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Some elevator mechanics to resume work June 17

06/11/2013 01:38 EDT | Updated 08/11/2013 05:12 EDT
Some striking elevator technicians in Ontario will get back to work in residential buildings on June 17, the National Elevator Escalator Association announced today, but the union representing the mechanics remains at the bargaining table.

Unionized employees were notified by the NEEA to resume fixing and maintaining lifting devices by the start of the next work week — amid a backlog of breakdowns, which were a consequence of the work stoppage that has dragged on since May 1.

Even so, Ben McIntyre of the International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 50 told CBC News the job action across the province is still ongoing. He called the NEEA's news release announcing the resumption of services next Monday a "disingenuous effort to create false hope" among Ontarians affected by the strike.

"The elevator companies are trying to use a provision that applies to the residential construction industry that we are not a direct party to," McIntryre wrote in an email. "Even if this section were to apply, it would only return a small portion of our members to work for rich condo developers in Toronto, while leaving the rest of the province without our services."

In its release on Tuesday, the NEEA stated that the Ontario Labour Relations Act requires that strikes affecting repairs at residential buildings must end on June 15, a Saturday. The same applies for strikes that could impact construction of new residences. The provision would cover the city of Toronto, the county of Simcoe and the regions of Halton, Peel, York and Durham, meaning that workers would be back on the job by Monday, June 17.

"NEEA is pleased to return to mediation with the International Union of Elevator Constructors today," the association said in its release Tuesday, adding that it has "proposed a significant wage increase and remains hopeful that a collective agreement can be reached and will continue to work towards that end."

McIntyre responded that companies should quickly settle the strike, "so all of Ontario can be served, not just select regions, or buildings."

At issue for the roughly 1,400 Ontario elevator mechanics are workloads and staffing levels. About 800 of the elevator mechanics on the picket line work in the GTA, which is undergoing one of the biggest construction booms in North America.

95% of lifting devices running fine, NEEA says

The Ontario Federation of Labour issued a release last week saying that nearly one in every 50,000 elevators in the province were out of compliance with provincial safety standards and that nearly three-quarters of them were in disrepair.

- Elevator workers strike in GTA

However, the NEEA disputed those claims, assuring that "Ontarians should rest assured that elevating devices continue to be safe" and that "claims otherwise made by some union leaders are untrue."

The association countered that "more than 95 per cent" of all the province's elevators and escalators operated by the four largest lift companies — KONE, Otis, Schindler and ThyssenKrupp Elevator — remain fully operational.

The association said it has flagged hospitals and nursing homes as priority buildings in need of lift maintenance so that people with mobility problems will not be forced to take the stairs. However, McIntyre has noted that "hospital, nursing homes and most residential elevating devices would not be covered" by the Labour Relations Act, which will only affect residential buildings as of June 17.

The Technical Standards Safety Authority, which is the provincial agency tasked with inspecting elevating devices, has not been affected by the strike.

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