Dear Premier Wynne:
What a week we just had at Queen’s Park. Double standards and double talk were the rule. Perhaps this is another signal of the upcoming election. After these events it is hard not to be cynical.
Unions play a key role in sustaining Ontario’s middle class. Where union rights are attacked, the middle class declines.
OPSEU provides a strong voice for over 130,000 working people, including many at community colleges. As part of this mandate, we pressed to get bargaining rights for college part-time workers. After a long campaign we succeeded, with government legislating limited part-time college employee bargaining rights a few years ago.
A union organizing drive followed, with many part-time workers signing up. Yet, when certification was sought at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), the law’s weaknesses became apparent. Various provisions were challenged by college lawyers. The tactics were intended to frustrate the efforts of workers to gain recognition as a certified bargaining unit.
The Liberal government could have resolved the impasse by directing colleges to drop some of their technical objections or voluntarily recognize the union. Instead, they stood by. As the months dragged on, the system they created eroded the campaign for bargaining rights.
But that was then and this is now. In the construction sector, a lot of money goes to firms granted contracts for public projects. EllisDon is a construction services company, headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario. It completes more than $2.5 billion in new construction annually. As Premier, you know that EllisDon and companies connected to it combined to give the Liberals more than $125 thousand last year. They also provided the Tories with $32 thousand. That is a lot for a non-election year.
EllisDon also has disputes with their unions. This is why EllisDon found itself at the OLRB and divisional court arguing it should be released from a 1958 agreement to hire unionized workers for public projects. The court decision released EllisDon from the long standing agreement, pending appeal. Facing the possibility of appeal and to ensure similar challenges cannot arise again, EllisDon then used its political power.
While an appeal to overturn the court decision was being planned, and was later filed, PC MPP McNaughton proposed a private member’s bill (Bill 74) to free EllisDon from further legal challenges. Your party signalled support for Bill 74. Tough questions and lobbying then increased the pressure to the point where, early this week, you reversed that support and stated the Liberals would no longer back the Bill. Great, many thought!
We were all surprised when you and Tim Hudak later agreed to add Bill 74 to other ‘non-controversial’ bills that were approved on October 3rd by a vote of 64 to 19. What a turnaround! Talk about a lack of respect for legal processes. Even though the Plumbers Union had filed notice of intent to appeal, you headed right back onto Tim Hudak’s right wing turf.
So, what is the connection between this and the rights of part-time college employees? OPSEU respected the law when it pushed to win union rights for these part-time workers. When a certification application was submitted to the OLRB and colleges exploited the law’s weakness to grind down worker rights, government stood by stating they would not interfere when the matter was subject to legal procedures.
Then in 2013, when political campaign funds were the focus, Liberals and PCs changed the law to benefit EllisDon and other construction employers. This change was even deemed to be a non-controversial matter. Herein, we find the contradiction and unfairness. When rights of average people are at issue the system grinds away. When large political contributors need help, politicians jump right in. I must distinguish from this Andrea Horwath and the New Democrats who remained true to legal principals by voting against Bill 74.
Premier, this is where ordinary people often find themselves victims of double standards, while politicians rush to help the likes of EllisDon. Politicians know where the money is. With money they hope to gain or retain power. This cynical move also cements (no pun intended) the continuing relationship you and your ministers have with former Premier and Pan Am Games Chairman David Peterson, who gave substantial support to your leadership campaign.
Along with the members of OPSEU, I say shame on you. OPSEU respects the law and seeks improved labour rights. We strive for greater equality and a brighter future for Ontario. We support political parties and community organizations that stand by these beliefs.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas