Employers that don’t negotiate their own collective agreements could save money and do more for workers if they would learn how to bargain, says OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas.
“Many employers pay hundreds of dollars an hour to lawyers to do what union representatives do for a fraction of the cost,” says Thomas. “We’d be a lot happier if that money went to the workers.”
The issue has come to the fore again with because of a protracted battle to reach a first contract agreement with a residential treatment centre for youth with mental health and other serious issues. Huron House Boys’ Home management has paid a Toronto lawyer to handle 25 days of bargaining, but has offered nothing for training and only negligible wage increases, says Thomas.
“With what management has paid a high-priced law firm to drag negotiations out over three years, they could have paid for a 20-per-cent raise,” he says. “OPSEU is prepared to share costs for labour relations training for management and workplace union representatives once this contract is settled.”
OPSEU Local 145 members have asked for modest wage increases and training funds to ensure they can continue to provide increasingly specialized services. Residential counselors there earn 25 to 30 per cent less than the average $22 to $23 an hour. They have been without a raise for four years.
Huron House is in Bright’s Grove just outside Sarnia.