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October 24, 2013 - Vol. 3 No. 3

PCs' Fraudulent Reset

Hudak Changes Tactics In Face
of Broad Opposition


Workers from across southern Ontario send clear message to PCs at policy convention in London, September 20, 2013.

PCs' Fraudulent Reset
Hudak Changes Tactics In Face of Broad Opposition - Jim Nugent
Bill 113: New Anti-Worker Legislation - Rob Woodhouse
Bogus "Facts" to Justify Attacks on Workers

College and University Workers
Take a Stand Against Dictate! - Dan Cerri 
Government Refuses to Consider Joint Task Force With Union - Christine Nugent
University of Windsor Workers Affirm Their Rights - Interview, Dean Roy, President, CUPE Local 1393


PCs' Fraudulent Reset

Hudak Changes Tactics In Face of Broad Opposition

Working people in Ontario should take note of a change of tactics in the anti-worker, anti-union offensive of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives (PCs). The aim of this tactical change is to split the workers' growing unity in opposition to austerity and to attacks on their rights by trying to pit workers in the public sector against those in the private sector.

The PCs are under pressure from the widespread opposition they have aroused among working people with their proposed right-to-be-slave-labour legislation which they call "right-to-work." This pressure was evident at the September PC policy convention where the delegates were split down the middle in a debate on whether to include the proposed slave labour laws in their next election platform. It was also evident in public statements made by former PC leader John Tory who advised Hudak on the eve of the convention to "get rid of the right-to-work stuff" because it "is scaring voters and making people in the party nervous."

John Tory's advice and the nervousness of PC party members do not arise from any pro-social principles but from pragmatic considerations about getting elected. They are no doubt reflecting on the results of the six by-elections held during the past year. Despite a virtual collapse of the crisis-ridden Liberals in many ridings during those by-elections, the PC candidates were defeated in all but one riding, where they won by a very narrow margin of votes. The electorate is clearly not buying into the PC version of austerity and attacks on workers.

Initiatives of the PCs since the policy convention indicate that the Hudak Conservatives are heeding the advice of Tory about "getting rid of the right-to-work stuff," at least until after an election. Instead, they are concentrating their anti-worker rhetoric and attacks on workers in the public sector, and government corruption to divert from their shift in tactics.

One of these initiatives was the release of what amounts to a PC election platform by Hudak on October 1. The document is entitled "The Lost Decade" in reference to the ten years since the Liberals took over from the Conservatives. Right-to-work legislation is not mentioned at all but it contains a vicious attack on the one million workers in Ontario's public sector who are all denounced as "bureaucrats." These workers make up 13 per cent of the Ontario workforce and include occupations ranging from nursing home attendants to nuclear power plant designers. They provide the vital services Ontarians rely on.

The PC pitch blames all of Ontario's economic problems on these workers -- from the loss of manufacturing jobs to the fiscal deficit and even high electricity rates. According to the PCs, the problem is that the Liberals won't make the "tough decisions" necessary, such as public sector wage and job cuts and increased privatization of public agencies and services. In an introductory letter to "The Lost Decade" Hudak says the PCs will make these tough decisions: "We did it before [under Mike Harris] and we will do it again!"

What is not mentioned is that at the end of Harris/Eves' term, despite all the talk about debt and deficit and billions in payments to the banks, both the debt and deficit grew while public services were privatized, user fees increased and standards degraded. Profiting from the destruction of the public health care system, Harris's wife now owns a private nursing company. PC "austerity" was a transparent scheme to pay the rich then and remains bogus today.

The PC strategy in the next election, which they say they want as soon as possible, seems clear from their "Lost Decade" platform theme. They will run against Liberal corruption, opportunism and mismanagement, while keeping quiet about their own agenda. This is what the Harper Conservatives did to capture power in the 2006 federal election. Harper ran against the corruption of the Chrétien-Martin gang, then falsely claimed he had been given a "mandate" for sharply stepping up the anti-social offensive.

Central to the PCs' pushing the "Lost Decade" theme will be the scapegoating of public sector workers and the failure of Liberals to make the "tough decisions." If the PCs are able to capture power as the alternative to the corruption and opportunism of the discredited Liberals, they will also claim a "mandate" for their broad agenda to drive down the standard of living of not only public sector workers but of all workers, including unionized and non-unionized workers in the private sector.

The answer of the workers' movement to these new tactics of the PCs must be to continue mobilizing all working people against the phony austerity being pushed by political representatives of the rich and for the defence of the rights of all.

