Public service union will fight attack on rights: Henri GirouxThursday, October 04, 2012 by: Jordan Allard
Hoping to protect their right to negotiate and stymie the provincial government's efforts to pass a bill aimed at freezing wages for public sector employees across Ontario, union members gathered in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday evening.
While the timing of the Canadian Union of Public Employees' (CUPE) Northern Ontario regional conference was decided two years ago, the main topic of discussion is driven by current government action.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan introduced the Protecting Public Services Act in legislature last week, framed at freezing wages and ensuring future collective agreements are consistent with the province's goals of eliminating the deficit while still protecting the delivery of public services.
Henri Giroux, CUPE Northern Ontario Vice-President, stressed the union isn't taking issue with the financial crackdown - rather what he dubbed an attack on their rights which has CUPE readying a response.
“People thought the Mike Harris or Bob Rae years were bad, this is even worse,” said Giroux. “Taking away the right to bargain is fundamentally against our rights as Canadian citizens.”
Giroux said the regional conference, to be attended by over 120 delegates, will be a chance for members to discuss any concerns.
CUPE represents employees in municipality sector, health care, school boards, education and social services.
They have 225,000 members in the province and over 15,000 in Northern Ontario.
Giroux admitted a large portion of the conference - held until Friday - will be dedicated towards developing an action plan in case the Protecting Public Services Act passes.
While the minority Liberals only need to wrangle one vote from the opposition, it looks like they may come up empty.
The Progressive Conservatives and NDP have pledged to vote against the bill.
“This bill would take away the rights of our members to freely negotiate with their employers,” said Giroux. “We can't allow the government to make a decision affecting so many people in a negative way.”
Giroux said the bill will transfer power from employers and the unions to provincial ministers.
For example, he explained a union could reach an agreement with an employer, but the ministry of the respective sector would have final say whether contract is acceptable.
Saying the bill is against Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Giroux said CUPE's lawyers are currently analyzing what legal action they could take if the bill did pass.
In the meantime, he's encouraging CUPE members to spread the word.
“This isn't just about union,” said Giroux. “This is about the rights of all Ontarians.”
Paul Moist (pictured above with local union member), CUPE National President, understands the rest of the country is experiencing financial difficulties, but can't comprehend the action taken by the province.
“Ontario is the only jurisdiction to remove people's right to free collective bargaining,” he said.
CUPE will be holding an all locals leadership meeting in Toronto on Oct. 18 where an action plan will be discussed.
Moist is disappointed it’s come to this as historically minority government have resulted in positive consultation with CUPE.
“At times a minority can bring stable government,” said Moist. “Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case this time.”