A First in Collective Bargaining

Don Procter

November 2006

Toronto’s unionized drywall industry is doing something it’s never done before: heading into negotiations for a new collective agreement six months before the current one expires. Bargaining that far in advance is unheard of in Ontario’s building industry.

The collective agreement, which expires May 1, 2007, is between the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario and the locals for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. ISCA represents more than 90 contractors and 30 suppliers/manufacturers throughout Ontario that employ in excess of 10,000 members.

Hugh Laird, executive director of ISCA, says because the three parties get along it behooves them to hammer out an agreement during the slow building season.

Laird says his membership has a major issue at the bargaining table, which he chose not to disclose during negotiations. "It isn’t wages,” he says. "We haven’t negotiated them yet, but I assume there won’t be too much problem with that area.”

Bill Nicholls, business manager and secretary treasurer of the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades District Council 46 and president of the Ontario Council of Painters, says a key issue for his membership is increased pension benefits. He doesn’t expect an impasse, however, over that issue or any other. "I think the employer association is showing good faith by meeting with us early,” he says.

"There is a good feeling among the membership in having a collective agreement that starts next May, not in the summer or fall as has been the case in the past,” he says, adding he expects an agreement will be reached by Christmas. The Painters’ council, which is the subordinate body of the international painters union, has a contractual agreement with ISCA.

On another front, Laird says he expects work to taper off for his members in 2007 by 3 to 5 percent from 2006. The drop in work hardly affects drywall contractors, who have had a six banner years in a row. Traditionally, Canada has followed the United States into recession although the Canadian economy coasted through the last U.S. downturn relatively unscathed. Laird says with the Canadian economy showing no signs of bad times, the same thing might happen again.

Meanwhile, 2006 was a good year for another reason: ISCA and the affiliated Interior Finishing Systems Training Centre opened the new 56,000 square foot building in northern Toronto. The $5.5 million centre was built largely with money from ISCA’s members, but also received funding from the Painters and the Carpenters unions.

The general executive board of the international Painters union donated $29,000 for apprentices—that’s $100 for each apprentice. It also contributed $40,000 from the Labor Management Cooperative Initiative in part for training in the hazardous materials abatement program (including asbestos and mold) and for equipment and the promotion of the drywall industry. Some of that money is also earmarked for research into the ergonomics of stilts in the workplace.

While stilts are illegal in Ontario under provincial law, they have been approved in several Canadian provinces for a number of years.

For years Ontario drywall contractors have raised a fuss about the stilts legislation. Nicholls says there’s never been a better time to approve their use because much of the new housing stock in the Greater Toronto Area has ceilings that are 9 feet high or higher. That makes benches riskier than ever. "We hear of workers falling off benches almost on a daily basis,” he says.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.