New OPS deal not negotiated by elected workers’ representatives

By Julius Arscott, OPSEU Executive Board Member, Region 5 Toronto

Ontario Public Service workers, represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), are being asked to ratify 4-year deals for the union’s 35,000 members in its OPS “unified” and corrections bargaining units.

Presidents of locals from across the province were called to a special “emergency meeting” on June 9, on only 3 days notice, where they were urged by OPSEU officials to ratify the tentative agreements. we-can-do-it

The deals were hatched by the employer, the chairs of OPSEU’s Central (Unified) and Corrections Employee Relations Committees and senior union staff, with no involvement of the elected bargaining teams, which were not yet fully in place.

The employer insisted on secrecy as a precondition to the deals going forward.  The agreements were presented to the OPSEU Executive Board, which agreed to hold the June 9 meeting and put the offers to votes by the membership.

In the meantime, with local presidents and activists in the dark, speculation grew in the lead up to the June 9 meeting where, at a hotel in north-east Toronto, participants were finally given the details of both deals. These include the roll-over of current contract provisions, a 7.5 per cent wage increase over 4-years, and a number of benefits changes.

But while corrections delegates proceeded to elect their team to complete negotiations on possible special wage adjustments, delegates from the larger 27,000-member unified unit were informed that their team elections were suspended pending the outcome of the ratification vote.

When delegates from both units objected to deals being negotiated without their elected teams, officials argued this was a time-limited opportunity to bargain a deal as the massively unpopular provincial Liberal government works to neutralize its labour opposition. When participants challenged the suspension of the unified team elections, officials quoted legal advice that an election could be considered bargaining in “bad faith.” When members attempted to make decisions, their motions were ruled out of order. It was not ‘a constituted meeting’, said union officials, so participants were prevented from voting to continue with the planned elections.

Several activists, including this writer, argued that the union was not risking bad faith as it would be proceeding with pre-existing, board-approved policy; it would be fulfilling its obligations to the membership. Many members expressed frustration that a deal was negotiated in less than a day, and without an elected bargaining team, which could have been fully in place just a few short weeks following management’s original offer.

Much frustration was directed towards the perceived undemocratic nature of the process. Members were told that teachers unions had ratified their recent deal without it even being put to a vote by their members. They were warned about political games being played in the background, as Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s mandate runs down. Members were warned of the a risk of a snap election this fall, and warned the deal had to be ratified ASAP in case the provincial Conservatives take power. The Liberals want labour peace, officials assured the crowd.

The deal’s contents

The deal includes a 7.5% raise over 4 years, removal of the hated Attendance Support Management Program (ASMP, for unified members), inclusion of out of country medical coverage, mandatory employee paid catastrophic drug coverage, and $40/ half hour cap for services of a psychologist. On the face of it, there are no concessions.

However, the proposal does not alter the existing two-tier arrangements from previous rounds of bargaining. A 3% lower pay grid for new hires, removal of termination pay, and major changes to post-retirement benefits, including new hires paying 100% of the premium costs, remain intact, and become entrenched over the next 4 years if this agreement is ratified.

This deal is also presented right after major legislative proposals from the government including changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and raising the minimum wage by 32% to $15/ hour by 2019, which is a great victory largely due to the efforts of the $15 and Fairness campaign.

If the current deal is ratified it could set the tone for future public sector negotiations — despite upcoming positive changes to the minimum wage and labour standards. In other words, this could be a missed opportunity for workers to increase wages in a significant way.

Meanwhile, the employer would be able to present a ratified OPS deal as the model, and as an excuse to stop other public sector workers from increasing their own wages in tandem with the increase in the minimum wage.

Public sector workers have been saddled with several years of zeroes. The OPS endured 4 years of zero wage increases, plus a freeze in grid wage progression for two of those years. Another worry is that the proposed changes to the ESA may not have an impact on us for the next 4 years if we ratify the deal prior to passage of the legislation. The employer has also signaled the removal of the requirement of a doctor’s note by employers for workers using sick days. While the ASMP program is not part of the collective agreement, the pledge to remove this policy is being used to sweeten the semi-rotten porridge.

Why members should reject the deal

For all the above reasons, I will vote against the deal, and encourage others to do the same.

Member apathy is often cited as an excuse to ratify uninspiring contracts. While it is true that having an engaged membership is key to successful bargaining. Concessionary and otherwise lacklustre contracts such as this do nothing to mobilize members, ever. It is fair to say that the lack of enthusiasm in the bargaining process is a product of years of concessions bargaining.

If we aim to inspire members to participate in the union, we need to advance big ideas that break completely from the status quo. An example of this is seen in the recent British election in which socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party campaign registered a major shift on the political landscape. It completely contradicted most political pundits and the corporate media, which ruled out the possibility of radical change. Corbyn, and in a less direct way, Bernie Sanders, suggest the type of challenge we should be bringing to our boss and the ruling class in general. So why not fight for major increases in pay? Why not fight for more vacation time with family and friends?  Why not fight for a shorter work week with no loss in pay and benefits, to share the available work?

