No end in sight for OPSEU strike

With officials spending more time before the Labour Relations Board than the negotiating table, and union officials organizing province-wide rallies, there is no end in sight to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union strike now entering its third week.
Since 45,000 OPSEU members went on strike March 13, the province has charged the union is not actually providing the essential services it has agreed to.
“To date, the government has been required to seek Ontario Labour Relations Board intervention and take court action more than 40 times just to get OPSEU to live up to the terms of the agreements it signed,” Management Board chair David Tsubouchi said in a press release.
But Bob Dakin, president of Local #711, said just as many disputes have been brought before the labour board by the union, and that OPSEU members are making sure public services are being performed.
Last Wednesday, the board ordered all essential courtroom and support workers to return to work and provide the same services they had before the strike.
That ruling fuelled a day of action Monday, where union members gathered at courthouses across the province, including here in Fort Frances, to highlight the concerns of the court workers who returned to work.
“For court workers, getting a glass of water for a judge is considered an essential service. Helping a judge on with his robe is an essential service. Escorting a judge to the courtroom is an essential service,” Dakin said.
“We have no problem performing essential services that serve the public but we’ve yet to see how these things serve the public,” he argued.
Another contentious issue has been the pension plan. On Friday Tsubouchi said the government was willing to give into OPSEU’s demands to extend early retirement on a short-term basis.
The province said it would continue with “Factor 80,” a voluntary retirement program that allows employees whose age and years of employment add up to 80 to receive an unreduced pension.
“Our actions demonstrate the government’s accountable, responsible approach to the fiscal health of the pension plan,” Tsubouchi said. “OPSEU’s actions show that it is not honouring its commitment to provide essential public services.”
Dakin took aim at this “concession,” saying the province wasn’t actually giving up anything.
“‘Factor 80’ is funded by our pension plan surplus. It has nothing to do with involvement of the government except their signature,” he charged. “All the government has done is affixed their name to the plan.”
For the past week, the province has been running ads outlining what it calls a “fair offer” to the union, which it says includes up to a 10 percent increase over three years and pay for performance incentives, as well as an immediate 10 percent raise for nurses and eight percent for ambulance dispatchers and scientists.
“We want to reach a negotiated agreement with OPSEU—one that is fair to our employees and responsible to taxpayers,” said Tsubouchi. “However, it is difficult to negotiate the final terms when only one party is at the table.”
Dakin said this “offer” is the same one members rejected at the end of February.
“It would be impressive if we had that many nurses or scientists left but the government has cut them all already,” he retorted.
Dakin added while the province would offer a 10 percent raise for nurses and some other employees, the majority of OPSEU members would only receive the 1.95 percent a year over three years.
And that, Dakin said, wouldn’t make up for the pay loss they’ve experienced over the last six years.