Ontario Elevator Strike – A Balanced PerspectiveDoug Guderian
The unionised mechanics in the Ontario Elevator market have been on strike since the beginning of May 2013. Outside of biased articles on either side of the dispute, I have not read much that would seem balanced and helpful for the group most affected – the clients. I would like to do my best to provide a reasonable unbiased perspective on many factors relating to the strike. Over the last 30 years, I have worked in the field in both the union and non-union environment and I have also been involved in the management and ownership of various elevator companies all in the province of Ontario.
Who is on Strike?
All 3 of the Ontario locals of the IUEC (International Union of Elevator Constructors) are on strike. The larger companies have none of their unionized workforce working, while some of the smaller unionized companies continue to operate in a limited capacity mostly in the maintenance and repair segment of the industry. There are approximately 3000 licensed elevator technicians in the province of Ontario and about half of those technicians work for unionized companies.
In this situation, well over half of the approximately 54,000 elevating devices in the province of Ontario will still be receiving their regular level of service from the non-union and the smaller unionized elevator contractors.
While Elevator One Inc. is fortunate to be a non-union company; we were quite busy before the strike and since the strike has started; we have been landing a higher percentage of new work that is being tendered. It seems that this is the case with most of the non-union elevator contractors in Ontario, so it is quickly becoming difficult for building owners to find elevator labour for any rush work and a number of elevator modernization and construction projects are getting their timelines pushed out.
Why is there a Strike?
As in most strike situations, the companies would like to have more flexibility in how to manage their workforce so that the companies can continue to be competitive in a changing market environment. The union wants to maximize the wages and the benefits that the union members receive for the skilled and specialized work that the members perform. Since only the individuals who actually sit at the bargaining table are really qualified to speak to the exact issues that need to be resolved in this labour dispute, I will not attempt to comment on the specific issues.
How are Elevators being serviced by the Unionized Companies?
The unionized companies have many managers, supervisors, and engineers etc., who carry the appropriate licences with TSSA to work on elevators. These people are doing quite an effective job of dealing with the highest priority service issues, like entrapments, especially in the larger centres. A larger company can also bring in qualified elevator mechanics from out of province, and quickly get them licensed as EDM-Ts (Elevating Devices Mechanic – in Training). As long as an EDM-T has had their skills passport signed off by an Ontario EDM-A mechanic, the EDM-T is then fully legal and qualified to do the work they have been signed off for in Ontario. Most companies use these provisions to provide service in Ontario in their regular course of business. Here is a link to the TSSA website for more information on Mechanic Licensing in Ontario. Page 9 of this linked document spells out what EDM-T mechanics may do.
What can Building Owners Do?
Since most of the longer term non-union elevator companies, like Elevator One, will not take on union work during a strike, changing elevator service suppliers in mid-contract during a strike usually isn’t an option. Working and communicating well with the elevator service supplier that you are under contract with is not likely to get you full service, but it should get you at least a reduced level of service. Some owners have considered asking for a reduction in price due to the reduced level of service, but this tactic could have either negative or positive repercussions. On the positive side, being the squeaky wheel could get you more of the limited manpower available to work on your elevators. On the negative side, being the squeaky wheel now with higher costs associated to it , could result in your buildings being moved to a lower priority for service. The reality is that the savings, if any, for the elevator companies during and after a strike, is often much less than it may appear on the surface. All of the preventative maintenance work that doesn’t get done during a strike often results in increased service work and costs after the strike. It is also much more costly during the strike to deal with emergency breakdowns, than to take the regular proactive approach that good maintenance companies use in their regular course of business.
What can Elevator Riders Do?
Elevator riders can continue to trust that the elevator companies and the TSSA will continue to make prudent decisions to ensure that elevators are being serviced and maintained in accordance with the Safety Code in Ontario. If you are in a building that is maintained by a unionized company that is affected by the strike, you may want to take into consideration that your elevator service may be slower than usual. In the reasonably unlikely event of an entrapment, especially in a remote community, there could be a reasonably long wait for service.
I hope that the differences between the IUEC and the unionized companies can be resolved quickly, so that the elevator industry can get back to business as usual, as this industry is one that has been very good to most of us who are involved in it.