‘The ripple effect is huge’: Concrete strike in Metro Vancouver threatens construction industry

Click to play video: 'Concrete workers’ strike threatens Lower Mainland construction'
Concrete workers’ strike threatens Lower Mainland construction
A month-long strike has shut down more than a dozen concrete facilities in Metro Vancouver, stalling a growing number of projects. Aaron McArthur reports – Jun 21, 2022

A month-long labour dispute is hitting the foundation of Metro Vancouver’s construction industry.

A strike by nearly 300 workers has shut down 12 concrete operations, slashing the supply of concrete and stalling many projects.

The Homebuilders Association Vancouver said large commercial and industrial projects are taking precedence for deliveries of what little supply remains available, leaving the small and medium residential builders in a quandary.

“Members are telling me the larger concrete suppliers have advised them to not break ground on any projects planned with concrete foundations, estimating the strike could push on through September or October,” Ron Rapp, CEO of the homebuilders association, said in a release.

“Recognizing our members build 65 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s homes, cancelled projects can add up quickly, with grave impact on the ability to deliver our regions (that) desperately needed housing.”

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Larry Clay, a homebuilder in Metro Vancouver and a previous board member of the homebuilders association, has three houses ready to be built right now.

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“We’re not getting any concrete,” he said. “The ripple effect is huge because my foundation contractors – I have no forms, damp-proofing services, backfill. My excavation contractor can’t dig the next two, the framer’s not coming, we’re not delivering lumber and windows and the ripple effect is huge. It’s affecting so many people.”

Clay said the homebuilders association is not taking sides but said both parties need to get back to the bargaining table and resolve the issue.

“Tens of thousands of people are being affected right now,” he said. “We just want to get building.”

He said the industry has been hit hard by COVID and supply chain issues and now concrete issues.

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“Without concrete, you’re dead in the water,” Clay said. “We can’t start.”

He said they even looked into getting concrete from the U.S. but orders are not allowed to cross the border.

Salaries and working conditions are the main issues on the bargaining table.

More negotiations are set for Wednesday.

“The two sides should bargain in good faith, however, if agreement cannot be reached, then mediation should be considered and or mandated,” Rapp said.

“A similar strike in Seattle saw a return-to-work net of an agreement, but only after many weeks of disruption, and subsequent talks between the two sides have resulted in a pending agreement that could come into effect this week. In Ontario, such strikes are limited to six weeks before being directed to mediation to avoid the crippling ripple effects, but even at that, the adverse consequences are real and significant.”

There is concern from building companies that the strike could drive up the cost of housing in Metro Vancouver.

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