As many as 170,000 Quebec construction workers walked off the job on May 24, halting work on the new Champlain bridge over the St. Lawrence, the Turcot Interchange in Montreal and other big projects. While workers reluctantly returned to work on May 31, after the province passed back-to-work legislation, federal infrastructure officials now say it is too early to say whether the Champlain work stoppage will further delay the SNC-Lavalin Group-led construction joint venture from meeting a Dec 1, 2018, completion deadline. The $4.3-billion replacement bridge already faces a potential three-month delay over strict new load limits for materials imposed on the old Champlain bridge.
“It is too early to say what, if any, potential impact might be related to that strike. We are analyzing the situation,” said a spokeswoman for the joint venture in an email. The joint venture faces fines of $300,000 a day if it misses the 2018 deadline, with a three-month delay possibly costing $27 million, says a recent National Bank analysis. The joint venture has filed a $93-million suit against the federal government, arguing it was not given critical information on the load restrictions in a timely manner.
Unions for the provincial workers, who had been without a contract since April 30, sought schedule and benefits changes.
Under the provincial bill, workers gain a 1.8% pay raise but no immediate change in working conditions. The bill also authorizes a five-month mediation for unions and employer groups to sign a new collective bargaining agreement.
Meanwhile, Quebec public engineers remain on strike. Their sign-off is needed before heavy loads of steel and other materials are delivered to projects. The Champlain bridge has more than 900 large components, including concrete segments and steel-box girders, that have required special transportation permits for worksite delivery. Quebec media speculate the province may pass new legislation to force the engineers back to work. An Infrastructure Canada spokesman says the government respects “the right of engineers working for the province in Quebec to strike and hopes to see a resolution … soon.” He says there is enough material on site “to do a significant amount of work for the next little while.”