The decision by the OPSEU brass to set aside the basic collective bargaining principle and policies – like the centrality of elected teams – shows the problems of relying on the union bureaucracy in a period of concessions and retreats, and the need for activists to build organized networks to fight both for union democracy and for stronger contracts that address members’ priorities. Activists should continue to fight the austerity agenda of the parties of Bay Street, and challenge the leadership of their unions. Increasingly, workers are becoming increasingly untrusting of the union leadership. There is a good reason for that. The leadership should lead the fight against concessions and austerity, fight for gains, and operate in an open and transparent manner.  No to backroom deals.  It is a duty to halt the downward spiral of 2 tier wages and benefits, which are sure to bite us sooner or later.

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15 thoughts on “New OPS deal not negotiated by elected workers’ representatives

  1. Lisa Mastrobuono

    Reply

    Teacher union did hold ratification votes on their extension agreements, so that issue raised in this article is not true. It would be helpful if you included that correction within the body of your article. Thanks.

  2. Julius there is important information being hidden, you mention “officials” and activists, what are their names, the officials in particular, as they could be elected officials or OPSEU staff members, we don’t know. Process aside, it looks like a good deal by a desparate government. Membership apathy isn’t going to be solved by trying to negotiate a better deal than what is on the table. What your plan as both an EBM and Local President to engage (end the apathy) in the Region 5 membership?

    1. Colin, The signatories to the deal were:

      Mickey Riccardi, CERC Chair
      Monty Viselmeyer, COR MERC Chair
      Twila Marston, Supervisor of OPS Job Security Unit, OPSEU
      Ron Elliot, Administrator of Field Services, OPSEU.
      Robert (BoB) Eaton, Executive Assistant to the President.

      Of these
      the first two have served on bargaining teams,
      Marston was a staff rep and negotiator and is experienced in leading bargaining teams and would have led the OPS teams this year.
      Eliot was on one bargaining team as a member over twenty years ago
      Eaton has never been on a bargaining team.

  3. If this goes through, would it not again put OPS in a position of a contract ending close to another provincial election? Would accepting this “deal” not set a precedent for an on-going pattern for all future “bargaining”? I am not OPS; I am CAAT Support with a contract ending August 31, 2018 – just after the scheduled provincial election. If OPS accepts this I would expect a similar offer to be made to CAAT Support and similar pressure from OPSEU headoffice to accept.

  4. Great article Julius!! It is not a good deal, in fact it’s the worst deal being offered. Even AMAPCEOs deal had more to offer.

    This “deal” still puts us beneath inflation. We all have families to feed and we if we can’t keep up with the rising costs, we lose.

    That’s besides the fact that, we had half of our Bargaining Team in place and we left in the dark about negotiations that belonged to the elected members not OPSEU Brass. When OPSEU negates our bargaining rights, and funds loop holes to justify it we head down a slippery slope for future bargaining.

    This is not okay!! And this should not be okay with any of our fellow unions. The ops is comprised of 35,000 and OPSEU has 130,000 members in different sectors. What will this mean for our brothers and sisters in other sectors if the OPS, the largest bargain body in our union, allows this ignorance.

    I am not okay with this!

    So we vote for on two issues next week rolled into one vote. 1. The negotiation tactics and 2. The actual offer.

    Even if we ratify, I’m hoping the membership pushes back a great deal on the way that OPSEU negated our rights to bargain our own contract. This is not okay!

  5. This was not a “backroom deal” and to say so is irresponsible. The Employer has the right to present a deal and they have done so with OPSEU and another OPS bargaining agent, AMAPCEO. If this offer is rejected by the membership, bargaining teams will be elected and work towards a Collective Agreement. If that happens, this offer will be swept from the table and a new one will have to be built from scratch. It is unlikely it will be as favorable, and will cost the union much more. Rank and file members don’t give a toss about “fighting Bay Street” and “anti-austerity”, just a raise every now and then and perhaps early retirement options. Apathy? Maybe. Perhaps the average age of the OPS being 55 may have something to do with their reluctance to share your revolutionary zeal.

    1. Fighting Bay Street and austerity was how OPS workers built a union under Harris in 1996 and 2002. Abandoning this is why OPS rank and file lacks even the confidence to defy its lacklustre leadership let alone the employer.

      1. Agreed. I don’t agree with the average member, I’m merely pointing out the fire has been extinguished. I hope the next generation will re-ignite the fire and rebuild. However, in my ministry it’s not looking good.

  6. This sort of activity can be prevented in the future by amending the OPS bargaining procedures to ensure that the existing bargaining teams remain in office to deal with any OPS bargaining issues that arise until a new team is elected.
    This can be done by passing a resolution at Convention requiring the OPS Divisional Executive to make such an amendment to the existing OPS bargaining procedures, pass it at an OPS Divisional meeting and return the amended procedures to Convention for enactment. This will take some time to accomplish but the members need to decide whether OPSEU will remain a member run union or allow itself to be run by staff members who are not elected representatives of the members..

  7. As I understand it, Bob Eaton has run for office for the Liberals. He may appear to have interests other than ours in mind.

  8. Hmmmm. So I guess the garbage got taken in and embraced?
    I throw mine away.
    The Corrections members will fool around for a year or so then go to arbitration where the same provisions or less will be ordered handed down by an arbitrator about e years after the Unified members have their raises.

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