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Construction delays loom as carpenters set to join striking crane operators

·3 min read
Fifteen thousand carpenters in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector are set to walk off the job Monday across Ontario. (Canadian Press - image credit)
Fifteen thousand carpenters in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector are set to walk off the job Monday across Ontario. (Canadian Press - image credit)

Construction projects in Ottawa could be delayed during its busiest season as some 15,000 carpenters across the province in the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sector are set to go on strike.

Members of the Carpenters' District Council of Ontario have voted to reject their employers' last offer, meaning that — unless there's a last-minute agreement — they'll walk off the job on Monday at one minute past midnight.

The carpenters are set to join thousands of crane operators who went on strike last Monday.

"There'll be [a] shutdown," suspects Kevan Young, the director of operations at SMDR Construction Inc, a project management company that works on commercial builds in Ottawa.

"We outsource all of the work that goes on," he said. "And if we lose the ability to contract to those people, then our projects definitely do come to a halt or certainly slow down."

Members want 'a fair deal'

The Carpenters' District Council of Ontario is composed of 17 affiliated local unions of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

"Nobody wants to go on strike," said Mike Yorke, the council's president, in a press release issued last week.

Members are calling for a "fair wage increase," the release said, to reflect the "spiralling cost of living increases."

"Our union hasn't been on strike in the ICI sector for 34 years," said Yorke. "But our members, from one side of the province to the other, have now voted overwhelming to tell their employers that we want a fair deal."

Tina MacKenzie/CBC
Tina MacKenzie/CBC

The union wants the employers to return to the bargaining table to "try and work out an improved offer" before Monday's strike deadline.

CBC tried to reach the union, but did not hear back from them in time for publication.

The Construction Labour Relations Association of Ontario, the carpenters' employer, declined to comment when contacted Sunday.

Record labour shortages

Before Monday's strike, the industry was already facing delays because of a tight labour market, said John DeVries, the president of the Ottawa Construction Association.

"It's a hot construction market. And there's a shortage of people coming into the industry," he said. "So put it all together and we're a sector that's right in the middle of the storm."

Dale Molnar/CBC
Dale Molnar/CBC

Canada is in the midst of a record labour shortage, and construction jobs have proven to be some of the hardest to fill due to the country's aging population and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young adds it's been very difficult to find "quality workers."

"Times are very difficult. We're trying to, you know, do our part to aid and help restart the economy," he said. "And it's difficult to find people to get on to complete our work. So, yeah, it's definitely a challenge."

Trades strikes could grow

Non-operational cranes have already impacted the movement of materials on some sites, creating a "choke point," DeVries said.

DeVries expects to see the real impact of the striking workers in the coming weeks.

He anticipates more unions — from plumbers and ironworkers to drywall installers — will follow in the footsteps of the crane operators and carpenters and reject their employers' offers as well.

"Everyone else has been negotiating in the last few weeks ... every day is going to bring another domino," DeVries said.

"And we don't know how long it will last."

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