – his work wasn’t satisfactory. When the union member started his own business, he called the union, and they told him they would send the “top of the list” individual – who of course the new employer did not want.

“The naming issue isn’t universal across the province. “Hamilton, Windsor and Thunder Bay have full name hiring,” Peterson said.

In contrast, the hiring hall model where the union sets the member is based on the “union philosophy that everyone is equal, and everyone is capable of doing the job,” he said. “But we know, no matter what the industry, you have good employees and bad employees, and the productivity level by the individual is different.”

Structurally, this causes conflict, because union members are paid on a cost-plus basis, which varies depending on the hours they spend on the job, while employers generally work on a fixed bid contracts.

“Employers need to know the quality of the workforce so they can bid on jobs,” he said.

But then why did the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario (ECAO) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) sign a new contract that retained the existing 36 hour work week and union hiring hall naming rights?

Peterson said the issue relates to a “no strike/no lockout” protocol; that if issues were not resolved by a set deadline, the status quo would remain in place until the next round of negotiations in three years.

He said this fact does not change the underlying issues affecting the pipe trades and sheet metal workers. However, possibly a negotiated compromise could be arranged, perhaps setting a “sunset clause” on the naming rights or work-week, or establishing certain jobs and conditions where different rules would apply, while in others the existing arrangements would continue.

Meanwhile, most other labour bargaining groups have settled, though some haven’t resolved their issues yet.

The iron workers are not meeting until the first week of June, and the boilermakers haven’t reached a deal, Peterson said. Some Painters Union members have not resolved their contracts, and the tile and terrazzo workers have not settled yet. In both of these cases, the outstanding issues relate to wages, rather than work hours and naming rights, Peterson said.

(image: Sheet Metal Workers’ and Roofers Union Local 30 members picketing outside the offices of the Toronto Sheet Metal Contractors Association on Monday.)

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