Canada: carpenter's wildcat spreads to other workers

demonstrating workers outside the state legislature

250 carpenters at the Petro-Canada site launched the wildcat strike after their planned strike was banned by anti-union laws.

Submitted by jef costello on September 13, 2007

The region's 4000 carpenters are asking for a rise equal to that earned by metal-workers earlier in the summer. According to Martyn Piper of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners (UBCJ) some 20 issues have been resolved during negotiations and that the only disagreement is over a wage increase.

Hundreds of UBCJ members defied the union leadership on Tuesday and walked off sites across the province, there were heated disputes at picket-lines at the massive Petro-Canada site. Piper who had previously stated that he did not want members to "do anything illegal" has now ordered members to return to work.

Other workers joined the strike during the day, some from unions who have reached agreements. Hundreds of workers went to the state legislature to protest against the anti-union laws which prevent strikes which have already been voted for overwhelmingly by members from being launched.

On Saturday a workers picket near Anzac ended up blocking Highway 881, workers were forced back to work on Sunday after employers served them with an injunction, although they appear to have downed tools again as news of other wildcats spreads. The Petro-Canada and Fort McMurray sites have been shut down since Tuesday and other sites are reporting strikes and pickets.

Industry-wide negotiations with the Alberta region's 25 unions led to an agreement of a 23% rise over the next four years, however as their base salary is lower the UBCJ is asking for a rise of $11 per hour, the same amount as other workers received, which is equivalent to 35-42% for industrial and commercial carpenters respectively.

Alberta union laws prevent legal strikes once 75% of unions have reached agreement with management, forcing unions into compulsory arbitration. The imposed settlements are invariably lower than those acheived in direct negotiation, which places unions in direct competition with each other. When the UBCJ gave notice of strike action to begin on Saturday 18 of the region's unions had already reached agreement with the industry, meaning that only one union needed to reach an agreement to bring anti-strike laws into effect and force the remaining unions into arbitration.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voted 51% in favour of a settlement on Tuesday thus avoiding arbitration: "[manager Tim Brower] not only screwed his own members, but everyone else." said IBEW member Eric Clyne.