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Back-to-work is ‘just bad policy’: OPSEU President Thomas

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas in the Queen's Park media gallery.
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Toronto – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says back-to-work legislation makes a mockery of the collective bargaining process and he is glad it’s being debated in the election campaign.

Thomas is applauding NDP leader Andrea Horwath for coming out against the use of such a heavy handed tactic this week. On Tuesday, Horwath told the Toronto Star that she couldn’t imagine a scenario in which she would use back-to-work legislation, as the Liberal government did to end a five-week strike by college faculty last year.

“The fact that back-to-work legislation is ever an option, puts a chill on meaningful negotiations,” said Thomas. “Employers don’t have to bargain in good faith – they can just sit back, cross their arms, and wait for the government to step in.”

According to Thomas, that’s exactly what happened last year during negotiations with the College Employer Council in the strike by college faculty.

“We were up against an intransigent employer, who didn’t give one lick about the public interest – about getting students back in the classroom, or making working conditions better for college faculty,” said Thomas. “They were hell bent on getting their way, and the Liberals fell right into their trap. That’s what back-to-work legislation does.”

In January 2018, OPSEU launched a charter challenge to defend the right to strike, arguing that the Liberals’ back-to-work legislation contravenes workers’ constitutional right to negotiate freely, an enshrined right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I get why the Liberals did it, politically,” said Thomas. “But that doesn’t make it right. I’m thrilled that the NDP has a better plan and a better vision for labour relations in this province. Back-to-work legislation is not only a slap in the face to workers’ rights, it’s bad for Ontario’s workers, it’s bad for our public services, and it’s just bad policy.”

According to Thomas, the government should use their legislative authority to create a functional first contract arbitration process for all sectors under its jurisdiction.

“The government should support the collective bargaining process through a first contract arbitration process, and through proper investments in our public services,” said Thomas. “We’d have a lot less labour strife, and we’d be a lot less likely to end up in these disputes if our public services were thriving and our workforce was treated properly. That’s why we’re encouraging our 155,000 members, and all Ontarians to get out and vote on June 7; to vote for better public services, and a better Ontario.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931