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Bill 113: New Anti-Worker Legislation

For the past two years the Liberals and Conservatives (PCs) have kept up steady pressure to impose austerity contracts on workers classified as essential services providers.[1] This pressure has included Liberal and PC legislative proposals for drastic changes to the interest arbitration system and administrative bullying of arbitrators by the Liberal government. Since the Legislature re-opened following the summer break, the PCs have taken several initiatives to step up this pressure.

One of these initiatives was the PC bill introduced as a Private Member's Bill by MPP Toby Barrett on October 7, Bill 113, the Comprehensive Pay Fairness Act. This is the third bill introduced by the PCs in the past year to change the interest arbitration system. Bill 113 is very short, just over 500 words. It is also fairly mild in tone compared to the previous Liberal and PC bills on arbitration and compared to the other virulent anti-worker bills of the PCs, but it has the same aim: blaming the workers for the state of the economy and ensuring that austerity measures are imposed on public sector workers in order to pay the rich.

Bill 113 would establish an entity under the Ministry of Finance to be known as the Comprehensive Pay Fairness Division. The bill mandates this entity to collect and publish specified information about labour markets and the finances of governments and employers throughout the broader public sector. The effect of this would be to create an official version of public sector employers' "ability to pay" and to incite the public against public sector workers.

The second part of the bill is the operative part, compelling arbitrators to "consider" the published material in their decision: "Sec. 6. In making a decision or award settling all or part of a collective agreement for public sector employees, an arbitrator or a board of arbitration shall consider the information that the Comprehensive Pay Fairness Division publishes under section 5." (OPF emphasis.)

This bill, if passed, would result in arbitrators' decisions being more frequently overturned by judicial reviews if the decisions fall outside austerity parameters set by the government. This would effectively usurp arbitrators' powers and make them instruments of government dictate. It would also throw out the window the idea that arbitration makes up for taking away workers' right to strike through decisions that replicate what the outcome would be from a strike.

Subjecting arbitration decisions to more court reviews is in keeping with the thrust of the reorganization of labour relations the PCs advocate. In their anti-worker policy whitepaper "Flexible Labour Markets," the PCs called for dismantling many of the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) processes which developed during the years of the post-war social contract. It says labour law should be "modernized" by curtailing the OLRB powers so "employees and employers are able to rely on common law and the existing judicial system for protection."

The bill also complies with demands made by labour lawyers representing public sector employers who complain about lack of "court supervision" of OLRB arbitrators. An example is the dissenting opinion written by the lawyer for Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital this past summer when an arbitrator gave workers a wage catch-up agreement that didn't conform to government wage freeze policy. The hospital's lawyer complained: "Arbitration boards can essentially ignore the public policy embodied in the statutory criteria which they are supposed to apply [because] these decisions are rarely overturned by the courts."

The employer's lawyer went on to say: "If courts will not require arbitration boards to apply legislative policy more strictly, perhaps there should be a stronger legislative requirement in the Act for them to do so." Despite its mild appearance, this is exactly what Bill 113 does: put a strong legislative requirement in the Labour Relations Act for arbitrators to comply with the austerity agenda being pushed by the Liberals and PCs, regardless if it contradicts their mandate and powers. In essence Bill 113 would eliminate any independent role for arbitrators.

The tone of the PC bill may have been styled for the purpose of working out arrangements with the Liberals for changing arbitration law. In the Wynne government's Throne Speech opening this session of the Legislature and in its Budget Speech, the Liberals indicated they will consider PC proposals for changing interest arbitration legislation. Former Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the same thing in his 2012 Budget Speech. Will passing this bill with certain tweaks be the next anti-worker collaboration between the Liberals and PCs?

Notes

1. Workers employed in the health sector, emergency services (ambulance, fire and police), the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and some other workers have been designated essential services providers and are not allowed to strike during collective bargaining. When there is a dispute during bargaining it is submitted to a process under the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) known as "interest arbitration."This process is supposed to let a neutral arbitrator agreeable to both employers and employees settle disputes based on replicating the likely outcome if strikes or lockouts were permitted.

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Bogus "Facts" to Justify Attacks on Workers

As part of the PCs putting themselves on an election footing, their new Finance Critic, Vic Fedeli[1] has launched a media campaign scapegoating workers in the public sector for all of Ontario's economic problems. Scapegoating public sector workers is central to the election strategy of the PCs, to present themselves as the alternative to the corruption, opportunism and mismanagement of the Liberals.

To kick off his campaign, Fedeli released "Fedeli Focus on Finance, Vol 1, No.1." It claims to be a serious investigation into Ontario's financial situation but is muddled partisan misinformation. Fedeli presents a compilation of data on contract settlements from the Ministry of Labour website and claims this "study" shows 80 per cent of broader public sector contract settlements violate the government's wage freeze policy. This, Fedeli says, proves the Wynne government strategy to impose austerity by "working together" with trade unions is not working and that the PC proposal for a legislated wage freeze is the only way to effectively impose wage austerity.

