Construction workers strike threatens to slow construction boom, companies say

Construction projects across the city have stalled after Ontario carpenters quit their jobs on Monday and joined crane operators who went on strike last week.

Members of the Ontario branch of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America began strikes at 12:01 a.m. Monday — a move that affects more than 2,000 workers in the Ottawa region alone and 15,000 industrial workers across the province. , commercial and institutional construction sector.

“Nobody wants to go on strike,” Mike Yorke, the chairman of Ontario’s Carpenters’ District Council, said in a press release last week. “Our union hasn’t been on strike in the ICI sector for 34 years, but our members, from one side of the province to the other, have now 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 “spiralling cost of living” during the pandemic.

Construction companies and contractors said the combination of carpenters and crane operators now out of work has left many major construction projects virtually at a standstill.

Montreal-based developer Marc Varadi, whose company is currently building a 208-room hotel at 201 Rideau St. for the AC Hotels by Marriott brand, said work on the project has “essentially stalled” as long as crane operators and the carpenter’s council , which represents 17 local unions across the province, continues to strike.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have it in our hands at all,” Varadi said in an email to OBJ.

“It puts the opening dates of some of those projects at risk. 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 company currently has about half a dozen projects in progress, but the work is slowing some of them.

“It’s definitely a concern,” Brisson said. “It puts the opening dates of some of those projects at risk. We are a bit between a rock and a hard spot.”

Carpenters span a wide range of skills, he noted, including installing drywall and countertops. While other work like plumbing and landscaping continues on Lundy’s jobs, Brisson said that could change if current contract negotiations with other unions representing plumbers, ironworkers and other crafts fail.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America, whose workers perform duties such as laying concrete and cleaning construction sites, also rejected a recent contract offer but agreed to remain in work while the two sites work to close a agreement.

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

John DeVries, the chairman of the Ottawa Construction Association, said he hopes employers and unions can quickly come to an agreement and “minimize disruption” to the industry, which is in the midst of a construction boom.

“Sooner or later, transactions that are not at work will catch up with you and it will affect the (completion) schedule,” he said. “We’re getting (deals) done — it’s just a matter of when.”

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

“There’s some pretty tough talk going on about, ‘Hey, we’ve got a fixed-price contract. You have to deliver,'” he said, adding that he’d heard some suppliers are threatening to sue contractors instead of supplying materials. sell at previously negotiated rates. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my career.”

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

“It looks like we can still get the materials we need, but it certainly takes a lot longer,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said experienced craftsmen are becoming scarcer, making it much more difficult to get projects on track.

“It’s harder to attract good people,” he said. “When you find those good people, you definitely keep them. You can see the impact of both labor and material (shortage) problems throughout the industry. It’s just a challenging time right now.”

The carpenter’s union and the employers will return to the negotiating table on Thursday morning.

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