OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick appeared on The Bill Kelly Show on CHML AM900 in Hamilton this morning to talk about the impact of Bill 124 on public services and public sector workers.
Hornick and host Bill Kelly discussed:
- What a waste of public funds it is for the Ford government to appeal the Superior Court ruling that Bill 124 is unconstitutional
- How the wage cuts imposed by Bill 124 have devastated public sector workers during a time of runaway inflation
- How the Ford government targeted a mostly female public sector workforce and disproportionately affected racialized and younger workers with Bill 124, while supporting male-dominated professions
- The way the Ford government is starving public services of funding and creating a staffing crisis while sitting on a 22 billion dollar surplus
- How cuts to the public sector affect all workers, including private sector workers who need public services like health care and education.
Bill Kelly: One of the most controversial pieces of legislation the Ford government has brought through, and we’ve talked about it extensively on this program, of course, is Bill 124, which basically froze the wages of thousands and thousands of public sector workers. And it was overturned. I mean, the Ontario Superior Court said it’s unconstitutional, that should have been game over, but now this government is doubling down on this, and appealing that decision. And that appeal started yesterday.
And a number of people were there to express their displeasure, and I think I’m putting it mildly when I say their displeasure with this. One of those is our next guest. JP Hornick is the president of OPSEU/SEFPO. JP, thanks first of all, I know how busy you are, thanks for spending some time with us today on this very important issue. Your thoughts as this whole thing started, as this appeal process started yesterday.
JP Hornick: Yeah, thank you so much for having me on, Bill.
Bill 124 that was passed in 2019, as you said, imposed a three year wage moderation period that capped compensation for all public service sector workers to 1% per year. And it didn’t factor in inflation or cost of living. So when we look at people that are forced to serve this, in this skyrocketing cost of living and inflation that we’ve seen over the past couple of years, you can imagine what this does to them, particularly for younger workers, for women, for racialized workers who are disproportionally affected. These are exponential impacts over the course of their working lives.
So when the Bill was struck down in November 2022, it was declared void and of no effect. As you can imagine, all workers in the public service sectors were celebrating. And just for context, in my union alone, OPSEU/SEFPO, this affected 166,000 people. So for the government, when they passed this legislation, they knew it was unconstitutional.
BK: Mmm hmm.
JPH: When the legislation was overturned, they waited a significant period of time, right up until the wire, to appeal it. And it’s a completely unnecessary waste of time and taxpayer money, and is a direct attack on public service workers who are predominantly women.
BK: Well and not the first time, we’ve talked about it on this program many times. This Ford government doesn’t have a very good track record in the courts. You recall, of course, we talked about it extensively, one of the first things they did when they got elected the first time was toss out the cap-and-trade program that the previous government had put in. And that was ruled, by the way, invalid. But they took it all the way to the Supreme Court, which cost a lot of money. And still got their knuckles slapped for this. And it seems as if they’re repeating history all over again.
JPH: Oh, absolutely, I mean you can even look back more recently to Bill 28 last fall where they basically tried to rule that the education workers for OSBCU, couldn’t go out on strike. I mean, this is a government, and I’m just going to put this very baldly – this is a government that doesn’t attack all workers, this is a government that is intent on dividing and conquering workers.
So when you look at the workers they support, you’re looking at professions that are predominately male dominated. When you’re looking at the workers that they attack, like education workers or public service sector workers, you’re talking about folks who there is a gender gap in what they’re doing. They punch down. I need to be very clear about that. But what they don’t realize is that the workers that we represent are incredibly well-organized, and they’re incredibly angry. I mean, what we’re hearing in health care, education, these are the things that connect us, that allow us to care for one another. They’re attacking what I would argue are the foundations of democracy.
And that also affect private sector workers. You know, when a construction worker’s body starts to break down, they need health care. They need public health care, and they need it to be accessible and equitable. When we’re sending our kids to school, we need a public education system that is well-funded and well-maintained. And this is a government that is, I would say, gambling with all of our lives. I mean, heck, this is the same government that is sitting on 22 billion dollars of unspent funds. And they’re claiming that they can’t afford these things. Meanwhile, the province is on fire, and fire rangers are down 50 crews in Ontario, due to the decisions of the Ford government.
So this is a government that is very clearly not interested in what happens for all of us in Ontario, but is very concerned about funneling money upwards to developers and corporations.
BK: Let me ask you about that. The 22 million, because I had a conversation with a couple of colleagues about that the other day. And she contends that what the government is doing here is squirreling the money away, because they know they’re going to lose this appeal and they’re going to have to pay out. And obviously they’re preparing for that right now – money that should have been spent on other things, they’re going to set aside here. Not if they lose this appeal, but when they lose this appeal. That seems patently unfair to a lot of people and a lot of programs that are desperately in need of funding right now.
JPH: Oh, absolutely! And when you’re looking at – it’s actually 22 Billion dollars in the surplus…
BK: Oh, I’m sorry…
JPH: Yeah. And that’s money that could have been invested immediately into rebuilding an economy that’s rooted in support for public services that everyone needs, particularly coming out of the pandemic. So we are looking at, this is a matter of government choices, not a matter of what kind of money is available to us. When we look even at Bill 124, it’s not as though everyone’s wages were capped at 1%.
We’re talking about a government that was, where we have executives in the public service who were still seeing pay increases. We’re talking about a government where they didn’t cut, let me just say, compensation for executives. We’re looking at, listen, there were 4.3 billion in 2019 in tax cuts that they offered, 4.1 billion in 2020 in greater than annual savings from Bill 124, 5.7 billion in 2021 greater than annual savings, 7 billion dollars in 2022, and 3.8 billion in 2023.
So when we’re looking at the kind of money that they’re saving, they’re telling us that they can’t pay public service workers, let’s just talk about this. Health care workers during the pandemic, who were on the front lines every day, only deserved a 1% increase as inflation skyrocketed? But at the same time they could hand out tax cuts like candy?
This is a government, you see this again and again, we could even take it down to this idea of reclaiming Ontario Place and making it a giant spa that no one needs, rather than making sure that that’s publicly-available land.
This is a government that is not working for people.
BK: Well, they are working for people…they people they’re working for apparently are their financial supporters and their donors, that seems to be the focus of this, and we haven’t even touched on the collateral damage that comes from these sorts of things – the number of people you just talked about in those vocations that have left because they can’t afford to pay bills, they’re overwrought, they’re overexerted.
And as a result, that’s when the government comes and says, you talked about it in the past, they simply say, “Well, we’re just going to hire private sector people to go and do that” and of course we’re going to pay them a ton of money, and on and on it goes. So that element is happy, but the rest of us have to suffer through this. Lots more to come on this in the days ahead, and I’m sure we’re going to have further conversations as this unfolds in the next few days. But I do thank you for taking some time with us today, JP. Thank you so much, and continued good luck with what you’re doing.
JPH: Thank-you very much, Bill.