Hospital unions at odds with court decision

A decision last week by the Ontario Court, General Division that confirmed the appointment of retired judges to hear contract disputes under the Hospital Labour Dispute Arbitration Act has sparked groans from hospital workers, who continue stand fast on their right to have mutually-acceptable arbitrators.
“We’re not happy,” CUPE Local 795 president Donna Sobkowicz said this morning. “However, our strategy was never based around that [decision] anyway.”
The “strategy” Sobkowicz spoke of does include CUPE and the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) undertaking a province-wide campaign to raise community awareness on the effects of privatization on health care.
“If ambulance services are privatized, for instance, we want people to know how much more they’ll be paying,” Sobkowicz remarked.
She also noted the unions were hopeful the “arbitrator issue” could be straightened out in the near future. “We’re at a standstill but we’re looking to negotiate by mid-March,” she added.
If not, strike action remains a real possibility.
“We will not negotiate until we feel we have a fair arbitration process,” Sobkowicz stressed. “If that’s not possible, we will walk out that door.”
On the other side of the coin, the Ontario Hospital Association said last Wednesday’s court decision was good news for hospitals and their employees because it removes any uncertainty about the existing mediation-arbitration process.
According to the OHA, the ruling confirmed the appropriateness of the Labour minister appointing retired judges to mediate-arbitrate contract disputes between hospitals and their unions when a settlement cannot be reached.
In the current round of contract negotiations with SEIU and CUPE, the hospitals say they are interested in proceeding with discussions in order to resolve the outstanding contract issues in a fair and timely manner.