Carpenters going back to bargaining table, LiUNA ICI workers reject offer

Mike Yorke, president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO), said the council’s bargaining committee will meet with management counterparts for one day of scheduled talks Thursday though more time could be added.

He said the sides have “cleared their calendars” and he is optimistic a settlement can be reached to end an ongoing strike that began Monday by 15,000 carpenters in the ICI sector working on commercial projects province wide.

Also on Monday, members of LiUNA voted overwhelming to reject the latest ICI collective agreement offer.

“Although we are currently in a legal strike position, the employers have agreed to pay retroactive wage increases to May 2 if we continue to work,”  Local 837 wrote in a note to members.

Bargaining is scheduled to continue May 19 or 20 and “we are committed to negotiating a wage increase that is fair and reasonable,” the notice reads. “If we are unable to reach a reasonable settlement, our negotiating committee is authorized to call a strike.”

He said union bargaining committees may have underestimated the anger of members over the ravages of inflation on their pay cheques, travel allowances and on the cost of parking.

“This truly is a different time.” He added that provincial legislation requiring that three-year ICI construction contracts expire at the same time may be worth re-examining sometime down the road.

The Carpenters Employer Bargaining Agency, meanwhile, says it is “disappointed” that a strike has been launched.

“We worked diligently to avoid this outcome by directly and fairly negotiating with representatives of the union, CEBA chair Jim Vlahos said in a statement. “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.

“At no point did the CEBA force a final offer or otherwise unilaterally impose an offer on the carpenters to ratify amongst their membership. We negotiated in good faith with the union to secure a fair deal that failed to ratify. We remain committed to the bargaining process.”

The carpenters on Monday joined about 6,000 operating engineers as well as 15,000 LIUNA members who walked off the job on legal strikes a week before.

Carpenters rejected a tentative agreement endorsed by union leaders because the monetary improvements did not fully reflect “the crisis of affordability” facing workers, Yorke said.

“This is a very unique round of bargaining in the commercial sector. I don’t recall anything like this before where there are either multiple strikes or members rejecting the potential for ratification,” Yorke said, adding that union bargaining committees may have underestimated the anger of members over the ravages of inflation on their pay cheques, travel allowances and on the cost of parking.

“This truly is a different time.” He added that provincial legislation requiring that three-year ICI construction contracts expire at the same time may be worth re-examining sometime down the road.

An update posted on the LiUNA Local 189 website Monday confirms the framework sector is potentially returning to bargaining on May 13 and May 17. In the meantime, the formwork sector remains on strike.

ICI plumbers and pipefitters last week rejected a proposed settlement offering a 12.5 per cent pay increase over three years although the plumbers remain on the job with two days of bargaining between the sides on tap this week.

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