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OPSEU seeks remedy following landmark legal victory for education workers

In April 2016, a Superior Court decision found the Ontario government violated the charter rights of education workers. So what’s the remedy when a government violates your rights?

That’s exactly what representatives from OPSEU and two other unions – the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Unifor – discussed at their first meeting with the Constitutional Law Branch of the Attorney General on September 21.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is hopeful about this next phase in the legal proceedings. “I am confident the parties will find a way to make this right for our members who were so unjustly wronged when Bill 115 was passed,” said Thomas.   

Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, was introduced in 2012 by the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty.  As a cost-cutting measure, the government tried to force unions to agree to a two-year wage freeze, benefit rollbacks, and other concessions.  OPSEU and other unions refused.  The government subsequently passed Bill 115, which imposed collective agreements that included the concessions the government was seeking and took away other hard-fought gains union members had won at the bargaining table.  

OPSEU, which represents 2,700 education workers across seven Ontario school boards, saw this as a  flagrant violation of its members’ rights and joined forces with four other unions to launch a legal challenge.  On January 23, 2013 the Putting Students First Act was repealed.

In April of this year, Mr. Justice Thomas Lederer ruled that Bill 115, and the process leading up to it, violated the guarantee of freedom of association in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Acccording to  Justice Lederer, “between the fall of 2011 and the passage of the Putting Students First Act, Ontario infringed on the applicants’ right, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to meaningful collective bargaining.” He further added that “the process engaged in was fundamentally flawed.”

This ruling helps to solidify the Charter right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining.

The parties had previously agreed that if the court found the members’ Charter rights were unjustifiably breached, they would try to negotiate a remedy.  However, if the negotiations on a remedy are unsuccessful, the matter will be decided by the court.

Negotiations are still in the early stages. The unions are working on finalizing dates to meet with government representatives in October.