Explainer: How Building Trades Union Bargaining Works in the GTA

From 2015 to 2017, UrbanToronto and its sister publication, SkyriseCities, published an occasional series of articles under the title Explanatory. Each has taken a concept from urban planning, architecture, construction or other topics that are often found in our publications, and presented it in depth. It’s time to review (and update if necessary) these articles for readers unfamiliar with them. Although you may already know what some of these terms mean, others may be new to you. We publish or update and repost Explanatory on a weekly basis.

This week Explanatory is new. Although timely for Spring 2022 due to current strikes, most of the article is about how the system works here and should apply long term.

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Spring has arrived…and suddenly a significant portion of unionized construction trades in Ontario have refused to work – why? Several strikes are currently underway in the residential and industrial/commercial/institutional (ICI) construction sectors, with tens of thousands of workers in various trades currently unemployed.

Who exactly is on strike in the spring of 2022?

The first to strike were six trades from the International Workers Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 183high-rise formwork, self-leveling flooring, carpenters, tile installers, railing installers and carpet and hardwood installers who announced a strike on the first day of May, followed by the section Local 793, a union that represents engineers in operations, including crane and equipment rental, steel erection and mechanical installations, foundation, pile and caisson drilling, excavation/earthwork, construction and land surveying. ‘general contractor. The last on strike was the Ontario Carpenters District Council in the HERE area. A total of approximately 30,000 workers are currently off work, which is causing a major problem as the weather warms and the construction season picks up speed in Ontario.

Picture framer at work, image by Josh Olalde

This is a problem not only for the trades on strike, but because their work also affects the work of other sectors, which often results in the complete stoppage of construction sites. For example, if framing workers go on strike – as they are right now – then there will be no workers building housing structures, making the work that follows impossible. framing; schedules are cancelled, delaying completions. The domino effect is quickly compounded when multiple trades go on strike, like now, with drywall and tile workers also on strike. Some jobs may still be continued by other trades, but this will eventually dry up as well if the strike continues.

Why are these professions on strike in the spring of 2022?

Strikers noted a series of sector-specific issues that prevented them from accepting offers presented to them, but overall many sectors highlighted issues that affect everyone, such as the rising cost of living and wanting compensation for the essential work they have done throughout the pandemic.

Construction workers working during the pandemic, image by Rossella Porta

How does negotiation work?

The trades on strike are represented by unions. Richard Lyall, President of the Ontario Home Builders Council (RESCON), estimates that approximately 30% of construction workers in Ontario are unionized. Unions act as intermediaries between their members and the companies that employ them, which in this case would be entrepreneurs. Naturally, the main purpose of these unions is to empower workers to negotiate more favorable working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining.

Collective agreements are agreed by both the union and the contractors. Unions typically elect their leaders, who join a bargaining committee and go to the bargaining table with contractors, who have their own bargaining committee. They are required to inform each other that they wish to negotiate a renewal agreement. This is followed by a scheduled meeting where both parties are present with their legal counsel and share their demands or offers to the other party.

Construction workers on break, image by Steph Washi

As required by the province, collective agreements in the three main sectors of the construction industry – the civil sector, the ICI sector and the residential sectors – in the Greater Toronto Area must be renewed every three years and updated. updated as needed.

Within each of these areas there are all kinds of separate agreements. For context, the residential sector has over 30 agreements within it, resulting in over 30 different rounds of negotiations. The ICI sector is similar. This results in many different groups negotiating their own agreements, which is complicated. When the interests of the two parties are not aligned, as Lyall often asserts, the negotiation is more complicated, with today’s economic uncertainty only putting more pressure on the whole process. Despite this, there is a well-defined negotiation process in Ontario, which involves both parties putting whatever they want to settle on the table and having several meetings to discuss the terms until the terms are agreed upon. by negotiators.

Civilian workers at work, image by Maarten Van den Heuvel

If the duration of existing contracts runs out and common ground has not been found, strikes or lockouts may occur – strikes being when workers refuse to work, lockouts when the employer refuses to negotiate further. Strikes and lockouts are not, however, the only options in the event of no settlement, and unions and contractors can resort to arbitration or choose to continue working while continuing to negotiate, the new conditions having to be applied retroactively. In the residential sector, the province has imposed a maximum of six weeks during which strikes or lockouts can continue, after which work must resume and all outstanding issues must be submitted to binding arbitration supervised by a party. independent. In this case, agreements or arbitration will cover until the end of April 2025, by which time the settlement process for the next three years of work until April 2028 will have been successful and work will continue, otherwise it could be new strikes.

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