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article imageUnion's strike call shuts down Quebec construction sites

By Ken Hanly     May 28, 2017 in Business
Montreal - Unions representing 175,00 construction workers in Quebec launched a general strike shutting down major construction projects in Quebec after months of failed labour negotiations.
Labour federations and construction companies had negotiated late into the night last Tuesday but could not reach a deal before a midnight strike deadline. Workers in the industrial sector want more stable work schedules, but salaries are believed to be the main issue in the residential construction area. Michel Trepanier a spokesperson for the alliance of construction unions said; "Employers are asking us to sacrifice time with our families to be available for work... There are limits and they've been reached." Collective agreements had expired on April 30.
Some large projects in the city of Montreal were halted by the strike, including work on the new Champlain Bridge and the CHUM hospital. Hundreds of workers picketed at the two sites. Montreal is replete with orange construction cranes all of them idle now. Work was also disrupted on the new Turcor highway exchange a key highway stretch in the west end of the city.
Plumber Martin Gauthier supports the strike but hoped a deal could be reached quickly noting that the strike was costly: "I'm not making money today,. Nobody is winning — that's the bottom line." As well as construction workers about 1,400 Quebec government engineers walked of their job at the midnight deadline. The engineers have been in a strike position for almost a year. Union president Mar-Andre Martin said that a week of negotiations had not resulted in any notable progress.
The Quebec government could in time pass back-to-work legislation but will not do so for now. The provincial Labour Minister Dominique Vien said she is hopeful that the construction workers and employers can reach agreement soon saying: "The message I want to send is that it would be better to have a negotiated deal than a special law. I think that everyone here very much agrees with that." She estimated that the strike was costing Quebec economy $45 million a day. She said that the provincial government could not allow the strike to continue long as it would cost Quebec too much. She said the government was prepared to table back-to-work legislation.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre urged the province not to be "too patient" before legislating workers back to work. Coderre said: "We're not going to be patient for a long time." The federation of Quebec chambers of commerce also urged a quick end to the dispute. Stephane Forget head of the federation said: "The adage that says 'when the construction industry is doing well, everything is doing well' is also inversely true — a labour conflict has a major and direct impact on all economic sectors." Forget noted that a 10 day work stoppage back in 2013 caused a drop of 1.1 percent in the province's GDP for that year.
Construction job sites that did not join the strike were targeted by flash mobs of pickets that led many workers to lay down their tools. A mobile strike picket unit of up to 40 members moved from one location to another to convince those still working to join the strike. Some had not heard the news but others were reluctant to strike. Quebec has an anti-scab law that would normally prevent employers from still operating but some employer groups claim the law does not apply to the construction industry; if workers agree, some sites could remain open. However many job supervisors decided to comply with the strike as soon as pickets appeared.
Montreal was particularly hard hit as about 60 projects were halted. At the new Champlain Bridge more than 600 employees were off the job. The bridge costing $4.3 billion is slated to be finished by the end of 2018. It is replacing the most-used bridge in Canada. The Turcot exchange is a key cog in Montreal's highway network and is being replaced. Approximately 300,000 used the exchange daily in 2017. The project is just 40 percent complete and is slated to be finished by autumn 2020. Many street projects plus a new hospital project also are shut down for now.
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