A serious look at the facts, however, shows just the opposite. Since collaborating with the PCs to impose a wage freeze on teachers and education workers with Bill 115, the Liberals under both McGuinty and Wynne have been very effective in imposing public sector wage freeze contracts using threats, blackmail and administrative measures to impose public sector wage freezes and cuts, all the while holding the threat of legislation as a trump card. Through "negotiations" carried out under the threat of legislation and through administrative pressure on arbitrators, the Wynne government is imposing the austerity demanded by the rich. Fedeli's problem is that it isn't forceful enough.

Fedeli's compilation of data does a numeric count of contracts settled between January 2010 and July 2013 to come up with his "80 per cent." The period of time covered by the contracts and the number of workers involved is not considered. The number of workers covered by the contracts compiled totals 652,316, and of these 348,873 have zero increase contracts (53 per cent).

The percentage of zero increase contracts goes up to 64 per cent if only those currently in force are considered. There are contracts affecting 538,393 workers currently in force and 345,272 of these workers have zero increase contracts. Many of the current contracts not having a zero increase cover a long period of time, as long as five years, and do not reflect the contracts being imposed at the present time. Of the 341,473 workers covered by contracts having only a 24-month term, 330,074 have zero increase contracts (97 percent).

The pattern of settlements can best be seen by looking at the contracts with a similar time frame and term such as the teachers' and education workers' contracts imposed with Bill 115, which are for 24 months ending in 2014. There are 331,904 workers affected by these contracts and 99 per cent are zero increase contracts. Besides 265,000 teachers and education workers, zero increase contracts cover 46,000 Ontario government employees in various bargaining units and 11,600 community college faculty and staff.

There are also 7,700 health care workers with 24-month zero increase contracts ending in 2014, mostly workers at for-profit nursing homes. Eighty-seven per cent of these are zero increase contracts. These contracts were settled either through arbitration or negotiations carried out under the threat of legislated settlements based on the Bill 115 model. This shows that the trend is toward arbitrators imposing zero wage increases, even though there is no legislation authorizing a wage freeze for health care workers.

Another 71,000 health care workers have zero increase in at least one year of their contracts. These non-zero contracts are spread back over at least 36 months, putting their start date well before Bill 115. Of these, one of the largest units is comprised of 52,000 nurses under central hospital bargaining.

Notes

1. Fedeli replaced Peter Shurman as finance critic for the PCs in September. PC Leader Tim Hudak fired Shurman over his involvement in an alleged expense account scandal.

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College and University Workers Defend Their Rights

Take a Stand Against Dictate!


Students join teachers and education workers in Windsor to oppose Bill 115 and demand the government to negotiate,
not dictate through legislation, June 1, 2012.

The era of the social contract, along with its notion of good faith bargaining has been replaced by dictate under the logic of austerity and "exceptional circumstances." This has meant cuts to social programs, including chronic underfunding of Ontario's community colleges, the lowest per capita funded system in the country.

Governments at different levels refuse to affirm public right and instead have implemented an austerity agenda on behalf of private interests, including through new anti-worker arrangements enforced in different ways. At the colleges this has been reflected in an attempt to change workload arrangements. The employer has tried to alter workload arrangements that date back to the establishment of the Standard Workload Formula (SWF) after the 1984 faculty strike, by trying to deteriorate the SWF in negotiations and manipulate it through "voluntary workload" and other arbitrary methods.

The use of part-time college workers and the refusal to recognize their right to unionize is also part of the new anti-worker arrangements being used to undermine the right to education. To offset the chronic underfunding of the system, the College Employer Council (the Council) on behalf of the government seeks to use lower-paid part-time faculty and support staff, along with increased workloads for full-timers. It is resorting to dictate to implement this agenda as a result of college faculty and support staffs' refusal to accept these anti-human conditions.

Recent "Negotiations" at the Colleges

Recent experience in negotiations of both faculty and support staff reveals a refusal on the part of the Council to negotiate in good faith and instead makes use of changes to the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) enacted by the Liberal government in 2007, which allow the employer to circumvent the collective bargaining process. The Liberals and then-premier Dalton McGuinty promised to use changes introduced to the CCBA to recognize the right to collective bargaining of part-time college workers; however, this was not done.

Instead, the changes were used to claim that the employer had the right to impose a new contract on faculty in the 2009-10 negotiations. The Council purposely pitted the legitimate demands of the part-time and sessional faculty for improvements in their wages, working and living conditions against those of already unionized, full time employees. It also used other tactics to make sure its agenda prevailed, such as manipulating the voters' list resulting in a narrow acceptance of the contract.

