Over 7,000 residential and commercial drywall workers downed their tools, joining the ongoing strike of 36,000 Ontario construction workers. This brings the total on strike as of May 14 to 43,000. They are fighting for higher wages in face of galloping inflation.
Other workers are threatening to join the strike movement. On May 11, 8,000 members of the painters’ union voted overwhelmingly to give union negotiators a strike mandate.
The strikes began after workers in several of the bargaining units voted down new contract agreements with the construction bosses. Contractors had agreed to raise pay over a three-year contract by a total of 9.5% in the Toronto area and 9% in the rest of Ontario.
However, in the middle of negotiations the federal government agency Statistics Canada released its monthly inflation numbers, reporting a 6.7% increase in March alone, a rise from 5.7% the month before.
Workers said the proposed wage increase agreed to by the bosses and union officials would be more than wiped out after the first year of the contract.
The strike is the largest in the residential construction industry in over 20 years. On May 1, 15,000 residential skilled workers walked off the job paralyzing high-rise and low-rise housing construction. About 6,000 operating engineers, who operate cranes and other heavy machinery, struck at the same time. The following week 15,000 members of the carpenters’ union joined the strike.
The contracts of the many unions involved expired April 30.
There are about 570,000 construction workers in Ontario, many of them workers who have emigrated to Canada relatively recently. Almost half live and work in the Greater Toronto Area.
The strikes are taking place amid a construction boom. There are more than 200 high crane sites in the Toronto area alone and thousands more housing units are under construction throughout the province.
As of May 12, negotiations between the bosses and carpenters’ union officials had “stalled,” Mike Yorke, president and director of public affairs and innovation for the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, told the press.
“The livelihoods of our members are being impacted and we demand that the employers get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible,” Yorke said.
Under the anti-worker Ontario Labor Relations Act, strikes in the housing sector must end within six weeks — in this case by June 15 — or the disputed issues are turned over to a government-appointed arbitrator.
The six-week limit, however, does not apply to workers in the commercial sector. A longer strike by these workers could cause significant delays in the construction of hospitals, office towers, light rail transit, as well as holding up the multibillion-dollar renovations to government buildings in Ottawa.
The strikers need and deserve the solidarity of all working people. Send messages to LiUNA Local 183, 1263 Wilson Ave., Suite 205, East Wing, Toronto ON, M3M 3G2, Canada; IUOE Local 793 Business Manager Mike Gallagher at (905) 469-9299, ext. 2202; Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario and Drywall Acoustic Lathing & Installation Local 675, 222 Rowntree Dairy Road, Woodbridge ON L4L 9T2. Tel.: (905) 652-4140.