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OPSEU files charter challenge to defend right to strike

OPSEU College Faculty - collegefaculty.org

Toronto – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) filed a charter challenge today regarding the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Labour Dispute Resolution Act, also known as Bill 178. The union maintains this Act, which forced an end to the college faculty strike in November 2017, violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the charter challenge should come as no surprise. “We promised last November that we would challenge the government`s back-to-work legislation, and we are keeping that promise. This Act is unconstitutional.”

The union is demanding that the collective agreement awarded through the interest arbitration process be deemed to have expired, and that both parties return to the bargaining table.  “The union’s rights and freedoms have been denied,” said Thomas. “OPSEU has the right to freely negotiate a collective agreement with the College Employer Council.”

The Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act has a provision that allows the government to step in if negotiations are not progressing. Premier Kathleen Wynne chose not to do so. This decision was a key factor leading to an unnecessary strike.

The College Employer Council forced a vote on a contract offer in November. Their ploy received a resounding no vote of 86 per cent, which put faculty in a strong position to negotiate a fair contract. Wynne responded by allowing a three-hour window for negotiations, which predictably failed to produce a collective agreement. She then pushed through Bill 178 which legislated college faculty back to work and ensured an arbitrator imposed a new contract. This effectively ended the union’s right to freely bargain.

OPSEU is taking a stand for freedom of association as enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Thomas said. “The right to strike is essential to collective bargaining, and negotiating with the employer is central to the work of a union.”

“The Bill 178 return-to-work legislation violates rights and freedoms that workers have fought to win for more than a century. OPSEU is committed to protecting those hard-won rights.”

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