Mass walk­out

Que­bec’s con­struc­tion sec­tor grinds to halt with strike

Cape Breton Post - - Busi­ness - BY ROSS MAROWITS

Que­bec con­struc­tion sites fell idle Wed­nes­day af­ter a union al­liance rep­re­sent­ing about 175,000 work­ers launched an unlimited gen­eral strike, crip­pling ac­tiv­ity on ma­jor projects such as the Cham­plain Bridge and a Mon­treal su­per­hos­pi­tal.

The walk­out be­gan af­ter con­struc­tion com­pa­nies and labour fed­er­a­tions failed to sign col­lec­tive agree­ments ahead of a strike dead­line of mid­night Tues­day.

Work sched­ules and over­time are be­lieved to be at the heart of the con­flict in the in­dus­trial sec­tor, while salaries are the main stum­bling block in the res­i­den­tial sec­tor.

Michel Trepanier, a spokesman for the union al­liance, said walk­ing off the job was the

only pos­si­ble op­tion.

“Em­ploy­ers are ask­ing us to sac­ri­fice time with our fam­i­lies to be avail­able for work,” Trepanier said. “There are lim­its and they’ve been reached.

“A strike was our only op­tion. We ne­go­ti­ated right up to the last sec­ond to try to get an agree­ment. In fact, we ac­cepted sev­eral times to work with a con­cil­ia­tor in or­der to reach a deal with­out a labour con­flict.”

Trepanier said the em­ploy­ers’ ob­jec­tive is clear: they want to drag out ne­go­ti­a­tions to ben­e­fit from the fact con­struc­tion work­ers are not en­ti­tled to retroac­tive pay. Their col­lec­tive agree­ments ex­pired April 30.

On Tues­day, Labour Min­is­ter Do­minique Vien said the pro­vin­cial govern­ment was look­ing at bring­ing in back-towork leg­is­la­tion in the event of a strike, say­ing a walk­out could mean losses of $45 mil­lion a day for the Que­bec econ­omy.

Vien told a news con­fer­ence in Que­bec City on Wed­nes­day she was sum­mon­ing all sides to a meet­ing in Mon­treal for later in the day.

“I can only ex­press my deep dis­ap­point­ment and con­cern,” she said. “This will have a ma­jor eco­nomic im­pact.

“We are not at the point yet of tabling spe­cial leg­is­la­tion but I will be ready to do so if the pre­mier asks me to.”

In Is­rael on an eco­nomic mis­sion, Pre­mier Philippe Couil­lard made it clear the walk­out will not last long.

“We will not let the strike drag on,” he said Wed­nes­day. “Not be­cause we want to favour the em­ploy­ers or the unions but out of con­cern for em­ploy­ment and the Que­bec econ­omy.”

The con­sor­tium build­ing the new $4.3-bil­lion Cham­plain Bridge said ac­tiv­ity will re­sume when more than 600 em­ploy­ees on the bridge and nearby

high­way ap­proaches re­turn to work.

“It is too early to say what any po­ten­tial im­pact might be (but) we are closely mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion,” said spokes­woman Veronique Richard-Char­rier.

Con­sor­tium part­ner SNCLavalin (TSX:SNC) said it doesn’t have any other sig­nif­i­cant projects in the province in­volv­ing union­ized con­struc­tion work­ers.

Ivan­hoe Cam­bridge, the realestate sub­sidiary of the Caisse de de­pot, said work has stopped on its Mon­treal projects such as a new Man­ulife tower and over­haul of the Queen El­iz­a­beth Ho­tel, along with work in Que­bec City and Sher­brooke.

The Team­sters union said its mem­bers are re­fus­ing to cross picket lines, in­ter­rupt­ing the de­liv­ery of ready-mix ce­ment.

Ce­ment maker La­farge said it will tem­po­rar­ily lay off work­ers if the strike lasts long.


Strik­ing con­struc­tion work­ers walk the picket line in front of a con­struc­tion site Wed­nes­day in Mon­treal. A union al­liance rep­re­sent­ing about 175,000 Que­bec con­struc­tion work­ers has launched an unlimited gen­eral strike.

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