Striking nurses and administrative staff successfully prevented CarePartners from hiring replacement workers at a job fair yesterday in St. Catharines.
CarePartners was one of the employers scheduled to participate in the YMCA Niagara Employment and Newcomer Services Job Fair today. Members of OPSEU Local 294 planned an information picket yesterday morning to let job-seekers know that CarePartners is offering scab jobs, and that new employees would be crossing a picket line.
Upon arrival yesterday, Local 294 President Erin Warman shared her concern with YMCA Director Deanna D'Elia that they are allowing CarePartners to recruit for replacement workers at a provincial government-sponsored job fair while refusing to bargain responsibly with the employees they already have.
D'Elia informed Warman that CarePartners pulled out of the job fair at the last minute yesterday morning once they realized that Local 294 would be picketing. D'Elia said that the YMCA was not aware of the labour situation at CarePartners when they booked them for the job fair. When asked whether the YMCA would refuse to book CarePartners for future job fairs, D'Elia said that because they are funded by the provincial government, they cannot block any employer from participating in job fairs.
"We'll be keeping an eye out," Warman said afterwards, "and if we hear about CarePartners hiring at future job fairs at the YMCA or anywhere else during this strike, we'll be there to tell job-hunters just what kind of employer they are."
Local 294 members, elated that CarePartners' plan to hire replacement workers was foiled for the day, distributed information to job-seekers about the labour dispute at CarePartners.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas called on Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn to introduce legislation prohibiting the use of replacement workers during strikes. "It's bad enough that CarePartners is directing public health dollars to their private profits before front line care. They shouldn't be allowed to prolong this strike indefinitely by using government-funded job fairs to hire scabs. This strike is a perfect example of why we need legislation to stop employers from hiring replacement workers during strikes."
Thomas also noted that CarePartners has been stalling the bargaining process for their first contract with OPSEU Local 294 for well over two years and forced them into a six month strike by refusing to bargain reasonably with their employees. "Minister Flynn needs to make first contract arbitration mandatory after a certain amount of time if an employer can't come to an agreement with a new bargaining unit," said Thomas.
He suggested that Manitoba's mandatory first contract arbitration legislation would be a good model to follow. In Manitoba, the union or the employer can ask the Labour Board to settle a first contract by arbitration if the parties are unable to come to an agreement through the usual process of collective bargaining. The other party is then forced to enter arbitration, and the resulting settlement is binding for at least one year. The goal of such legislation is to avoid lengthy strikes over first contracts.
"There's a lot that the Minister of Labour can do to avoid situations like the one our members are experiencing at the hands of CarePartners," concluded Thomas.