Weekly news update, August 15, 2012

Court rules Harper’s wage restraint constitutional | UVic support staff | New Brunswick lobster dispute | Edmonton taxi strike | Machinists oppose Lufthansa contract | UAW colludes against Teamsters | Ontario teachers | CAW and the Big Three

Court rules Harper government’s 2009 wage restraint legislation constitutional

In a decision released on August 7th, Ontario’s highest court ruled that the 2009 wage restraint legislation passed by the Harper government is constitutional. The Court’s ruling relied on the April 2011 decision delivered by the Supreme Court of Canada, known as the Fraser decision, which denied collective bargaining rights to Ontario’s 80,000 agricultural workers.

Bill C-10, the Expenditure Restraint Act, which was part of the Conservative’s 2009 budget implementation bill, imposed caps on wage increases for some 400,000 federal government employees. The cap was retroactive to 2006 and prohibited any additional remuneration such as allowance, bonuses, differential or premium pay. In several cases, Bill C-10 overrides previously negotiated collective agreements that contained wage increases above the imposed caps.

The case was brought before the Court by the Association of Justice Counsel (AJC), the union representing about 2,700 federal prosecutors and other government lawyers. The AJC argued the act took away of its members’ constitutionally guaranteed right to bargain. The union had already been engaged in collective bargaining with the federal government for over two years by the time the Act came into force.

The Court’s decision repeated the Supreme Court’s conclusion that “collective bargaining under section 2(d) [of the Charter of Rights of Freedoms] protects only the right to make collective representations and to have those collective representations considered in good faith”.

While unions and labour activists cite section 2(d) as entrenching the collective bargaining process, the Fraser decision makes clear that the Charter does not guarantee any particular dispute resolution process, nor does it guarantee any particular outcome.



UVIC support staff strike looms

A strike looms at the University of Victoria where two CUPE locals, 917 and 951, have seen mediation talks with the university collapse. The locals represent 1500 non-academic workers on campus, including food service workers, tradespeople, office and library staff and childcare workers. Both locals have been without a contract for over two years – since March 2010.

The two union locals and the employer, the University of Victoria, will be heading to the labour board next week to make their case regarding essential staffing levels. The unions say that the two sides are too far apart, with issues such as job security, benefits and above-inflation pay increases being central. CUPE-BC has accused the BC government of planning large-scale cuts to post-secondary education which would include the privatization of union jobs on campuses like the University of Victoria.



NB lobster strike ends

After blockades of processing plants and pickets at union offices, the protest actions by lobster fishermen in New Brunswick has ended. The dispute started when processing plants began importing lobster from Maine at $2 a pound, half of the minimum required by lobster fishermen to break even.

A tentative deal was reached between the processing plants and the Maritime Fisherman’s Union on Friday August 10 after an injunction a day earlier which ended the blockades of the processing plants. Most fisherman approved of a tentative deal on Saturday, August 11 which will have processors pay $3 a pound and $3.50 a pound for live market lobster.



Edmonton taxi drivers to strike on Monday

Eight hundred Edmonton taxi drivers may go on strike Monday August 19 to secure a first collective agreement with the Edmonton Taxi Service Group, an employers association representing four different cab companies. The taxi drivers are represented by Teamsters Local 987.

In May, taxi drivers voted 82 percent in favour of a strike vote when the employers association broke off negotiations.

The union’s secretary and treasurer, David Froelich, was quoted in the Edmonton Journal as saying, “We’ve tried everything to get an agreement with this employer. And, as much as we regret having to take this action, it’s the only option we have left.”

Froelich added that the major problem in negotiations is the company fee of $6200 per accident imposed on drivers. Froelich calls the fee inexcusable as drivers already pay the company for insurance.

Balraj Manhas, another taxi driver, said the high fee forces drivers to work extra days and longer hours, and thus reduces safety for the driver and the public and creates stressful working conditions.

Froelich added “They’re trying to form a union to improve their working conditions and (the owner) is going to try to beat them down. They should be upset about that.”



Lufthansa pact upsets Air Canada machinists

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers plans to mount a legal challenge to oppose Lufthansa Technik being awarded a contract to maintain the engines on Air Canada’s narrow-body fleet. This contract stems from the bankruptcy of Air Canada’s former maintenance unit, Aveos Fleet Performance, in March.

The machinists’ union has thrown its support behind a competing bid from Germany’s MTU Aero Engines Holding AG, which, unlike Lufthansa, has promised to keep the work in Canada.

“We are going to oppose the motion for Lufthansa to be the successful bidder for the engine contract,” said Hugh O’Reilly, IAMAW’s legal council, in an interview. “We’re going to throw our support behind the bidder who wants to keep jobs in Canada.”

At issue is about 150 jobs in Montreal and Vancouver. Those with knowledge of the bids say MTU has promised to keep about two-thirds of those jobs in Montreal if it were to win the contract with the remainder going to its subsidiary in Vancouver, MTU Maintenance Canada. IAMAW represents about 400 workers at MTU Maintenance’s facility in Vancouver.

