Three trades in Ontario’s ICI sector are reported to have reached tentative contract agreements with their employers.
Wayne Peterson, executive director of the Construction Employers Coordinating Council of Ontario, reported late Wednesday that rodworkers, painters and tile and terrazzo have reached tentative deals that included wage increases of about nine per cent over three years in each case.
Further details including ratification information were not immediately available.
Earlier, Operating Engineers Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher, the lead negotiator for the Operating Engineers Employee Bargaining Agency, had pointed to the raises negotiated by the electrical workers and ironworkers in February and March respectively and noted inflation has continued to creep up since those deals were signed.
Statistics Canada announced April 20 that inflation hit 6.7 per cent per year in March, jumping above the 5.7 per cent increase recorded for February and the 5.1 per cent spike registered for January.
The electrical sector settled for an 8.6 per cent wage increase over three years, and the Ironworkers achieved a 9.0 per cent raise across the province over three years with a 0.5 per cent premium for Toronto workers.
“At the end of the day, our job is to represent our members and to help them get something so they can pay the bills after we’re done negotiating here, because it’s really, really tough right now,” said Gallagher, referring to the March inflation numbers that were released that day.
As this stage negotiators are continuously watching forecasts to determine how long inflation will continue at its current high level, Gallagher said, including speculating on whether interest rate hikes by the Bank of Canada will help bring inflation under control.
“Those are some of the things when it comes down to the monetary package that are very important,” he said.
Constructconnect chief economist Alex Carrick believes that higher interest rates will serve to dampen the excess consumer demand that is accounting for much of the inflationary excess.
Canada’s inflation isn’t as dramatic as that in the U.S., he noted, suggesting five to six per cent year over year “may be close to the high water mark.”
By provincial law, Ontario ICI contracts expire every three years, with the expiry date for current deals set for April 30.
Gallagher would not say what wage increase he would be seeking and noted that contracts include several measures that address the cost of living besides the wage increase, such as travel costs. But he did mention a low water mark for wages.
“The IBEW one is nowhere near acceptable,” he said. “The Ironworker one we still think is low, but there’s other provisions in the agreement, some of them that I touched on, like travel costs, other things that we can’t ignore.”
The employee and the employer bargaining agencies are scheduled to meet April 29 and 30, with a half day the Sunday morning, May 1, if needed. At 2 p.m. that day the membership will vote to either strike or ratify a deal.
“Hopefully there’s a path there to reach agreement,” said Gallagher.
“Discussions have been respectful. That’s important, the tone at least so far. Everybody is conducting themselves appropriately. Everybody seems committed to work hard, to not posture and just to find a solution. As long as that attitude continues, we can probably come up with something.”
The lead negotiator for the employers bargaining agency could not be reached for comment.
Members of the Carpenters’ Union are voting whether to strike over the course of this week, ending April 27. Results of the vote will not be released until all provincial ballots are counted.
Unionized plumbers, pipefitters and welders, members of UA, voted overwhelmingly for a strike mandate April 12 with wages the main issue. The union negotiators had asked for increases that top over 20 per cent over three years, while the mechanical contractors responded with eight per cent.
Negotiators met April 19 but broke off talks April 20 with no new wage proposals offered. Further talks are scheduled for next week.
The deal in the electrical sector included a wage escalator clause that enables the workers to earn a maximum one dollar more per hour split between the second and third year of the contract if other sectors bargain for raises above 8.6 per cent. Graeme Aitken, executive director of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario, said the deal reflects the spirit of co-operation that exists between the union and the contractors during the current inflationary times.
“One of the things that I’ve certainly been talking about is the need to co-ordinate, communicate and collaborate,” said Aitken. “And that’s not just us as contractors and our labour partners, that’s all the way through the construction chain.”
He said inflation is having a deep ripple effect throughout the industry and that electrical contractors are aware of “the impact on how much it costs for our employees, our skilled trades workers, to continue to thrive in society.”
Aitken’s counterpart on the employer bargaining side could not immediately be reached for comment.
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