Support staff too are well aware of the refusal of the employer to bargain in good faith. In the last round of negotiations in 2012, the union held demand-setting meetings across the province and went to the bargaining table with these demands; but the Council refused to discuss key issues, instead demanding concessions. Then the Council made their monetary offer in the media on the last Friday afternoon before the strike deadline and refused to return to the bargaining table.

Strike Mandate

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union is asking its members for a strike mandate ahead of the 2014 negotiations. It is a justified response to the conditions and should be supported by all faculty and support staff, who are currently discussing how to make sure a mandate to strike is used in a way that maximizes their ability to defend their rights.

There are other things to consider as well, given that the Council on behalf of the government has used everything in its power, from the Ontario Labour Relations Board to changes to the CCBA, to facilitate imposing its dictate. It is clear that the Council on behalf of the government has provoked faculty and support staff to take strike action in the past by refusing to negotiate. This will no doubt be tried again in the hopes that faculty and support staff can be blamed for disrupting the school year for students, while the colleges pocket the savings from the strike. There is also the issue that the Council has purposely interpreted the CCBA to try and allow for its unilateral imposition of an offer.


Striking college support staff at Northern College in Timmins, September 13, 2011.

A Political Stand In Defence of the Rights of All

During their strike of 2011, members of college support staff took political action by making education in community colleges an election issue. Picketing Premier Dalton McGuinty's campaign stops in northern Ontario was one of the ways this was done. It forced the Council to return to the bargaining table and to negotiate a contract that could be brought back to the members. It was a political stand against the employer's attempts to impose retrogression, and resulted in the rights of college support staff being defended in the contract that was eventually ratified. It also represented a stand against the anti-social agenda being implemented by the Liberal government in all sectors of the economy an agenda that is directly facing college faculty and support staff again.

College faculty and support staff will make headway by elaborating that their stand in defence of wages and working conditions is in favour of education and in opposition to the schemes of the Liberals to steal public funds to pay the moneylenders.


Cambrian College and Boreal College (top right), Sudbury, September 5, 2011.

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Government Refuses to Consider Joint Task Force

As college faculty and support staff prepare for another round of negotiations in 2014, indications point to the continued use of dictate by the government and its representative, the College Employer Council. The Council has rejected the request of the Ontario Public Services Employees' Union (OPSEU) on behalf of college faculty to establish a Joint Task Force to work on the government's major transformation of post-secondary education.

Over the summer, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Brad Duguid, requested roundtable discussions with college and university presidents on Differentiated Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs), online learning and credit transfers. There is concern that the government's plan to "differentiate" Ontario's 24 colleges will cause massive changes, including eliminating some programs and moving or creating others, without a say from faculty, staff and students.


Striking  Algonquin College faculty in 2006

The request by OPSEU for the Joint Task Force was aimed at working with the government to implement any changes while making sure they did not adversely affect the working lives of faculty and the learning conditions of students. OPSEU College Faculty Division Chair, Benoit Dupuis said: "These changes will have a profound impact on our students, faculty, staff and administrators alike. Joint Task Forces will ensure the academic and administrative arms of Ontario colleges work together on the path set out by the current government. But more importantly, working together we can ensure that we are delivering a quality education to our students. [...] College Faculty are the experts when it comes to students' education. We expect Ontario colleges to put quality education first and ensure faculty are included with regards to these planned sweeping changes."

In the 2012 support staff negotiations with the Council, a Letter of Understanding signed by both parties outlined the conditions for establishing a Joint Task Force when there are changes to a college's mandate.

The collective agreement's Letter of Understanding states:

"When a significant change to the Colleges mandate is directed by the government, the parties agree to establish a Joint Task Force made up of representatives of the local union and the college."

It also points out that the functions of the Joint Task Force shall include making recommendations to:

"-Achieve the objectives of the changed mandate or objects;

"-Facilitate any necessary reassignment of employees;

"-Facilitate any retraining that may seem appropriate;

"-Reduce any negative impact on employees."

The refusal of the Council, which acts on behalf of the government, to respect the agreed-upon Letter of Understanding and participate in a Joint Task Force as requested by OPSEU's Colleges Academic Divisional Executive, exposes the Wynne government's false claims of "fairness" and "consultation" and its method of operation as being one of dictate.

College faculty have a right to a say on government-proposed changes to education and how these affect the quality of education, their working environment, their livelihoods and the learning conditions of their students. The refusal to set up a Joint Task Force indicates what sort of political climate this government is creating as college faculty and support staff enter into the next round of negotiations.

