A labour strike involving carpenters and crane operators has come to an end. Several unions representing the two important professions went on strike earlier this month to push for fairer contracts. On May 20, crane operators ratified a new contract and returned to work, while the same didn’t happen for carpenters until May 27. Since the carpenters’ strike began later, both strikes lasted for approximately two weeks.
The primary reason for the strikes was perhaps a sign of the current economic situation in Ontario. Unions argued that a proposed prorated $8 hourly wage increase was not enough due to current “economic uncertainty”. Tradespersons must often pay many expenses out of pocket, including fuel costs and parking fees at construction sites. Fuel prices have risen approximately 60% since last year, and many other expenses continue to increase due to high inflation rates, including household expenses such as groceries. Workers across many industries are fighting for higher than normal pay hikes, not out of greed, but simply to ensure that they at least break even and are not taking a pay cut caused by rising expenses.
Across Ontario, even the relatively short strike period caused serious delays in new construction work. The building of schools and hospitals, and the expansion of public transit, were all delayed province-wide by the strike. The spring is often the busiest time of year for new construction projects. The impact of the delays may be felt long term, since the intended completion timelines of many projects have been affected simultaneously. Developers expressed concerns that grand opening dates of several Ottawa projects could be delayed, one of which was Ottawa’s new library at LeBreton Flats, but construction has since resumed.
Labour strikes can be unpredictable as to how long they will last, and what kinds of concessions will be made. Ontario’s teachers engaged in rotating strikes for several weeks just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a more extreme case, workers at Baxtrom’s Independent grocery store in Cornwall engaged in a strike that went on for nearly three months between November 2018 and January 2019. The greater the impact that a strike has on an employer, the greater the likelihood of concessions being made that may bring the job action to an end.
During the recent tradespersons’ strike actions, University of Toronto Professor Rafael Gomez was quoted as saying, “There’s an adage in industrial relations: Long strikes favour employers, short strikes favour employees. In this case, the stakes are so high for these projects, and there is money available, and I think it has to get directed to the right places. My prediction is that these strikes won’t last very long.”
It would appear that the professor was correct, and it is without a doubt that many construction project stakeholders are grateful for it.