More labourers join strike action on construction sites

Construction on major projects across the city—from condos to Parliament Hill—will likely be stopped as trade unions take strike action.

Carpenters in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector in the construction industry across Ontario have walked off the job after rejecting the employers’ latest offer.

“The language in this agreement has all been done it’s a mature agreement it’s been around for a long time now it’s fundamentally down to financial compensation,” says Mike Yorke, Carpenters' District Council of Ontario (CDCO) president. “From groceries to housing, to transit, getting into work for gasoline, they said, ‘Look, we need to have a better deal on this table and we are contributing our skills our labour to creating wealth in our various cities and creating wealth in Ontario that our members are demanding a fair share of the wealth that they create everyday.’”

The CDCO represents about 15,000 members across the province in trade fields such as general contracting, framers, flooring installers and foundation contractors.

Last week, crane and heavy equipment operators in Ottawa and across Ontario went on strike, shutting down cranes and heavy equipment on major construction sites.

“It’s a domino effect for sure. Today we were informed that the labourers province-wide have rejected a deal,” says John DeVries, president and general manager of the Ottawa Construction Association. “The good news is that they agreed to keep working ,so we’re not seeing the labour disruptions yet. One trade leave the site, you can do work around, but sooner or later you’ve got to get the drywall up, you’ve got to get the doors on, the trim on, you’ve got to pour the concrete.”

DeVries says a short-term strike will not affect job sites, but longer job action will cause lengthy delays for all projects in Ottawa, including the Centre Block restoration on Parliament Hill and work at condominium buildings.

“It’s tough; these are unchartered waters. How do we know when we go back to the bargaining table? We’re going to come up with a deal that’s going to be accepted,” says DeVries. “It’s turbulent. You see it at your gas pump today, two bucks a litre. The rank and file are seeing that and are sending a message, so that’s the problem.”

Contractors warn that the strike action could impact work on Stage 2 of the LRT and the city of Ottawa says work on the $334 million new central library at LeBreton Flats was shut down last week due to the strike by crane operators. Coun. Matt Luloff, chair of the Ottawa Public Library Board, says it’s too soon to tell if the strike will push timelines. COVID-19 has plagued the Ādisōke project with delays and massive cost over-runs at around $130 million.

“It is so important that we continue to monitor this. We want to make sure that taxpayers are getting value for their money on citywide projects,” says Luloff. “I have every confidence in our project team that they have built in those healthy contingencies to ensure we are able to respond to an event like this.”

Currently, residential construction of houses has not been affected by the strike action and Yorke says that workers could be back on the job site in as early as next week if employers can agree on a price.

“The last two and half years have been a tough time and people are looking for an opportunity to make some progress and the construction industry really has made a commitment to the next generation,” says Yorke. “Our industry really does give back. They plan a career path for the next generation, young men and women that we want to see building Ontario, so there has to be a reflection of that as well. We made a commitment. It’s a two way street in our industry.”