Plumbers, pipefitters likely to return to work soon as employers present new offer acceptable to the union

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Daniel Blaikie, a NDP MP representing the Winnipeg riding of Elmwood—Transcona in the House of Commons, joins Ottawa UA Local 71 members on the picket line on Wednesday before the Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC) reached a tentative agreement with the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario (MCAO). (Image from Blaikie’s Facebook page.)

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The strike of 12,000 unionized Ontario plumbers and pipefitters is likely heading for an imminent resolution, following a meeting between the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario (MCAO) and the Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC), says a senior executive of a major mechanical contractor.

Mike Winters, executive vice-president and chief innovation officer of Modern Niagara, said Thursday that MCAO representatives had a meeting before communicating with the bargaining authority representing the unionized workers, and once they presented their revised offer, the union was pleased with the results. He said negotiators expect that the revised agreement will be ready for action by Monday.

A Facebook posting from United Association (UA) Local 46 says that members were to vote on the new agreement Thursday afternoon. The union recommends that its members accept the offer.  The union asked its members to suspend picketing activities.

This information would indicate that the MCAO has made significant concessions on the two fundamental issues that led to the work stoppage – a 40 hour week and employer control over “naming rights” for job site assignments.

Winters spoke with Ontario Construction News following a panel discussion about change and technology in construction leadership in Toronto.

The plumbers and pipefitters went on strike last Friday, joining sheet metal workers’ union members fighting over the same issues. Both unions say the changing to the naming requirements and the 36 hour work week would undermine long-held practices, weakening the unions.

While some UA locals representing the plumbers, and the Sheet Metal Workers’ and Roofers union have accepted a 40 hour work week, and the rules regarding “naming rights” vary in different jurisdictions, both unions voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action throughout the province – reflecting their strongly held view that the concessions that the employers were seeking represented the thin edge of the wedge on their established working arrangements.

Employers, on the other hand, have asserted that they face new and major competition from non-union employers, who can require their employees to work for 44 hour work-weeks, and can select and assign employees wherever they wish in the province.

Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association, said unionized employers belonging to his association were starting to feel the pressure of the work stoppages. He said they could, if they wish, hire replacement workers to do the unionized workers’ jobs, but that approach would probably escalate problems beyond their current levels.

A prolonged work stoppage would play into the hands of non-union employers, who would be able to win jobs and stay on schedule on their existing projects, effectively creating a situation that the employers fear the most – the erosion of the unionized sector in the competitive economy with a not-union-friendly Progressive Conservative government.

Among other measures, the government has changed the rules in Bill 66 allowing municipalities to escape the restrictions of working with construction trade unions.

Assuming the plumbers and pipefitters, represented by the UA, have won key concessions on the hours of work and naming rights, it is likely the employer bargaining authority for sheet metal workers will also concede the same points, resolving the labour tensions and restoring labour peace in Ontario.

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