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Ontario Council of Education Workers, Information during Job Action by Sister Unions

Information for the OPSEU Members during Job Action by Sister Unions

On September 10, our sister Union CUPE, began phase one of their job actions in their respective schools. OPSEU members have asked questions about their rights and obligations during a job action in their workplaces by the members of a sister union. Job action in this case includes informational campaigns and a temporary withdrawal of services.

OPSEU members should be aware that their rights and obligations under their collective agreement do not change during a job action by a sister union. Until their bargaining units are in a lawful strike position, members are required by their collective agreement to report to work and complete their duties.

Job actions that do not result in school closures may raise particular issues or questions regarding work duties.

Employers may assign work duties that are normally performed by members of sister unions.  Members should inform their supervisors that they object to performing the work of another bargaining unit and should raise any concerns they may have with the specific work assignment. Members may request that the employer reconsider and change the assignment.  However, the “obey now, grieve later” rule requires members to follow employer instructions or face potential discipline for insubordination. The rule may not apply to activities outside of working hours or instructions that are unsafe.

Work procedures or deadlines may be affected by a job action. For example, it may be impos­sible to complete tasks on schedule or priori­ties may change if tasks are not completed by other employees or necessary information is not available. Members should contact their supervisors with any concerns about procedures or deadlines and should request clear direction wherever necessary. Members should also document these requests in writing and forward all concerns to their Union representatives.

Your local is a part of the Ontario Council of Education Workers (OCEW).  It has had several negotiation dates. We continued negotiations on September 14th and 15th and as a result of a lack of movement by the employers and government, the OCEW will be filing for conciliation. More details on this will follow in the coming days. Notwithstanding this, as part of OCEW, any withdrawal of services in concert prior to any lawful strike date could constitute a violation of the collective agreement and the Labour Relations Act.

Health and safety requirements must be respected during any work stoppage. Members should be vigilant to ensure their safety is protected. Changes in the workplace during a job action may change health and safety risks. These should be carefully assessed and discussed as necessary with the local and the employer.

The grievance and arbitration process remains in effect. This is the primary protection for members who find themselves in a dispute with the employer over directions, collective agreement entitlements, or discipline.

Please note that record-keeping can be critical to any disciplinary process or grievance proceeding. Members should keep notes of any work assignments or discussions with supervisors regarding any job actions. Any concerns should be shared with the local on an ongoing basis. Other concerns may arise that affect members' personal well-being. A job action can be an extremely stressful time. The workplace climate, relationships, and expectations may all be affected. Members should recognize this possible impact, and should seek information and support as necessary, such as from an EAP provider, personal counsellor or doctor.

Further advice may be necessary. This is a brief summary of possible issues. Members should contact their local OPSEU union steward and OPSEU staff representative for further advice if required.

In solidarity

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, OPSEU