Construction workers’ strike threatens to stall construction boom, companies say

Construction projects across the city have stalled after Ontario carpenters walked off Monday, joining crane operators who went on strike last week.

Members of the Ontario chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America began strike action at 12:01 a.m. Monday – a move affecting more than 2,000 workers in the Ottawa area alone and 15,000 across the province in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors. construction sector.

“Nobody wants to strike,” Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, said in a news release last week. “Our union hasn’t struck in the ICI sector for 34 years, but our members across the province voted overwhelmingly to tell their employers we want a fair deal.

Money is at the heart of the dispute, with the union calling for a “fair wage increase” to reflect “the skyrocketing cost of living” during the pandemic.

Construction companies and contractors said the combination of carpenters and crane operators no longer working had caused many major construction projects to come to a halt.

Montreal developer Marc Varadi, whose company is building a 208-room hotel at 201 Rideau Street for the AC Hotels by Marriott brand, said work on the project is “essentially stalled” until crane operators and council Carpenters, which represents 17 local unions across the province, is still on strike.

“Unfortunately, this is entirely out of our hands,” Varadi said in an email to OBJ.

“It jeopardizes the opening dates of some of these projects. We’re kind of between a rock and a hard place.”

Chris Brisson, vice-president of finance and business services at MP Lundy Construction, said the Ottawa firm currently has about half a dozen projects underway, but labor measures are slowing some of them down. them.

“That’s definitely a concern,” Brisson said. “This jeopardizes the opening dates of some of these projects. We are kind of between a rock and a hard place.

Carpenters encompass a wide range of skills, he noted, including installing drywall and countertops. While other work such as plumbing and landscaping continues at the Lundy yards, Brisson said that could change if ongoing contract negotiations with other unions representing plumbers, ironworkers and contractors. other trades fail.

The Workers’ International Union of North America, whose workers do tasks such as laying concrete and cleaning construction sites, also rejected a recent contract offer, but agreed to stay on the job while the two sites are working towards an agreement.

“Any strike votes on their behalf, that will definitely have an impact on our sites as well,” Brisson said.

John DeVries, the president of the Ottawa Construction Association, said he hopes employers and unions can work out deals soon and “minimize disruption” to the industry, which is booming. building.

“Sooner or later, the trades on stoppage will catch up with you and that will affect the (completion) schedule,” he said. “We’re going to close (deals) – it’s only a matter of time.”

DeVries said the work stoppage is another challenge for an industry already plagued by a shortage of skilled labor, supply chain disruptions and runaway inflation that is driving up prices of labor. lumber, drywall, rebar and a host of other building materials.

“There are some pretty difficult conversations about ‘Hey, we have a fixed price contract. You have to deliver,'” he said, adding that he had heard that some suppliers were threatening to sue contractors instead. than selling materials at previously negotiated rates. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career.”

Brisson said construction companies are now ordering supplies months in advance to ensure they arrive on time.

“We always seem to be able to get the materials we need, but it definitely takes a lot longer,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said experienced tradespeople are increasingly scarce, making it all the more difficult to complete projects on time.

“It’s harder to attract the right people,” he said. “When you find these good people, you definitely stick with them. Across the industry, you see the impact of labor and material (shortage) issues. It’s just a tough time right now.

The carpenters’ union and the employers are due to return to the bargaining table on Thursday morning.

Alice F. Ponder