The Honourable Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario
Room 281, Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1
Dear Premier McGuinty:
I am writing to you today to bring to your attention a matter of urgency regarding the denial of democratic rights for thousands on Ontario college workers.
Over a year and a half ago, your government finally changed an archaic law that denied thousands of part-time college workers their right to join a union. This was a momentous day for these workers. It appeared to be the end of a four-year fight by OPSEU to finally unite these women and men with their full-time unionized colleagues.
Little did we know then that the struggle was just beginning. In a process that took months, thousands of part-time college workers signed union cards then finally voted to unionize.
17 months ago, part-time college academic staff cast their ballots. Six months ago, part-time college support staff cast theirs. Today, those votes remain sealed in ballot boxes, uncounted.
How can this happen? How can thousands workers legally cast ballots and have them ignored? Not in a developing country struggling with deficient democratic institutions, but right here in Ontario.
Under the amended Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA), 35 per cent of the workers affected must sign union cards in order for the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) to order a vote. Under Section 31 of the CCBA, the Colleges are allowed to challenge the number of cards the union has signed if they don’t feel the union has signed enough cards.
In both the cases of the academic and support workers, this is exactly what the employer has done.
To justify their challenge, the employer must produce their own list of the number of employees affected by the certification vote. The employer then “floods” the list with
employees who clearly wouldn’t be part of union bargaining unit. The result is mediation and litigation at the OLRB that takes months and even years, with the employer using every method at their disposal to delay the meetings.
To make matters worse, the Colleges get to manipulate the timing of the workers’ contracts. With 24 colleges spread across Ontario, union card-signing takes months. All the employer has to do is make sure that those who signed cards aren’t working when the union certification application is filed. Under the Act, those signed cards don’t count.
I don’t believe that this denial of democracy for part-time workers is what your government had in mind when you changed the law. While we applaud the legislation that allows part-time college workers to unionize, the law is rendered useless if the employer is allowed to flaunt the process with a mountain of frivolous challenges that ties up the parties for years in mediation and litigation.
The monetary costs of these delays are outrageous. The roughly $5,000 per day of hearings the Colleges are spending fighting the certification vote could be better spent providing education for Ontario’s post-secondary students and the re-training of displaced Ontario workers.
A law that has no practical use is no law at all. The amended CCBA does allow part-time college workers to unionize, but to date it is completely failing in practice. Thousands of Ontario workers continue to have their bargaining rights denied.
I demand that your government take action. The law you passed inadequately addresses the realities faced trying to secure bargaining rights for part-time college workers. I ask that you direct the employers at Ontario’s 24 community colleges to immediately withdraw their challenges to the certification votes and allow the ballots to finally be counted. It is your duty to ensure that not only are the laws of this province followed, but the intent of those laws is followed as well.
I ask that you act on this without delay. Democracy delayed is democracy denied, and that is unacceptable in this province and in this country.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Ontario Public Service Employees Union