The construction sector anxiously awaits for a resolution as 12,000 plumbers and steamfitters threaten to strike to retain their three-day weekends.
Members under the Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC) were voting at the International Centre near Lester B. Pearson International Airport on May 30 on whether to accept the last minute and final contract proffered by the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ontario (MCAO).
The two sides have been bargaining intensely since February but talks went down to the wire. The final offer was tabled near midnight Monday, May 27 after a hectic week which stretched well into the nights.
The week previously, members of United Association 46 representing Toronto plumbers and steamfitters had been told to collect their personal tools and get ready for a strike call on May 29.
Action was held off as talks continued, however, but by Wednesday the OPTC declared the final offer unacceptable and put it to a vote recommending against it.
At the same time the MCAO gave notice they would ask for the Ministry of Labour to supervise the vote. The longer work week and union hall hiring changes are also the issues which triggered a strike by the sheetmetal workers on May 3.
Results of the OPTC vote are expected overnight and the Daily Commercial News will update this story as new information comes available.
As of this morning the 12,000 members of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry will be making a decision to direct their representatives to go back to bargaining or to call a strike vote.
They may take our lives, but they will never take our Fridays.
— United Association Local 46 member
UA Local 46 Facebook page post
The ripple effect on construction sites across Ontario will be immense with other unions faced with having to cross picket lines or honour them. A strike could cripple the sector already hampered by poor spring weather and heavy flooding, says experts.
Reaction among rank and file has been vociferously supportive of the four-day week and resistant to the 40-hour, five day week MCAO wants.
“They may take our lives,” posted a United Association 46 member on the local’s Facebook page. “But they will never take our Fridays.”
UA 46 member Don Hogan called the four-day week a “gift” fought for and won and handed down by previous generations.
“Brothers and sisters, these negotiations will probably be the toughest ones you will experience in your career,” he posted on Facebook. “You are the guardians and protectors of this gift. It can not be taken away from you as you own it. You must protect it at all costs.”
He called it a day free of the stress of commuting, a day for family bonding and saving on daycare and which a day lowers the carbon footprint.
In addition to the four-day week battle, which has been a long-standing allowance in the contract, OPTC says MCAO also demanded other changes to traditional protocols including name call hiring- bypassing the list at the hall.
Ross Tius, UA Local 663 business manager, chair of the OPTC bargaining committee says the MCAO have refused to budge on their positions.
“These are big changes that would drastically impact our members not just on the work site, but also in their personal and family lives,” he said. “They have taken a hard stand on basic items that would not work out. They will be forcing the first strike by our trades in more than 30 years.”