15,000 construction workers strike in Ontario, in fight for wage increase

By John Steele
May 23, 2022

Over 15,000 Ontario construction workers went on strike May 1, paralyzing the high- and low-rise home-building industry across the Canadian province. The central issue is the need for adequate wage increases to deal with the impact of skyrocketing inflation on the lives of the workers and their families.

The striking workers are members of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 183. They work as house framers; tile, carpet and hardwood installers; and in other trades. Local 183 is the largest construction local in North America, with more than 58,000 members in the Greater Toronto Area. Like in other areas, many in the union are immigrant workers.

Members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793, who operate cranes and other heavy construction equipment, walked out at the same time.

Some 15,000 carpenters in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector also went on strike across the province May 9 after voting to reject the bosses’ last offer four days earlier. The strikers are members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

In a video update to strikers May 7, Local 793 Business Manager Mike Gallagher said employer claims that the union was refusing to talk was a lie. They’re ready to sit down right now and discuss an offer that meets workers’ needs — wages that deal with inflation, especially in fuel costs, and for the bosses to cover workers’ parking fees in downtown areas. Gallagher thanked the strikers for their solidarity, saying the strike had shut down all sites.

The two unions set up picket lines the same day that 1,500 striking truck drivers who move earth out of construction sites, members of the Ontario Dump Truck Association, ended their successful strike, which had begun March 21. The truckers inspired working people in the region by forcing their bosses to agree to significant improvements in wages and work conditions. (See article).

Laborers’ union officials are currently negotiating 15 contracts that expired April 30. Some of them have provisions that have been in place for over 30 years.

“Our members work hard and are critical to building housing across” the Greater Toronto Area, said Laborers’ Local 183 Business Manager Jack Oliveira in a May 1 media release. “We’re ready to get back to work, but the Contractors’ Associations needs to offer a fair proposal that respects our members and the work they do.”

Helping to fuel the determination of the strikers is that during the pandemic the government considered construction “essential,” while it ordered the shut down of other industries. Construction workers were told to stay on the job. They feel that since they put their health at risk, the bosses should reflect that in the terms of a new contract.

The strikers could face government strikebreaking action. In past construction strikes the provincial government, using the anti-labor Ontario Labour Relations Act, has ordered construction workers back to work after six weeks on strike, forcing them to accept the binding decision of a government-appointed arbitrator.

This is another reason why solidarity from the labor movement and working people everywhere is needed now. Send messages to LiUNA Local 183, 1263 Wilson Ave., Suite 205, East Wing, Toronto ON, M3M 3G2, Canada, as well as IUOE Local 793 Business Manager Mike Gallagher at (905) 469-9299, ext. 2202.