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Construction delays across Ontario loom as 15,000 carpenters walk off the job

Construction projects across the province could be delayed during its busiest season as some 15,000 carpenters in the industrial, commercial and institutional sector have walked off the job.

Contractors join more than 15,000 residential construction workers also on strike

Construction workers hammer stakes into the ground on Wellington Street West in downtown Toronto. Approximately 15,000 carpenters in Ontario have walked off the job, meaning potential delays in construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

Construction projects across the province could be delayed during its busiest season as some 15,000 carpenters in the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sector have walked off the job. 

Members of the Ontario chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America began the strike action at 12:01 a.m. after voting to reject their employers' last offer on May 5.

"Right now, it's all down to financial compensation," said Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters' District Council of Ontario, noting that the union hasn't been on strike in the ICI sector for 34 years.

"When you're looking at the cost of living, the affordability crisis, everything that our members need to survive, there's a huge gap there between what they need and what's on the table," Yorke said.

Picket lines were set up across the province Monday morning and the union said it hopes to be back at the bargaining table as early as Thursday, according to Yorke.

Construction workers walk onto a job site on Wellington Street West in downtown Toronto on Monday. (Alex Lupul/CBC)

The Carpenters' Employer Bargaining Agency (CEBA), a provincially designated employer negotiating committee made up of six employer organizations, said in a statement on Monday that it is disappointed in the strike action.

"We worked diligently to avoid this outcome by directly and fairly negotiating with representatives of the union," CEBA said.

"These negotiations resulted in province-wide settlements that were agreed upon by all the carpenters locals, who also recommended these settlements to their membership for ratification."

CEBA said it negotiated in "good faith," is committed to bargaining and said "any suggestion to the contrary would simply not be factual." The agency said it hopes to talk to the unions to figure out the best way to resolve the labour dispute.

The striking contractors join thousands of crane operators and more than 15,000 residential construction workers who walked off the job last week.

The workers, members of Labourers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 183, work in six sectors of the residential construction industry.

Strike affecting large projects, prof says

Rafael Gomez, a professor of industrial relations and human resources at the University of Toronto, said the projects affected by the strike include the building of hospitals and schools and the expansion of public transit.

"Really, it affects everyone," he said on Monday.

Gomez said it's important to remember that the strike has been in the works for some time.

"The buildup to this is actually long," he said. "You can see this sort of pressure building and it's kind of coming to a head right now."

But he said he thinks it will be resolved soon.

"There's an adage in industrial relations: Long strikes favour employers, short strikes favour employees," he said.

"In this case, the stakes are so high for these projects and there is money available and I think it has to get directed to the right places. My prediction is that these strikes won't last very long."

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