The future of post-secondary education is an issue that is important to education workers, students and the general public. The government has a duty to respect signed agreements by honouring the setting up of a Joint Task Force to provide for genuine consultation and decision-making. This refusal deprives faculty of a say, negates the validity of their collective agreement and exposes the Liberal government's intent to dictate, not negotiate.

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University of Windsor Workers Affirm Their Rights

On October 9, one month after going on strike, members of CUPE 1393 who work at the University of Windsor, voted 95 per cent in favour of the tentative agreement their union had reached with the university. The workers perform a wide range of jobs on campus and include nurses in the Student Health Centre, Athletics staff, IT professionals and skilled tradespeople.

The strike is of significance as it was the City of Windsor that in 2008, following a brutal strike, forced its municipal workers, also members of CUPE, to accept the contracting out of city garbage collection services, which was then used by other cities across the province to do the same. The victory of CUPE workers at the university five years later over issues related to the university's goal of contracting out services, as well as the broad public support the workers received, are of significance to all workers in Windsor.

Ontario Political Forum spoke with union president Dean Roy about the significance of the strike.


CUPE 1393 members thank the community for their support following the end of the strike

OPF: Both the union and the university administration say they made an advance. Can you explain how things ended up?

Dean Roy: We had two big issues: they were looking for big cuts to our job security in the form of our bumping language and big changes to our job evaluation system, which is our pay equity system. We came out of the strike with exactly the same rights as we went in. We successfully defended our rights on both those fronts. We agreed to a new process for the two systems which should work quicker for them if they implement it properly, but the rights haven't changed. [...]

OPF: On the picket line your members all made a point of explaining that this fight was not about money, but about the future. Can you elaborate?

DR: The two big issues I talked about were really about the future for a lot of people. People like myself, they wanted to cut the bumping language to three choices [of jobs when your job is eliminated], then you're on the street. A lot of us in senior positions, it wasn't going to hurt us. The odds of someone like myself with 29 years seniority [being bumped] are remote. But for the younger workers it was a big issue. They want job security. More importantly, how that tied to the job evaluation system, the proposal [the university] stuck to right to the end, was it wanted a two-tier wage system. Whereas someone doing the same job as me would have done the job evaluation and it would have come out in a lower pay category. So, workers coming in off the street who get their jobs evaluated right away would have been making less. So, in essence what they were doing was really affecting future workers, who would have been making less. This absolutely goes against pay equity which was our big issue. We have a fairly old bargaining unit. A lot of us were never going to go for job evaluations again. But, they said they had to go out and fight for the future workers to make sure they have the same rights they have today. It was great to see.

This local hasn't been on strike for 35 years. It was an absolutely amazing experience. I cannot believe how solid the local was.

OPF: Your local recieved a lot of support from the campus community. How did this affect the strike?

DR: They really wanted to impose the cuts where people could be on the street a lot faster and people had fewer rights. The strike surprised them, how much support we got and how solid the unit was. They came back to us at the end and conceded on those issues. [...] Things changed once we went on strike. We were out there for four weeks, and they were playing hardball. After two weeks, they kept dictating and when they came back to the table they pretended as if it was no use to even be there since they had already settled with the other locals (CUPE 1001 and Unifor 195). After week four is when the student sit-in started. I think that really put pressure on them when they saw the students rallying towards our side. I think that made a difference. It was a different ball game after that.

The support from the other unions was also unbelievable. Support from CUPE 1001, Food Services and Janitorial staff was amazing. They let us use their offices, which was amazing as we did not realize what we would require. As well, a lot of their members were on the picket lines with us [despite settling] -- a lot of them before and after work, and a lot of them refused to cross the picket lines and walked the line with us for the full four weeks. That was amazing. Support from the Faculty Association was amazing as well. Not only did we get a lot of financial support through donations from the executive itself, but a lot of professors cancelled classes or took the time before class to educate people about the strike. The three Unifor locals on campus as well, we got support from them at our day of solidarity and certain members also joined us on the picket lines.

OPF: Is there anything you would like to add?

DR: The message I would like to send is that the solidarity from other locals was amazing. The support we got from university locals all over Canada was amazing. A lot of financial contributions came in. One, I forget the specific unit, but it was university workers in British Columbia. They sent a cheque but they also took the time at a union meeting to make a picket sign saying their local supports CUPE 1393 and sent it to us. That was great. You don't realize how important support like that is until you're on strike.

The student support, the sit-in and rallies also made a big impact, making the university negotiate. Students have power and when they unite they can get what they want done. Quebec showed that and I think it's spreading. Students standing together can change the world.

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