Liberal governments under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne bear responsibility for a decision yesterday by the Ontario Labour Relations Board that effectively takes away the democratic right of more than 16,000 college part-time workers to join a union, says the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
"This is a remarkable example of democracy denied," said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, whose union since 2006 has led the drive to organize part-time workers at 24 community colleges across the province. "This is no fault of the OLRB but of successive Liberal governments which dangled the carrot of union rights before these workers but in the end used a stick to take away those rights.
"Premier Wynne, who promotes herself as socially progressive and an agent of change, could have made a clean break from her predecessor but has instead chosen to mimic his position."
In 2008 the McGuinty government amended the Community Colleges Bargaining Act to allow part-time employees to organize and participate in collective bargaining — a right that had been denied to this category of workers for more than 30 years. But it — and the subsequent Wynne government — have failed to act on the legislation, effectively denying the will of workers to organize.
In the subsequent organizing drive, more than 9,400 part-time employees signed OPSEU cards. But the counting of those ballots has been delayed before the OLRB by a series of challenges mounted by college management, notwithstanding the fact that the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities has the statutory power to order the colleges to recognize the successful outcome of an organizing drive.
The International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations, lent its influential voice to the debate in 2011 when it publicly intervened on the issue and urged the McGuinty government to consult with OPSEU to reach a settlement in the dispute.
In yesterday's decision OLRB Vice Chair Mary Ellen Cummings ruled that OPSEU had failed to meet a minimum benchmark for signing up members — a position the union had vigoursly challenged.
Thomas said the colleges spent untold millions of dollars on its challenge at the OLRB — money that could have been better spent on building frontline education services for the hundreds of thousands of Ontarians enrolled in provincial colleges.
"Sadly, the OLRB ruling and the Liberal governments' hand in forcing the issue has amounted to another example of this government's mishandling of public money. Both premiers could have acted in the interest of expanding democratic rights but in the end they elected to turn their back on the will of working people."
Warren (Smokey) Thomas