3 weeks in, concrete workers' strike is a building problem for Lower Mainland construction

·3 min read
Almost 300 workers — cement truck drivers, plant operators and others — are off the job due to a strike. It's left three companies that supply a good deal of cement in the Lower Mainland shuttered, causing concern for some in the construction business. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Almost 300 workers — cement truck drivers, plant operators and others — are off the job due to a strike. It's left three companies that supply a good deal of cement in the Lower Mainland shuttered, causing concern for some in the construction business. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Almost 300 Lower Mainland concrete workers have been off the job for several weeks due to a strike, evoking worries from some in the construction business.

Jake Jinjoe, co-owner of Raven Concrete, says the strike, which has shut down operations at 12 facilities operated by Rempel Bros. Concrete, Ocean Concrete and Allied Ready Mix since May 20, has put his concrete foundation projects weeks behind schedule.

"We're dead in the water. We can't work," Jinjoe said. "It's impacting people financially. It's catastrophic. It could get potentially even worse."

Concrete is foundational — literally — to many construction projects, he added, so hold-ups getting it poured and formed can set an entire project back.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"Eventually what'll happen is it's going to catch up with the other trades, too," Jinjoe said.

"When you build a house, you put your foundations [in] and then you have the framers come in and then you have electricians and plumbers and painters and drywall and all that."

A union representing the workers says they know how badly needed the concrete is and discussions with the employers are ongoing.

@ravenconcreteltd/Instagram
@ravenconcreteltd/Instagram

"All we're asking for is a fair, respectable offer," said Teamsters Local 213 business agent Barry Capozzi.

A spokesperson for U.S.-based concrete giant Lehigh Hanson, which owns Rempel, Ocean and Allied, said the company has offered options to the unions but they've been rejected.

Those in the construction industry say if the strike continues much longer, it could jack up already high construction costs in the region.

Discussions ongoing

Only the workers at the six Lower Mainland Rempel Bros. facilities are on strike, about 160 in total. Since those employees also work at six additional concrete sites under the Ocean and Allied banners, those locations are behind picket lines too.

The 134 workers for Ocean and Allied, Capozzi said, are respecting the picket lines. They are not working and the workplaces are idle.

The workers are represented by both the Teamsters and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115. They include concrete plant operators, concrete mixer truck drivers and others in their ranks.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The unions say workers want better working conditions, especially with regard to breaks.

Mike Mayo, business representative for the IUOE, said in an email that Rempel employees are often working excessive hours. He alleged workers are sometimes denied breaks and not compensated for working through breaks.

A spokesperson for Lehigh Hanson declined to address those specific allegations.

Capozzi said compensation is also an issue in negotiations. He said workers want a pay increase to keep up with the cost of living. He wouldn't say what the workers' present wages are or what they are seeking from the company.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Capozzi said the union is ready to talk at any time, a sentiment echoed by Lehigh Hanson's spokesperson

"Our objective remains to have a contract that is fair and mutually agreeable so our employees [can] return to work and we can get back to the business of supplying concrete to our customers," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Construction costs 'going to go up'

Capozzi estimates workers at the three picketed companies produce about 35 per cent of the concrete used in the Lower Mainland.

Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association says disrupting that supply could exacerbate already high building costs locally, driven up by supply chain and labour issues.

"It means one thing and one thing only. The cost [of construction] is going to go up," Gardner said.

Jinjoe, who says his workers are off the job due to the Rempel Bros. strike, says the answer is simple: just pay the workers so his company can get back on the job.

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