May 9, 2019 2:50 pm

Unionized sheet metal workers call for end of concession demands during contract negotiations

Unionized sheet metal workers urge employers to get back to the negotiating table.

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About 30 sheet metal workers set up an impromptu picket line in front of R.K. Sheet Metal in Kingston’s west end this morning.

It’s the latest business members of Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 269 have picketed.

The local has about 180 members, including 130 sheet metal workers, and they are in their third day of rotating strikes.

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The workers have also been picketing sites where they work, as well as the contractors who run the work sites.

Some of those locations include the Napanee Generating Station and the Feihe infant formula plant in Kingston.

Local 269 president Paul Reynolds says contract negotiations have broken down.

The union has been in a legal strike position since May 1 but didn’t take to the picket line until May 6.

“Contractors asked us if we would finish out the week and that would give everybody a chance to get ready for the Monday morning,” Reynolds said.

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Reynolds says the membership would rather be working but the volume and level of concession demands from the contractor consortium are on a historic level.

Apprenticeship to journeymen ratios is only one of a long list of outstanding issues.

The previous ratio was three journeymen to one apprentice. The current provincial government changed that to a 1:1 ratio and now the employers want that reflected in the collective agreement.

Reynolds says it’s a way for the employers to hire less skilled cheaper labour, adding there are workplace safety concerns as well.

“Countless times we’ve caught ourselves (saying) ‘No, don’t do that like that young fella, you’re going to hurt yourself. There’s a better way.'”

With fewer journeymen, Reynolds fears workplace injuries will increase.

“When you’ve got three sets of eyes on an apprentice versus one set of eyes, that safety factor is going to go out the window.”

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According to Reynolds, other demands they are facing include a longer work week and employer control over unions’ hiring halls.

Currently, the union assigns workers to work sites. Reynolds says the employers want that control.

“You’re going to get into a conflict of interest of owners and union employees. There’s always the threat of you’re going to lose your job, or we need you to work this day for straight time.”

Full mobility is another issue the union and the business owners don’t see eye to eye on. Reynolds says it wouldn’t be good for local sheet metal workers or the local economy because wages being paid would ultimately leave the area.

“A company from Toronto could viably come into the Kingston area and bring 12, 14 guys to do a project in the Kingston area while members in Kingston are sitting on an unemployed list.”

Support for the job action is strong in the union, with 98 per cent of SMWIA’s roughly 4,000 members across Ontario voting in favour of a strike.

Reynolds says no dates have been set for further negotiations.

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