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Judy Haiven: On the line with the striking crane operators

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – More than 20 tower cranes are idle across mainland Nova Scotia because of a strike by hundreds of crane operators and mobile crane operators, members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 721.  While some construction is going on at sites around metro Halifax and Dartmouth, this will slow to a stop if the crane operators continue their strike.

“Construction companies on this site are losing $100,000 a day, but we’ve been without a contract since May, and the company doesn’t want to pay retroactive pay*,” says a crane operator picketing in front of Queen’s Marque on the Halifax waterfront.  

“All the other trades have settled.  Management is going after the tower crane operators,” says one operator. “They are trying to roll back our double-time wages for weekend work, and give us only time and a half.  The next thing they want is to make us work a six day week, rather than the five we work now.”

Local 721 is composed of tower crane operators and mobile operators.  The former climb the cranes and operate them from dizzying heights. The mobile operators are the people who erect and take down the 300-ton giant cranes in sections and move them from work site to work site.

The tower operators hoist all the steel, work that they say puts them on par with work the Ironworkers do.  The IUOE is looking for their wages to match those of the Ironworkers—an increase of 75 cents per hour each year over a three-year contract. “All we’re asking for is the cost of living – an increase of 1.5%,” says the crane operator.  Management has offered $1.00 in total over three years.  Tower crane operators earn $37.56 per hour.  

The workers say that management better decide to settle with Local 721 soon.  With winter coming, there shell of the building has to be finished, and the concrete poured, so the rest of the work can go on through the winter. “There needs to be heat from propane heaters inside to cure the concrete.”

*Note: Retroactive pay is pay for work already performed at a lower rate. For example, if a union collective agreement says a workers earn $11 an hour until the agreement expires, the union and management then have to negotiate a new collective agreement. Maybe that agreement is concluded 6 months after the first contract runs out. Let’s say the new agreement calls for a $12 an hour wage. That means the company could owe the workers retroactive pay from the time the old contract expires until the new contract starts.  In that case the workers are owed the difference between the old wage and the new wage for all hours worked in the six months were “underpaid.” In many unions, retroactive pay is the norm. Not so in the crane workers’ union.


Judy Haiven is founding member of Equity Watch. She retired from teaching Industrial Relations at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University.

See also: Judy Haiven: On the line with CUPW

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