Toronto Sewer Workers Need Strike Mandate

by Mark Freeland

The current contract for the Greater Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors will end on April 30, 2020.

That agreement provided only a 3 to 4 dollar increase to wages and benefits over a 36-month term.

The astonishing reality of capitalist-driven inflation: rapidly rising house prices, energy prices and expenses in all other industries reliant on the trucking supply chain, like fresh fruit and vegetables, have driven the day-to-day cost of survival beyond the means of a great part of the working class across Canada.

The Operating Engineers IUOE Local 793 and Labourers International LiUNA Local 183 entered bargaining by demanding an increase of $15 over 3 years.

Thousands of workers are represented by the two unions. They include crane operators, equipment operators, labourers, mechanics and carpenters working above ground, and under ground.

Sewer and watermain work is a sector among the most dangerous in the construction industry. One death per kilometer of tunnel constructed is the norm.

On April 23 both unions will conduct a vote, either to ratify a contract or to mandate a strike.

In order to bargain effectively union members must vote for a strike mandate, unless our bargaining conditions are met.

In the grossly unequal labour system of Canada the single most important tool in the armoury of the worker is the threat to withhold labour. 

If the companies do not accept a decent wage increase, that is, to meet the rate of inflation, we should vote for a strike mandate in order to give our collective bargaining units the hammer needed to fight and to win improved working conditions.

Without a strike mandate the unions are toothless.

IUOE and LiUNA members need to get past the fear of lost income and give our representatives an important tool they need to bargain effectively: a strike mandate.

Together, the two unions could put irresistible pressure on the Greater Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association. At stake are billions of dollars in contracts deemed essential by government. As yet, there appears to be no back to work legislation or essential services legislation in the wings. 

This is a great opportunity for labour to make real gains. Tunneling, sewer and watermain infrastructure projects are prominent across the Greater Toronto Area landscape.  Municipal and provincial politicians have their legacies inextricably tied to the success of these projects.

After two years of abuse, essential workers need to stand up and be counted.  Vote for the strike mandate. Short term thinking can only deny the working class its long-term advancement – that is, through collective struggle.