If you live or work in a tall building, you probably appreciate the importance of elevators, especially if you’ve ever had to experience one out-of-service. Encountering out-of-service elevators has become increasingly common in certain regions of Ontario over the past six weeks, as more than 800 unionized elevator technicians have been on strike since their contracts expired on April 30th. If you’ve been to Toronto recently, you’ve likely seen them picketing buildings and construction sites across the City.
However, many striking elevator technicians will be forced back to work next Monday.
Justification for Forcing Elevator Technicians Back to Work
Under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, unionized tradespersons involved in residential construction and renovations may only strike between May 1st and June 15th of the year that the contract expires. Although these provisions were added to the Act in 2000, this appears to be the first time that a government has ever relied on them to force workers to return to work.
Elevator technicians who are necessary in conjunction with construction, alteration, demolition, repair or decoration of residential building will be called back to work on Monday. Other workers, such as those needed for regular repairs, as well as work on non-residential sites such as office towers and public buildings, will not be affected. Thus, some union members will remain on strike, while others will be forced to return to work. Out-of-service elevators will continue to be a common sight in Ontario until the labour dispute is finally resolved.
Striking Elevator Technicians vs. Returning Elevator Technicians
Returning workers will work under the expired contract until a new agreement is reached. Returning workers also have the option of requesting arbitration and entering into a temporary contract. However, that election carries the risk that those workers could end up being governed by the arbitrated contract after the labour dispute is resolved. This could lead to members of the same union being governed by different contracts, and could turn out to be a missed opportunity for one group of employees.