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Strikes threaten to halt major projects: suppliers kept in business by residential builders.

Strikes threaten to halt major projects

Labor strikes were putting a number of major construction projects across Northern Ontario on the brink of shut down last month.

Among the projects being affected by the strikes were the provincial government's future offices in North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.

"Overall, it (the strikes) has had a negative impact on the relocation program," said Arnold Bock, the program's executive co-ordinator. "However, the strikes don't necessarily mean that the program has stopped, because many of the (province's) workers have already been relocated to interim office space in the respective cities."

The strikes' effects were being felt primarily in the institutional and commercial sectors. The size and composition of residential contracting companies helped them escape the full brunt of the strikes.

"There is an effect in cities such as Toronto and Ottawa because there are larger crews and a lot of them tend to be unionized," said Peter Faggioni, president of the Sudbury Home Builders' Association. "Down there, contractors can build up to 300 homes a year. Here, if a contractor builds 10, he's had a good year."

Faggioni said the majority of Sudbury contractors are small operations, usually composed of an owner and a small number of helpers.

The fact that residential construction was spared from the strike also helped materials suppliers survive a reduction in business.

Don Park, manager of Emco Supply in Sudbury, said the volume of the company's sales is split evenly between commercial/industrial contractors and residential contractors. However, Parks noted that the volume "does not translate into an equal amount of dollars," with materials for industrial construction being more expensive.

Park added that he won't be able to ascertain the full impact of the strike on his business until it is over.

At press time, workers from the electricians, plumbers and tileworkers unions had been on strike for more than a month.

Media reports indicated that the unions were seeking pay hikes in the range of $5 to $7 per hour. Average salaries ranged from $23.53 per hour for tile workers to $28.50 per hour for plumbers.


Northern representatives for the unions said their main objective in seeking pay increases was to keep pace with inflation.

"Everything plays a part in inflation," said Larry Limeham, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers of Northeastern Ontario, as he commented on the expected impact of the goods and services tax. "We have to address all the problems, because it all comes back to inflation."

At the time of the interview, Limeham said the union had been offered $1.60 per hour more and $1.40 per hour more for the two years of the contract. While declining to name the amount being sought by union officials, Limeham - whose territory stretches from Parry Sound to James Bay and from the Quebec border to White River - said the union wants "the right to negotiate for more."

Ron LaForest, business agent for the United Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Welders Local 800 in Sudbury, said his union had also been offered a $3-per-hour increase over two years.

A similar wage package was accepted by the unions representing laborers, carpenters, operating engineers and bricklayers.

Bob Potter, a spokesman for the Plumbers and Fitters Union Local 628 in Thunder Bay, said the accepted offer was not comparable to the ones made to the unions which are still out on strike.


"What they settled for and what we were offered are two different things," he said.

During previous construction strikes union representatives from Northern Ontario complained that problems existing solely in southern Ontario were to blame. However, all representatives contacted by Northern Ontario Business agreed the factors behind the current strikes occur across Ontario.

"It's a province-wide problem," said Limeham.


The strikes had virtually shut down many industrial and institutional projects in the north last month.

"We're not completely shut down, but we're getting there," said Joel Iannone, the provincial government's project manager for Sudbury. "Several trades are affecting us (progress of the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines building), but the critical workers are the electricians."

In the initial phase of the strike, work progressed in areas where plumbers and electricians had already completed their work.

At the time of the interview, Iannone said the construction of the ministry's geological survey department at Laurentian University had not been affected.

"We're not at the point where we need the plumbers or electricians. We're just putting up the structural steel and decking."

Also affected by the strike were the cancer care centre at Laurentian Hospital and construction at Inco Ltd.'s Copper Cliff smelter and Clarabelle Mine.

Inco spokesman Karen Debenedet said company officials were becoming increasingly alarmed by the construction delays caused by the strikes.

"It concerns us because we're on deadline," she said. "Every day the strike goes on it concerns us more and more."

The provincial government has given the company until 1994 to complete its SO-2 emissions abatement project. Debenedet said the company could request an extension of the deadline if the strike continues for a longer period of time.

In North Bay strikes were delaying work at the St. Joseph-Scollard Hall Catholic Secondary School, the Casselholme Home for the Aged, the Canadian Forces Base and the Ministry of Correctional Services building.

The strikes were especially frustrating because of their timing, said Reg Watkins, the project manager for the correctional services project.

"We were within a few months of occupancy," he said in a telephone interview.

"Now we're getting to the point where the little work we are doing will stop," he added, pointing to the interdependence of each trade in the final phase of construction.

As in the case of the Northern Development and Mines' building in Sudbury, the major delays were caused by the electricians' and plumbers' strikes.

Watkins said the trades are needed for the installation of the fire alarm, sprinkler system and water supply systems.

Glen Gray, project manager for the Thunder Bay portion of the provincial relocation, said work was progressing on the complex which will house the Ministry of Colleges and Universities' awards branch.

"We're ready to close-in the building," he said. "We have masons and carpenters on site installing windows and the granite."

The strikes had halted work on Canadian Pacific Forest Products Ltd.'s $350-million expansion project, according to the company's director of community relations Diane Miller.

"There's no construction going on at all," she said.

The project, which included the installation of a newsprint machine and the construction of a thermo-mechanical pulp mill, had been scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

Gordon Cuthbertson, chief building officer for Thunder Bay, said other than the two projects, there were few effects of the strikes.

"The high interest rates have had more of an impact than the strikes," he noted.


Construction in Kenora also escaped the wrath of the strikes.

A building official with the municipality noted that "there are only two major projects in the town and one of them is almost completed."

The proximity of the town to the Manitoba border helped the other project - the Kenora-Patricia Child and Family Services building - to proceed with a Manitoba contractor.

Ron Peterson, planning director for Timmins, said the strikes were having a minimal effect on construction activity in the city.

PHOTO : New provincial office buildings across the North are affected.

PHOTO : The provincial government's office complex in Sault Ste. Maries is nearing completion.
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Article Details
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Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Three Sault companies receive FedNor funding.
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