N.L.'s elevator workers on strike for 4th time in 16 years

·3 min read
International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 125-A workers picketed Thursday in front of the new mental health facility construction site in St. John's. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 125-A workers picketed Thursday in front of the new mental health facility construction site in St. John's. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

The workers who build and repair elevators and escalators in Newfoundland and Labrador are on strike for the fourth time in less than two decades.

On Thursday, about 10 workers, members of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 125-A, picketed outside the new mental health facility under construction in St. John's. Workers also picketed outside the hospital under construction in Corner Brook.

The union previously went on strike in 2005, 2011 and 2016.

The latest five-year agreement between IUEC Local 125-A, the Construction Labour Relations Association of Newfoundland and Labrador and the National Elevator and Escalator Association expired in April.

Workers on the picket line in St. John's wouldn't do interviews, and instead provided contact information for their union manager. The manager of IUEC Local 125-A hasn't responded to calls or messages.

Terry French, president of the labour relations association, which represents the companies that employ the workers currently on strike, said just over 20 workers, who both build and maintain elevators and escalators, are on strike.

French, who's also a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, said job action happened after multiple negotiation attempts failed.

"It's a difficult time to negotiate. I mean, it is what it is," he said.

Curtis Hicks/CBC
Curtis Hicks/CBC

He said inflation and the rising costs of goods like food and gasoline aren't helping.

"They have some significant demands and I'm sure they would tell you that we had demands, you know — what we want is significant as well," he said.

A lawyer for the elevator and escalator assocation, the other organization in negotiations, said the association had no comment on the strike.

French previously sought a court injunction during a strike in 2017, when workers picketed outside his home. He said workers showed up again last week while his elderly mother and teenage son were inside.

"For me, that was a step over the line, but hopefully we're past that now," he said.

French said the workers dispersed once Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers presented them with an injunction.

Unclear when strike will end

The last strike lasted for about 10 months, from July 2016 to May 2017. In 2006, it took 17 months for the parties to reach an agreement.

"I certainly don't want this to go on for months and months and months because it's, you know, of no benefit to anybody,' French said.

Nancy Reid, executive director of the Coalition for Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador, said she hopes workers and employers come to an agreement soon. She worries about potential delays to elevator repairs.

"Elevators are an essential service for people with disabilities," Reid said. "It's essential that people with disabilities or people with the inability to walk stairs have elevators to equitably and then equally access spaces in our province."

She noted many people, including those who use mobility aids like wheelchairs, rely on elevators to access public spaces.

"When elevators are not available, obviously that means that the equity, typically enabling people to access those spaces, is also removed."

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