About 85 crane operators and 25 heavy equipment -operators on mainland Nova Scotia went on strike on Wednesday.
The heavy-equipment operators’ new contract appears to be nearly a done deal without any lingering issues. But because they’re part of the same union as crane operators, these workers also have to go on strike, said Joey MacLellan, president and business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers’ Local 721.
“We’re not asking for any more than anybody else. We don’t want any more than anybody else. We’re not better than anybody else. We just want the same and to be treated fairly,” he said in Dartmouth.
“This is a monetary issue.”
The negotiations began more than a year ago. MacLellan said trade unions often bargain at the same time, and his is one of the few trade unions without a new contract.
An ironworkers’ union accepted a contract with yearly raises of about 1.5 per cent. That’s what the crane operators want, MacLellan said, but the Nova Scotia Construction Labour Relations Association (NSCLRA) is only offering what amounts to about a one per cent raise.
“We don’t negotiate collective agreements through the press. That’s something we don’t do. What I can say is that we have made an offer to the operating engineers that is consistent with the offers and settlements made with the majority of the other unions in the mainland building trades,” said NSCLRA president Bob Shepherd.
“We feel it’s a fair offer.”
No other offer is planned at this time, he added.
About 20 union members picketed at the under-construction Queen’s Marque development site, among other locations, during the morning and the afternoon.
The union plans to continue the strike unless workers are presented with an offer they vote to accept, MacLellan said.
After the strike reaches the 21-day mark, the matter has to be resolved and go to binding conciliation, as rules followed by both the union and the association dictate. Shepherd said the organization has offered to skip to that step immediately, but the union isn’t interested.
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Part of the strike is meant to convey unhappiness toward the lack of retroactive pay increases and signing bonuses for the time members worked under the old contract, which has no further raises, MacLellan said.
“There’s a frustration among the people that, every three years, we’re gonna get a wage freeze. Basically, we get a six-month wage freeze, minimum, because you don’t settle early. If you want to settle early then you get your money on time. However, it’s less than everybody else is gonna get,” he said.
“We’ve always been consistent. We’ve never paid retroactive pay. We’re not planning on paying retroactive pay,” Shepherd said. “There is no signing bonus.”
Neither side currently has plans to go back to the bargaining table, MacLellan said.
Of the 80 per cent of members who voted, 98 per cent of them voted in favour of the strike, he said.
If the strike lasts 21 days, crane rental companies could potentially lose around $200,000 of income, and there could be several construction delays, MacLellan said.