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Ontario carpenters go on strike, joining crane operators


This will be the third construction industry union to take labour action this May and the first time in 34 years that carpenters have gone on strike in the institutional, commercial and industrial sector. It will mean halting work for more than 2,000 workers in the Ottawa region alone.

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The Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO), United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America went on strike Monday, in a move impacting around 15,000 workers across the province.

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The intention to strike was announced Friday via a union press release, explaining that carpenters within the institutional, commercial and industrial (ICI) sector rejected their employers’ latest contract offer by a wide margin, and cited issues with wages during pandemic-era inflation.

“It comes down to financial compensation. We are having an affordability crisis right now in the province of Ontario, and the cost of living, whether it’s groceries and putting food on the table, housing or gasoline to get to work,” said Michael Yorke, President of the CDCO, in an interview.

Yorke said that the dispute centres wholly on compensation and affordability for the union, and that negotiations over contract language went smoothly and efficiently. The sticking point, he said, is how much pay many members believe they need to survive in Canada’s current economy.

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“Those are the messages coming loud and clear for our members, as well as we have to make sure that construction and carpentry is a viable career path for the next generation,” he said.

“The young men and women who are building our economy and building our infrastructure that we all need. We need to make sure that they have a viable career path.”

The cost of living has been rising steadily in Canada, and across the world, over the past year. In March 2022, prices for Canadian consumers were 6.7 per cent higher than the same time last year — the largest increase since January 1991.

Yorke said that the union negotiates contract terms every three years and that is the first time in 34 years that its carpenters have been on strike in the ICI sector. It will mean halting work for more than 2,000 workers in the Ottawa region alone.

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The CDCO is the third construction union to go on strike this month, following a short-lived action by the Laborer’s International Union of North America, and one by the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), which is ongoing with a pause in activity for workers that operate cranes and heavy equipment and perform steel erection and mechanical installations, plus those involved in excavation, foundation, piling and caisson boring, general contractor construction and related survey work.

Yorke clarified that the CDCO’s decision to strike was in no way influenced by these other unions. “It was a decision made by members thinking about their own lives, their own livelihoods, and their own careers,” he said. “This was not influenced by outside parties at all.”

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John DeVries is the president of the Ottawa Construction Association (OCA). He said that, in light of strikes earlier this month, the carpenters’ strike will have a substantial impact on Ottawa’s construction industry.

“Everything starts to get integrated and compounded when trades pull,” he said. “If it goes on, then you have impacts when you can’t recover. Workers lose wages. You can’t recover lots and lots of wages very easily.”

DeVries said that different trades are very interdependent on construction sites and that loss of productivity gets bigger as each new union halts work.

“It’s very difficult to recapture time,” he said. “The market’s so strong right now, there’s more demand than supply.”

Construction was a $5 billion industry in Ottawa, as of 2019. At that time, there were more than 31,000 employees, 20,000 of which were unionized.

Provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath Monday released a statement in solidarity with the striking carpenters. “They deserve wages that keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living,” it read.

Labour relations are part of both the fiscal and environmental strategies in the NDP’s electoral platform and have formed part of Horwath’s criticisms of Premier Doug Ford.

Another meeting between the two sides of the strike is set for Thursday morning.

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