In the News May 13
Ontario Election 2022
Construction Workers Strike for Higher Wages to Meet Increasing Cost of Living
At midnight May 9, approximately 15,000 carpenters in the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sector in Ontario walked off the job, to demand higher wages so that they and their families can meet the escalating cost of living. These members of the Ontario chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America began strike action after rejecting the final offer of their employers, the Carpenter Employer Bargaining Agency (CEBA), a provincially designated employer negotiating committee made up of six employer organizations.
The carpenters’ strike follows the May 1 strike action of 15,000 construction members of Local 183 of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). “LiUNA Local 183 members were deemed essential throughout the pandemic and continue to serve in one of the GTA’s fastest growing construction sectors. Our members are at the frontline of the region’s growth and deserve fair pay and benefits for their work and service to the community,” said LIUNA Local 183 Business Manager, Jack Oliveira. Some of the LiUNA sectors of skilled workers such as railing workers and fencing workers have now ratified new contracts and returned to work.
Around 6,000 construction engineers represented by Local 793, International Union of Operating Engineers are also on strike. Altogether the striking workers have brought the $50 billion housing and commercial building industry to a standstill.
Mike Yorke, the President of the Carpenter’s District Council of Ontario noted that the striking workers were demanding higher wages to keep up with the escalating cost of living. “The consumer price index went up by 6.7 per cent last month right in the middle of negotiations and that is the issue of the day for our members […] Whether it is housing, whether it is groceries and putting food on the table, the cost of gas to get to work or in cities like Ottawa and Toronto you have to pay $25 or $30 a day for parking once you get to work, it all adds up. It is an affordability crisis, the cost of living is spiraling and we have got to think about the next generation. How do we ensure that the young men and women that we want to come in to build Ontario, how do we make sure this is a viable career for them?” he stated.
At construction worksites in Toronto and elsewhere, workers from others unions joined the striking workers in a show of solidarity. During the COVID-19 pandemic the construction industry was designated an “essential service” and many workers in construction worked 10 to 14 hours a day to keep up the relentless building schedule for private housing and other building construction projects driven by private interests and sanctioned by the Ford Conservative government to address the housing shortage.
The strike action shows the strength of the workers who, as they point out, have not only been put in harm’s way throughout the pandemic to serve the interests of the private building monopolies but have shown who is truly “essential.” It is the workers whose labour and skills build housing and infrastructure in Ontario. Construction, a $50 billion industry, is controlled by private interests. The cartel parties in power serve these private interests as was demonstrated during the pandemic when the lives of the workers were put at risk to guarantee the profits of the private investors and speculators.
The demands of the construction workers for the wages and benefits that are acceptable to them deserve the support of all Ontarians. They have all the skills and know-how to take charge of construction of housing and commercial and institutional building in Ontario. It warrants a thought about the need for construction workers and the entire working class and people to control the economy and take it in a pro-social direction so that, for example, the right to housing for everyone is guaranteed.
(With files from CBC, CTV, LiUNA)
Ontario Political Forum, posted May 13, 2022.