Striking safety inspectors and supporters held a noon hour rally outside Sault MPP Ross Romano’s office on Wednesday in their quest for better wages, benefits, staffing and more accountability for public safety standards and practices.
The OPSEU-represented inspectors are employed by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Technical Standards and Safety Act and its regulations on behalf of the Ontario government.
170 inspectors - represented by Toronto-based OPSEU Local 546 for over a year and in search of their first ever contract - have been on strike across Ontario since July 21.
There are 12 OPSEU-represented safety inspectors in northern Ontario, two in Sault Ste. Marie.
The two Sault inspectors were joined by local and regional OPSEU officials at Wednesday’s rally.
Inspectors working for TSSA are in charge of inspecting elevators, amusement park machinery, ski lifts, boilers, pressure vessels, nuclear power plants and pipelines.
“Our employer, the TSSA, walked away from the bargaining table and is refusing to come back to the bargaining table. We’re concerned about our pay and benefits being maintained. We’ve been having cuts to all of our services and benefits and senior management takes raises and bonuses every year, and meanwhile we’ve gotten 0.9 per cent in three years,” said Adam Wells, a Sturgeon Falls-based TSSA field safety inspector and OPSEU Local 546 member, speaking to SooToday.
“This employer has become very resistant and anti-union and using a lot of union busting techniques when these folks just want to get back to work and protect the public. We’re calling for more inspectors and regularly scheduled inspections and I think everybody in Ontario would want that to happen,” said Tara Maszczakiewicz, OPSEU regional vice president, Region 6.
Wednesday’s rally came after a weekend fire at the Sault’s Propane Depot, as reported earlier.
“We would verify that any equipment is still safe to operate and we can’t verify if that’s been done or not. That large storage tank that’s there may not be safe to operate,” said local inspector Mark Bernard, referring to the weekend Propane Depot incident.
Local inspectors work inside Algoma Steel as well as at Searchmont, gas and propane stations and other locations.
“Anyone that’s going into a business to do TSSA inspection work is a scab and we don’t know what their qualifications are and most likely neither does the public…we can’t do our work without an agreement,” Maszczakiewicz said, though the workers stated that they are not aware of such inspections taking place.
The TSSA, on its website, has stated it has offered inspectors “excellent health, dental and pension benefits, and salary increases for a multi-year agreement.”
However, Wells said “what TSSA has proposed to us is a 14-year tiered salary increase plan that is based on performance…but if your supervisor doesn’t like you, you don’t get a raise or they want to demote you back into the previous salary band. If they do that twice, they’ve put in writing they want the ability to dismiss that inspector with no repercussions. It’s just ridiculous.”
Wells said inspectors have had their benefits decreased and benefit providers changed since the TSSA was established under the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in the 1990s.
Wells added that female inspectors are underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts.
Local inspectors Mark Bernard and Alan Pawelek said respect for the inspectors is deserved because they worked as essential service workers during COVID.
“They needed us as an essential service during COVID but now we’re just peons, we’re nothing to them. On March 1st the mandates were ended and now we as inspectors are forced to strike,” Bernard said.