Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Quebec’s unionized construction workers strike for higher wages, less overtime

Canadian Contractor

Multiple sectors walk out over pay increases and overtime requests

In a strike action that could cost the province $45 million a day in economic losses, over 175,000 construction workers in Quebec have walked off the job. A series of collective agreements expired at the end of April, and despite some efforts to negotiate a new deal, the workers voted to strike effective midnight on May 23. Quebec has the most highly union-regulated construction industry in the country, with some 26 trades requiring both licensing and union membership.

Weekend work to make up lost time was rejected by the unions
Canadian Contractor contacted a residential contractor in Quebec, who told us that he believes the strike action came as a result of employers requesting workers to put in weekend hours in order to make up for lost time during the extreme rains of the previous weeks. The union objected to these requests. Michel Trépanier, a spokesperson for the alliance of construction unions, referred to the matter as a life-work balance dispute. He was quoted in local media saying, “With employers’ groups demanding the ability to change workers’ schedules at short notice, it’s impossible to fulfill our responsibilities to our children and families.”

Union takes the opportunity to ask for money, too
However, there also seems to be a wage dispute thrown into the mix as well. A source told Canadian Contractor that the union is also seeking a 4 per cent wage increase each year for the next four years. This might make for difficult negotiations going forward. In response, the Ministry of Labor in Quebec is suggesting they will seek back to work legislation to end the walkouts. This move has, not surprisingly, been strongly rejected by the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, the province’s largest labour federation.

The projects most likely to be affected are larger buildings and infrastructure now underway. However, it is also reported that anti-strikebreaker laws may still allow workers to continue working if they wish. While home building may be impacted, sources told Canadian Contractor that home renovations are largely considering ‘non-construction’ work by the unions, so may not be affected. Canadian Contractor has been also told that although this may be true, it will not prevent situations where a union ‘strong arms’ might approach a site and ‘suggest’ that workers leave their work. Any settlement with the unions would also impact residential work as well as commercial.

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One Quebec residential contractor bites back at the union with defiant words
Steve Grant owns Propriétaire de Sauna-Concept, a small contractor in Chateau Richer, Quebec. Grant took to social media to express his objections to the strike action and the union system that rules Quebec construction with an iron fist. (Please excuse our limited translation abilities from the original French.)

“Youpppi! We are on strike!

At home, it changes absolutely nothing in our wonderful working atmosphere. It will give us time to do our small projects and take back our accumulated delays in our workshop. I would even say that in my case I wish that it lasts a good 3-4 weeks minimum.

Meanwhile the proud union heavies are going around to ‘crunch’ the guys, saying that we are evil bosses who make money on the back of the guys.

The real problem? I leave that for you to judge for yourself. A carpenter’s salary is + or- $37.00/hr. My cost for that employee, given all the benefits and other regulatory costs (and the list is very long), is roughly $62.50/hr.. No exaggeration on my part. That’s a total cost of $125,000/year per man, for a year of 2000 hours. His net salary will be about $40,000 and my cost is $125,000. That $85,000/year difference is sent to an odd bureaucracy, and it’s insane.

I am a boss, and I confirm that many of these guys deserve more than their salary of + or – $37/hr (depending on their job).

But entrepreneurs and workers do not deserve this common expense of $85,000 per year. It is the cancer that gnaws at the bowels, and at economy of Quebec as a whole. At the end of the day, we all pay this $85,000/year for each “pair of arms” that builds our houses, our condos, the wonderful Champlain Bridge……

Our “unionists” will proudly continue to develop hatred between the bosses and the workers. Instead, they should be demonstrating in front of the offices of the CCQ and their own union offices, demanding to know how many executives are fattening their own wallets with the contributions taken, even stolen, from our valiant workers!

I am exceedingly proud that I have succeeded in explaining this to my men. In this situation, it is rare to find people who can see this reality for what it is.

And that is why today we work proudly and in good humor, knowing that by doing so we are irritating this filthy system.”

Grant’s bold comments have been shared by hundreds, and even been the subject of talk shows in the province.

Extreme intimidation by unions is always a concern
Quebec union behavior during past strikes have been controversial, and occasionally includes extreme intimidation of workers willing to work. In 2011, media reports emerged from hearings considering union reform legislation that a group of union delegates not only forced the closure of a waterfront job site, but shut off generators supplying compressed air to divers working underwater. The divers managed to surface safely using their emergency equipment, but the action demonstrated the lengths to which certain unions and their members will go to enforce their will.

In the meantime, no talks have been scheduled to resolve any of the issues at hand.

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