Unions gearing to strike ‘common front’

Members of the Ontario Public Servants Employees Union (OPSEU) may be back on the picket lines soon–but this time they won’t be alone.
Unionized workers across Ontario–including the Ontario Teachers’ Federation–are vowing to have a “common front” and go out on an illegal strike if the Harris government pushes through Bill 136.
At a special meeting of the Ontario Federation of Labour in Toronto on Monday, the 2,500 affiliated union reps unanimously endorsed a paper–dubbed “the last straw”–to protest passage of the Public Sector Transition Stability Act (Bill 136).
“So it goes that far–as far as a province-wide work stoppage,” OPSEU vice-president and treasurer Len Hupet, who hails from Fort Frances, said yesterday from Toronto, adding non-affiliated union groups also agreed to give their support.
“It could tie the province right up. So this certainly has serious implications for all of us,” he stressed.
The 13-step plan of attack, which the OFL kicked off yesterday, includes public education hearings, marching on Queen’s Park, and lobbying MPPs, municipal, hospital, commission and school board officials.
The final step outlines “bold” political action at public sector workplaces and in workplaces affected by the pending legislation, including co-ordinated work stoppages. These may take place by sector, city, region, or on a province-wide basis–but that’s a last resort.
“We’re just waiting to hear what we’re going to be doing,” said Florence Buffington, president of the Lakehead Canadian Union of Public Employees Council, with CUPE holding a similar meeting in Toronto at the beginning of August.
But Buffington didn’t think people would see many work stoppages–if any–until October, noting much depended on the public consultation hearings.
She added Sid Ryan, CUPE president of the Ontario division, would be visiting Fort Frances in the fall to give further direction.
Sharon Preston, president Fort Frances-Rainy River Women Teachers’ Association, stressed the teachers’ federations were in full support of the OFL’s decision, up to and including a possible walk-out.
“The possibility exists that a Bill 137 will be coming out in August,” Preston explained, with that bill binding teachers to similar labour legislation as Bill 136.
Bill 136 proposes a dispute resolution committee be permanently set up to arbitrate for those who can’t go on strike. And a labour relations transition commission will assist those parties unable to resolve issues earlier on in the restructuring process.
Tony Maxwell, spokesperson with the Ministry of Labour, noted earlier this month that the government was trying to write the bill to provide an opportunity in every situation to negotiate.
But Hupet charged all the government needed to do was make amendments to the Labour Relations Act.
Bill 136 is slated for a second reading after the Legislature reconvenes Aug. 18. After that, it was to go to the committee for further study and consultation.
Third reading was expected before December, with the bill intended to come into effect Jan. 1.