On June 6, a few hundred striking elevator workers, along with their supporters, rallied in downtown Toronto to demand their employers stop putting the people of Ontario at risk and get back to the bargaining table.
Members of the International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) locals 50, 90 and 96—numbering approximately 1,400—have been on strike since May 1 over issues of job security, safety and fairness. According to a leaflet produced by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), which was distributed to passersby during the rally, "elevator constructors have been forced into a strike...by a coalition of employers that is refusing to come back to the table and bargain in good faith." This coalition includes Otis, Kone, Schindler and ThyssenKrupp—huge corporations that generate massive revenues and profits.
These elevator companies—Ontario's "big four"—are reportedly using scab labour and management to service and repair elevators while the strike continues. But elevator mechanics are highly trained to do their jobs, which is why members of the IUEC are seriously concerned that by dragging their feet on bargaining the employers are creating a safety crisis. Scabs are unlikely to be trained to standard to do the work, which may be putting the people who use elevators at risk.
In fact, since the strike has been ongoing for over a month, and regular inspections and maintenance of elevators is required, most of the province's elevators no longer comply with provincial safety standards. The Technical Standards Safety Authority (TSSA), the regulatory body which oversees elevator safety, has been making it easy for the bosses to wait out the workers rather than to continue bargaining by so far not enforcing its own guidelines. According to the OFL leaflet, "the union has offered to conduct maintenance and repairs during bargaining, but their employers have refused."
This cabal of elevator companies is attempting to capitalize on the economic crisis and the austerity agenda by attacking workers—and the bosses are getting more than just the TSSA to back them up. The corporate media also has done its job as expected: ruthlessly vilifying the elevator workers as "greedy" and claiming they don't care about the people who need elevators most—people with disabilities and the elderly. But we must counter this hypocrisy by pointing out that, in fact, it is the bosses who are putting people at risk—and doing so all in the name of profit. We must also resist these attempts by the ruling class to divide and conquer us by offering our solidarity for elevator workers in their fight for safe and secure jobs—the likes of which we all deserve.
Two tangible ways we can show solidarity for elevator workers across this province will also help to maintain elevator users' safety. We can report scab labour to the union's hotline: 1-800-562-1429. As the OFL leaflet suggests, just "report the date, time and location of the incident as well as a description of events and individuals witnessed performing elevator maintenance or repair work. Please leave your contact information so the union can follow up." We can also help to "put pressure on the by reporting elevator problems or related safety hazards" to Wilson Lee, Spokesperson for the TSSA: 1-877-682-8772 or by emailing: email@example.com.
Update: Since the rally, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has intervened and "forced both parties" back to the bargaining table. Of course, the workers have already been trying to negotiate fairly—it was only the bosses who actually needed to be forced to bargain in good faith and actually seek a resolution.