Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) insists that a strike by 170 technical safety inspectors is not putting the public at risk but admits it‘s causing delays of inspections of such devices as lifts at construction sites.

The TSSA has been making do with inspections by internal managers and third-party inspectors ever since the TSSA inspectors, members of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 546, hit the bricks July 21.

Local 546 negotiator Cory Knipe said there is no way that the replacements are as capable as his members are of ensuring installations such as newly installed piping systems or pressure welders, new or modified elevators or even components of nuclear plant refurbishments are safe.

Knipe said TSSA managers “yanked out of the office” will miss hazards the experienced inspectors won’t.

TSSA vice-president of communications Alexandra Campbell denied the substitute inspectors are unqualified.

“We have highly qualified and certified individuals doing the work,” she said, noting supervisors are responsible for training and continue to undertake inspections so they are not incompetent or rusty.

“That characterization is not accurate.

“We are delivering on our safety mandate. We have contingency plans to deliver on our safety mandate. So we’re not going to allow anything to operate that hasn’t had its required inspection.”

The sides are far apart on wages, with the TSSA said to be offering a 6.3 per cent raise over two years and Local 546 asking for a new grid system of wages that Campbell said represented a hike of around 20 per cent over two years. Knife disputes both figures.

The strike has received public attention in the run-up to the opening of Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition today (Aug. 19). The inspectors, newly unionized last year and striking to obtain a first contract, set up a picket line on the exhibition grounds Aug. 14.

Campbell said all rides at the CNE will be inspected by TSSA managers and thus safe for use.

“No amusement rides are operating without having had inspections,” she said.

Both Knipe and Campbell addressed hoists and lifts at construction sites. Campbell explained every time a lift is modified or moved, by law it has to be inspected.

“In a few cases, we’re seeing some delays and in those kinds of inspections we’re having to prioritize,” she said. “If it’s a building with eight elevators and one is undergoing modification work, we may prioritize, will prioritize a new elevator in a hospital.”

The TSSA is working with its customers to address the reprioritizations, Campbell said.

“But nothing is going into service without having, quite frankly, some of the most qualified people with the highest level of credentials doing those inspections.”

Knipe said one member of his negotiating team is a construction site lift specialist who has talked about how he identifies loose nuts and bolts and stops the lift right on the spot.

“It stops right there and they need to go back over that project in order to make sure that it’s all fixed. Then they go back and check again,” he said.

The negotiators have not met since the TSSA tabled an offer the day before the strike began.

Knipe said, “They refuse to come back to the table unless we accept their demands…we are working diligently trying to get them to come together at the table so we can have a chat with them.”

Campbell countered, “We truly negotiated in good faith. Our key objective was to be able to get a good first agreement in place with OPSEU for the inspectors. We value them, we value the work, their contributions.

“First agreements do typically take a lot longer because it’s first language on everything.”

She said Local 546 has not stated clearly what it objects to in the TSSA offer and charged that its members and negotiators have identified issues through the media without addressing them with TSSA negotiators.

Knipe said wages are clearly an issue, with the inspectors needing adequate raises to keep up with the cost of living as well as improved benefits.

“We checked with the industry out there, we did all of our research on it. And the wages that we did put forward were very fair,” he said.

Campbell noted the TSSA is a not-for-profit regulatory agency that does not receive taxpayer funding; all of its revenue comes from the fees it charge to licensees.

“So there are restrictions on how much we can increase our fees, as you can imagine,” she said.

“We want to treat all our employees fairly so in terms of what will it take, we gave everything we could to get a deal.”

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