More than 15,000 construction workers walked out in Ontario on Sunday, and their union says the strike could delay housing projects in the greater Toronto area.
The workers, members of Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 183, work in six sectors of the housing industry. They have rejected proposed settlements.
“Basically, it’s about money,” Jason Ottey, director of government relations and communications at LiUNA Local 183, told CBC Toronto on Monday.
The strikers include high-rise formwork workers – who do structural concrete work on residential buildings – self-leveling floorers, home builders and tile, railing, carpet and hardwood installers. The unemployed workers build high-rise buildings and low-rise buildings in the GTA.
“Today we have a housing shortage and a critical shortage of people to build that housing,” Ottey said. “Inflation is at an all-time high and Canadians across the country are experiencing the challenges of dealing with the cost of living crisis we are facing, and our members are no different.”
The union wants provincial contractors associations to return to the negotiating table with a pay package that reflects work done during the COVID-19 pandemic and addresses inflation, the cost of living and the expected rise in inflation over the life of the negotiated contract.
The strike involves workers in GTA, central Ontario, southern Ontario and parts of southwest and eastern Ontario.
Ottey said workers deemed essential continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic when other sectors of the economy were shut down.
“We have not asked for pandemic pay, we have no ability to work from home and so we thought our management partners would show their appreciation in this round of negotiations. And they haven’t. They’ve come up short,” he said.
The strike action comes after collective agreements for 30 sectors or trades in housing construction expired on Saturday.
“Delays disrupt planning,” says the employer
According to the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON), about 20 sectors have reached an agreement and about four are continuing negotiations, have gone to arbitration, or have reached an interim agreement and are awaiting a ratification vote.
RESCON vice-president Andrew Pariser said on Monday it was common for a “pattern” to emerge in compensation when a large number of collective agreements expire on the same day.
He said a pattern had emerged in this round of negotiations and RESCON was confused about the union’s position because proposed settlements that had been rejected fit into the established pattern.
“We still hope that the parties can get back to the table or agree to arbitration or agree to settle these disputes without lengthy strikes. Then we can go back to building the homes that everyone in Ontario needs,” Pariser said.
In an email on Monday, Pariser said the impact of the strike would depend on a project’s construction stage. Those in the frame or high-rise formation phase will be more affected, he said.
“In general, delays disrupt planning, delay closures and increase costs,” he said.
“They are straining schedules and the supply chain, disrupting the construction of the housing units that we need to build for all Ontario residents. The cost varies from unit to unit depending on the stage of construction and the length of the delay.”
The province urges the parties to resolve issues through talks
Under Ontario’s Industrial Relations Act, strikes in the province’s housing sector can begin on May 1st every three years, but must end by June 15th. Any outstanding disputes will then be settled through arbitration.
The Ontario Department of Labor said in a statement Monday that its intermediaries on both sides were involved and are available to help at the negotiating table.
“We encourage employers and unions to make every effort to settle their differences at the negotiating table. We are confident that the parties can reach an agreement through cooperation,” the ministry said in the statement.