In addition to securing those jobs, MTU hoped by keeping the workers in Montreal it could win back contracts with Air China and others previously held by Aveos. Lufthansa has promised to keep about a dozen jobs in the country, and ship the rest of the work to Hamburg, the sources said.

The chief restructuring officer, Jonathan Solursh, appointed to oversee the divestiture of Aveos’ assets has been given a deadline of Aug. 15 to present his plan for engine maintenance, repair and overhaul [MRO] contract for Air Canada’s fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft.

Solursh presented his motion to grant the contract to Lufthansa Technik to the various stakeholders Friday, and he is expected to present it to a Quebec court on Tuesday for approval. IAMAW, in addition to challenging the decision, will be seeking to push out the court date to allow the union to prepare its arguments.

Air Canada has said it would prefer to have the engine work performed by an MRO provider capable of doing the work in Canada.



Court orders second Canada Post arbitrator to recuse himself

The federal arbitrator in the Canada Post appointed by Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has been ordered by the Federal Court of Canada to step down.

Following the lockout of postal workers in May 2011 and followed by federal back-to-work legislation, the federal government appointed Guy Dufort as arbitrator in the dispute. Dufort was not only a two-time federal Conservative Party candidate, but had also worked for management at Canada Post representing the company in pay equity cases between 1998 and 2003. He also represented Canada Post in 2005 at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal pay equity case which ruled in favour of the postal workers.

In March of this year, CUPW request that Dufort step down as arbitrator because of conflict of interest. Dufort rebuffed the request which was then taken to the federal court.

This is the second arbitrator to step down. The first arbitrator was deemed unqualified because of lack of experience in industrial arbitration and because he was not bilingual.



Teamsters lose jobs when UAW signs sweetheart deal

A dispute has erupted between the United Autoworkers and the Teamsters at Ford’s Louisville, Kentucky assembly plant. The 100 carhaulers of Teamsters Local 89, working for Jack Cooper Transport, were responsible for driving assembled vehicles to staging areas. They lost their jobs when Ford signed a contract with a different company, Voith Industrial Services. New carhaulers were hired to do the work of the Teamsters and told they would be members of the UAW. Voith then refused to hire the experienced Teamsters.

On July 22, Teamsters Local 89 took their case to the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB issued a motion for a rare form of injunction for the federal court that called upon Voith to rehire the Teamsters and enter into negotiations with their local. The NLRB attorney described the case as a clear example of a union collaborating with corporate union-busting.

Teamsters Local 89 faces an uphill battle as it has gained no support from Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa Junior who has made no complaint towards the UAW. Hoffa’s unwillingness to address the issue may be due to Teamsters Local 89 president Fred Zuckerman running on an opposition slate against Hoffa in 2011. After the election race in which Zuckerman was defeated, Hoffa removed Zuckerman from his position as carhaul director for the union.



Ontario teachers

The battle between Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and the teachers unions continues to heat up. At the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontairo convention over the past weekend, union president Sam Hammond denounced McGuinty’s framework for negotiations and scoffed at McGuinty’s claim to be the “Education Premier” after he was first elected in 2003. Hammond says ETFO will not concede on bankable holidays and experience-based pay increases, concessions made by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association in July.

On the same day, Ontario Education Minister Lauren Broten said the government would begin regulating what it called fair hiring practices. The appeal was made specifically to young teachers which Broten said were languishing on the margins as part-time and substitute teachers. Such changes would include limits on teaching days per year for retired teachers. Hammond shot back that this was an attempt to divide young and old teachers.

The attempt by McGuinty to implement a two-year wage freeze and other concessions on teachers is justified as necessary for reducing the $15 billion Ontario deficit. However, the wage freezes would only save $2.5 billion. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has demonstrated, McGuinty has never reversed the tax cuts made by Harris in the late 1990s which, if reversed, would generate $11.6 billion per year. An additional $4 billion per year in revenue was lost in personal tax cuts made by McGuinty in 2010. Additional billions could be generated by raising corporate tax rates in Ontario which are among the lowest in the western world.




CAW – Big Three

Canadian Autoworkers started negotiations with the Big Three automakers on August 14 and August 15. As mentioned in previous episodes, the Big Three automakers have begun to turn impressive profits since the government bailouts of 2008. However, they are seeking concessions from workers over claims of labour costs, particularly at GM. Negotiations will start earnest following next week.

The CAW his holding its first constitutional and collective bargaining convention from August 20 to 24 in Toronto. The convention will be broadcast live at caw2012.ca. One of the most important votes will take place August 22. CAW members will choose whether or not to endorse the proposal of the New Union Project to merge the Canadian Autoworkers with the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers union. If CAW members agree to it, CEP members will have to ratify the proposal at their convention in mid-October. Only then will the merger take place. If successful it will form Canada’s largest private sector union with over 300,000 members.

Stay tuned to Rank and File Radio in the coming weeks for coverage of both the CAW convention and its bargaining with the Big Three automakers.







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