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OPSEU reaches landmark settlement for Ontario court reporter

OPSEU reaches landmark settlement for Ontario court reporter

We the North
We the North
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Ministry of the Attorney General Court Reporters

OPSEU has reached a landmark settlement with the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) with respect to the implementation of all outstanding grievance awards affecting court reporters in the province.

OPSEU has been fighting this battle since August 2003 when the first policy grievance was filed. In July 2006 GSB Vice-Chair Randi Abramsky’s Hunt et al decision upheld the Union’s position, ruling that the production of transcripts is bargaining unit work, covered by the OPSEU collective agreement. Since 2006, the union has returned to the GSB numerous times seeking enforcement of the Abramsky award and appropriate compensation for court reporters.

Over the past eight years, there have been a number of similar GSB orders, none of which were properly implemented by MAG. When none of the normal remedies worked, OPSEU filed a court action seeking enforcement of the orders. This finally prompted the settlement which is worth about $5-8 million in total.

Under the settlement, court reporters will have until July 2, 2014 to choose one of two options:

  1. Pension Contribution Option
  2. Lump Sum Payment Option

Pension Contribution Option

Under the terms of the GSB awards and the settlement, Court Reporters who were performing transcription work for MAG and are members of the Pension Plan are entitled to buy back their pension service by retroactively making required employee pension contributions for their transcription earnings (during the period July 21, 2003 to June 9, 2014).

OPSEU and the employer have agreed to consult with OPTrust for direction on the process to determine the amount of contributions owing by individual members who elect this option.

For employees who elect this option, , the employer will make their matching employer contributions and will also pay the accrued interest on both employer and employee contributions.

Lump Sum Payment Option

For those employees who choose not to buy back their pensionable service, or are not eligible to buy back pensionable service, the settlement provides another option which is not a part of any of the GSB awards. Members who choose the Lump Sum Payment Option will receive $500 per year for every full year of service between July 21, 2003 and June 9, 2014 in which they were qualified to produce transcripts. Where a member has worked less than a full year during that period, the $500 will be pro-rated to the nearest month. This payment is a reimbursement for expenses related to transcription work, and will not be subject to any deductions.

Employees must choose between one of the two options, and cannot receive both.

Under the terms of the GSB awards, the employer was also ordered to reimburse OPSEU for the lost union dues on the transcription earnings. The settlement provides for payment to OPSEU of $500,000 in lieu of union dues for the period between July 21, 2003 and June 9, 2014. This amount is significantly less than the union’s calculated claim for lost dues. OPSEU agreed to accept the lower amount and moved the difference to the lump sum payment in order to maximize compensation for the impacted members.

MAG has notified OPSEU that they plan to implement their “new model” of the production of court transcripts effective June 9, 2014. OPSEU has reserved the right to dispute and/or file grievances with respect to the new model and how it is implemented.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that while this settlement is not perfect, it finally brings closure to an 11-year battle that has taken a toll on everyone involved.

“From the very beginning, we insisted that transcription work was bargaining unit work, and should be paid at an hourly rate as per the OPS Collective Agreement,” Thomas said. “Although we were finally vindicated in that argument, we were unable to prove that the hourly rate would have paid more than the ‘per page’ rate.”

Despite the best efforts of activists and staff to gather data from affected members, very few court reporters provided the figures on transcription earnings and income tax filings which formed the basis of Abramsky’s award for the affected period. Based on that limited information, calculations showed that the per page rate vs. the hourly rate were almost equal and therefore unlikely to result in any payout. The award also denied overtime pay for the transcription hours as “the overtime was not pre-authorized.” These issues could not be re-litigated. It is clear that the settlement provides superior compensation for court reporters than could have been achieved through further litigation.

The settlement also acknowledges that the Ministry will submit to the Lieutenant Governor in Council recommendations associated with changes to the transcript fees on a go forward basis.

“Everything considered, I believe that this settlement is the best possible solution,” Thomas said. “Under Ontario law, it would have been very difficult to win a contempt motion against the Crown, and even then, the Court would not have ordered compensation for affected members or any limitation on the Ministry’s right to implement its new model for the production of transcripts. Appeals would have lasted for years further frustrating our members’ rights. It was time to reach a settlement, and put some money in our members’ pockets. We will now move forward, and monitor MAG very closely as they implement this new transcription model.”

Affected members who have questions should contact Judith Marion, OPSEU Job Security Officer at 1-800-268-7376. Any pension questions should be directed to OPTrust at 1-800-637-0024.