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Alberta Construction Workers Serve Strike Notice

Alberta carpenters serve strike notice

September 6, 2007

Carpenters in Alberta may briefly go on strike this weekend, a strange twist in prolonged and complicated contract talks between builders in the province and construction workers.

About 4,000 carpenters, as well as roughly 100 roofers, served a strike notice yesterday morning through the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers. The strike, which could begin Saturday morning, could affect construction projects across the province, from the oil sands near Fort McMurray to Calgary office towers.

But the carpenters and roofers are essentially alone among labour groups in Alberta. Of 25 different groups, 18 have agreed to new four-year contracts. And under Alberta labour law, if 19 labour groups agree to new deals, the rest are forced into arbitration and prevented from striking.

Next Monday, two groups, electricians and pipe fitters, release the results of votes to ratify new contracts. Both are expected to vote in favour, meaning that a carpenters strike, if it occurs, would last only two days.

It would be a peculiar end to acrimonious contract negotiations that have stretched through most of this year, with the spectre of a broader strike emerging in July before it faded quickly.

There hasn't been a general strike of construction workers in Alberta since 1980.

The carpenters are upset over money, complaining that other groups of workers are getting better deals.

"I have never seen our members as galvanized as they are right now," said Martyn Piper, a spokesman for the carpenters.

Construction Labour Relations Alberta, the organization representing builders including oil sands firms such as Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., said a strike by the carpenters would be illegal.

The organization made a filing yesterday afternoon with the Alberta Labour Relations Board to protest the carpenters' strike notice.

Other labour groups are ready for the contract negotiations to end. Barry Salmon, a spokesman for the electricians, called the potential carpenters strike "an odd situation," adding that he expects electricians to ratify the new contract.

"I believe the majority will vote in favour of the agreement," Mr. Salman said.

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