Approximately 35 per cent of Greater Vancouver’s concrete supply is out of commission as almost 300 union employees are either on strike or refusing to cross picket lines.
On May 20, about 160 Rempel Bros. Concrete ready mix drivers/plant operators went on strike. On May 21, 110 Ocean Concrete employees and 24 Allied Ready Mix Concrete employees refused to cross picket lines and are not working. Most are members of Teamsters Local No. 213.
The remainder of the workers are represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115.
Rempel, Ocean and Allied are all owned by Lehigh Hanson which in turn is owned by Germany-based HeidelbergCement.
What led to the strike involves working hours, missed breaks and wages
“We’re looking for a respectable, fair offer from the employer,” says Barry Capozzi, business agent for Teamsters Local No. 213.
The building boom in B.C.’s Lower Mainland is playing a role in the job action.
“They’re working excessive hours,” says Capozzi.
Some drivers put in 14 hours per day or up to 70 hours per week. There are instances where drivers are forced to work Saturdays, Capozzi says.
Safety becomes an issue when the workers are putting in 14-hour days.
“They’re really reaching their limit,” he notes.
The regular work schedule is an eight-hour day, five days per week.
As well, the collective agreement, which expired Dec. 31, 2021, stipulated there be two 15-minute breaks per day. Lunch is taken when feasible.
“They’re so busy, they’re being denied their breaks,” claims Capozzi.
Ensuring those breaks happen is one negotiating highlight.
Wages are also a factor in an area where fuel and housing prices are among the highest in Canada.
Union members are currently earning in the mid-to-high $30 per hour range.
Lower Mainland construction has been going at a breakneck pace for the past few years.
“It’s the busiest it’s ever been,” Capozzi notes.
Impacts of the strike are being felt in residential, commercial and government infrastructure work, with the Pattullo Bridge being one notable project waiting for a concrete solution.
Miguel Zermeno is the owner of MZ Solution, a Coquitlam-based company specializing in concrete form work. The strike has impacted his seven-year-old business.
“It’s been a challenge,” he says.
Without the concrete deliveries, his employees have had to go to retail outlets and purchase bags of concrete, which they have to mix outside and then manually do the pours.
It’s adding about 50 extra hours to a standard job, Zermeno says. A residential job has been left unfinished.
Added to the extra hours, is that quotes have to be honoured, so there’s a financial hit. Zermeno is also leery of giving quotes, not knowing what’s coming down the pipe.
“We don’t know the future,” he says.
Prior to the strike, Zermeno says there were two weeks where a shortage of cement slowed operations.
Lehigh Hanson’s director of corporate communications did not want to discuss specific details related to the bargaining.
“I can say that many topics have been raised and reviewed with options offered by the company and subsequently rejected by the union,” Jeff Sieg wrote in an email response from his Irving, Texas headquarters.
“We have, and will continue, to negotiate in good faith. Our objective remains to have a contract that is fair and mutually agreeable so our employees return to work and we can get back to the business of supplying concrete to our customers.”
“We’ve reached an impasse,” Capozzi notes.
Bargaining started Jan. 7 and there’s been about 22 meetings since then. The most recent negotiations ended on June 8. Further negotiations are scheduled for June 20, 21 and 22, Capozzi says.