There is a developing crisis in our ability to schedule new matters for arbitration at the Grievance Settlement Board. OPSEU is in a fight to maintain a fair system of arbitration to resolve grievances to enforce our members’ rights under the OPS and LCBO collective agreements.
All Crown employee grievances come under the jurisdiction of the Grievance Settlement Board (GSB) for mediation, med/arb and arbitration. This includes the final stages for grievances filed by OPSEU, AMAPCEO and other smaller OPS unions. The arbitrators (Vice Chairs) who act as neutral decision-makers at the GSB are jointly selected by the unions and employer through the GSB Governance Council. Each side pays half the cost. Government regulation sets the amount and how it’s administered. That’s where problems have been identified and where urgent action needs to be taken.
In 2013 the Ministry of Labour unilaterally ended a long-standing agreement to pay vice-chairs slightly more than the standard daily rate for other government appointees. Although their pay was already below the rates in the BPS and private sector, the provinces lowered it further, “according to the rules” established by Queen’s Park itself. The result? Some arbitrators offered fewer dates for OPS cases.
OPSEU has repeatedly pressed for fair compensation at the GSB in order to retain experienced and qualified arbitrators. Our priority is to maintain a working fair arbitration system for our members.
The crisis today
On Jan. 7 the Ministry of Labour informed the arbitrators that further changes will be made to their pay by the way it is characterized and taxed. These changes are retroactive, complex and expensive. They were negotiated between the Canada Revenue Agency and the province and apply across the board to all part-time government appointees.
The problem is GSB arbitrators are not just like other appointees. They are neutral figures and the unions, particularly OPSEU and AMAPCEO, are supposed to be partners with the Crown in the operation of the GSB through the Governance Council.
Arbitrators are upset with changes of Jan. 7. They feel disrespected and undervalued by the government — a sentiment shared by many OPSEU members.
The arbitrators collectively responded by refusing to offer almost any med/arb and arbitration dates at our scheduling meeting last week.
OPSEU’s supervisor of contract enforcement, grievance officers, legal counsel, administrators and the president’s office have been consulting with senior external counsel. We’re working on legal and political actions to resolve the situation.
An emergency meeting with the Governance Council is scheduled for Jan. 21. Contact has been made with AMAPCEO to coordinate our actions.
OPSEU president Smokey Thomas wrote to the Minister of Labour this week demanding he work towards a resolution of the GSB issues.
On Jan. 13, the contract enforcement unit sent 19 applications to the Ministry of Labour to appoint an arbitrator on an expedited basis for the dismissal and surplus cases that were due to be scheduled this month. The Ministry was caught off guard by the volume of unusual applications and responded that, under legislation, OPS grievances need to be referred to the GSB.
We did everything we could and were able to set dates for the most priority cases but 35 cases remain unscheduled. Applications to schedule those have been sent to the Ministry.
Legal services is working on other possible actions available to us, including an application to the courts in order to find a resolution that guarantees access to arbitration. While there is no simple legal solution we are determined to do everything possible to take the problem to the government.
For more information:
Supervisor, Contract Enforcement Unit
Warren (Smokey) Thomas,