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June 25, 2009

Industry finds ways to work around Windsor strike

The current Windsor city worker strike turned municipal construction sites into a picket battleground during the stoppage’s early days, reports the Windsor Construction Association (WCA).

“There were some efforts to actually shut down job sites within the first couple of weeks completely, in fact, there were individuals who put themselves in harm’s way, putting themselves in front of moving equipment,” said Jim Lyons, WCA executive director.

Workers from Windsor’s Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Locals 82 and 543 have been on strike for 11 weeks now. CUPE Local 82 represents 288 full-time and 97 part-time workers at the City of Windsor, ranging from road workers and horticulturists to pollution control operators.

Local 543 represents 1,400 workers, ranging from clerical to child care workers and health care providers.

“The CUPE members now demonstrating at these construction sites are delaying vehicles and trucks for up to five minutes going in and out of the site,” said Lyons.

Twenty-four thousand Toronto municipal workers in CUPE Locals 79 and 416 went on strike earlier this week. Permit and inspections workers are among those who walked off the job.

It is too early to say what kind of disruption this may cause for construction in the city, said Richard Lyall, Residential Construction Council of Central Ontario (RESCON) president.

“When the workers last went on strike for two weeks, there was not that much disruption,” recalled Lyall.

“We are going to begin to talk to our members to present options they have at their disposal, such as getting projects inspected privately.”

One of the more serious impediments caused by striking Windsor workers at a construction site occurred in west Windsor at a pollution control-plant that needed some “vital work” to be performed, noted Lyons.

“The Ministry of the Environment was threatening to fine the city if there was any sewage overflow into the river so we called in some emergency work,” explained Lyons.

“In order to get some workers into the plant to perform the work a police escort needed to be co-ordinated.”

Companies and workers at Windsor municipal construction sites have now acclimatized themselves with any CUPE pickets at their sites, he says.

They have geared their truck situations to the situation present.

However, inspection work and contract management which was done by field engineering staff, who are CUPE members, is now being done by city managers to the tune of 80- to 90-hour work weeks, said Lyons.

“They are working tirelessly to facilitate contract management,” Lyons said. “We are appreciative of that so we can carry on our work. Productivity has been sacrificed to some degree because of the strike, and management is trying, but we cannot say it is a seamless transfer.”

Lyons explained that unfortunately CUPE members think that by targeting their job sites they are sending a message but they are not. Construction workers are not replacing work they do and are not scabs — some of these workers are in privately run unions themselves.

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