Alberta building unions approve walkout, may serve notice today
Five Alberta construction unions have voted in favour of their first strike in 28 years as they seek higher wages and improved working conditions at a slate of multi-billion-dollar oilsands projects.
Electricians, boilermakers, plumbers and pipefitters, millwrights, and refrigeration mechanics have approved a strike and 72-hour notice could be served as early as today, though a quick walkoff is not yet certain, an analyst said.
“This doesn’t mean that a strike is going to happen but we’re in a position where it could,” said Mark Friesen, an analyst at FirstEnergy Capital. “It’s a risk that can’t be ignored.”
If the workers were to strike, it would be the first wide-scale stoppage in the Alberta oil industry in a generation, according to a union official.
“The last time there was labour action was 1979,” said Barry Salmon, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Neil Tidsbury, president of Construction Labour Relations, which bargains on behalf of employers, said contracts offering pay raises of up to 25 per cent over four years have been ratified or accepted by 16 of the 25 construction unions, a pattern agreement that’s being offered to the others.
Tidsbury said he expects negotiations will continue despite the strike vote.
“Our objective is to get this settled and that is what we are focusing on,” he said. “We’ve got a meeting with them Friday and we’ll see where that goes.”
Many oilsands projects use a mix of union and non-union labour and some, under Alberta labour laws, may not be picketed by strikers. Still a strike could delay projects and further add to costs that are already counted in the billions.
Friesen said a strike would have the largest affect on companies such as Nexen Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. , whose oilsands projects are closest to completion, while raising costs for all.
“It’s a pretty significant threat to projects,” he said.