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What to do during job action by our sister education unions

Dear Friends,

As I’m sure you’ve heard, educational workers in CUPE are bargaining hard to defend the quality of services they provide and we stand with them in solidarity.

As part of their bargaining, the CUPE members are this week working to rule, and could be on strike as early as Monday, Oct. 7, if they don’t reach a tentative agreement.

The nearly 7,000 primary and secondary school workers OPSEU represents and is affiliated with are also in bargaining and will be taking strike votes of their own over the next few weeks.

But since they are not as far along in bargaining process as the CUPE members, they may soon find themselves facing CUPE picket lines as they go to work. Other OPSEU members whose work sometimes takes them into public school may also face those CUPE picket lines.

I encourage all OPSEU members to treat the picket lines of other unions with respect. Take their leaflets. Listen to their concerns and issues.

Outside of your own work hours, join their picket and engage in other acts of solidarity.

Many OPSEU members are bound to have lots of questions.

Below, you’ll find a brief summary of answers. Members should contact their local OPSEU union steward and OPSEU staff representative for further advice if required.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas

OPSEU President

What to do when members of another union are on strike in your workplace

OPSEU members should be aware that their rights and obligations under their collective agreement do not change during a strike by a sister union.

Members of OPSEU’s Boards of Education locals are currently in bargaining through the Ontario Council of Education Workers (OCEW), and have several negotiation dates scheduled in November and December.

The OCEW filed for conciliation on Sept. 16, and is currently conducting strike votes to support our position at the bargaining table. Notwithstanding this, as part of OCEW, any withdrawal of services prior to any lawful strike date could constitute a violation of the collective agreement and the Labour Relations Act.

Until their bargaining units are in a lawful strike position, members are required by their collective agreement to report to work and complete their duties.

What if my workplace is closed or partially closed because of another union’s job action?

If your employer decides to close all or part of the workplace because of another bargaining unit’s job action, you will be advised. You retain your rights to wages and benefits under your collective agreement. If you are not told the workplace is closed, you must report to work as scheduled.

What if my workplace is still open while another union engages in job action?

A strike that does not result in workplace closures may raise particular issues or questions regarding work duties.

  • Employers may assign work duties that are normally performed by members of sister unions. Members should inform their supervisors that they object to performing the work of another bargaining unit and should raise any concerns they may have with the specific work assignment. Members may request that the employer reconsider and change the assignment. However, the “obey now, grieve later” rule requires members to follow employer instructions or face potential discipline for insubordination. The rule may not apply to activities outside of working hours or instructions that are unsafe.
  • Work procedures or deadlines may be affected by a job action. For example, it may be impossible to complete tasks on schedule or priorities may change if tasks are not completed by other employees or necessary information is not available. Members should contact their supervisors with any concerns about procedures or deadlines and should request clear direction wherever necessary. Members should also document these requests in writing and forward all concerns to their Union representatives.
  • Health and safety requirements must be respected during any work stoppage. Members should be vigilant to ensure their safety is protected. Changes in the workplace during a job action may change health and safety risks. These should be carefully assessed and discussed as necessary with the local and the employer.
  • The grievance and arbitration process remains in effect. This is the primary protection for members who find themselves in a dispute with the employer over directions, collective agreement entitlements, or discipline. Please note that record-keeping can be critical to any disciplinary process or grievance proceeding. Members should keep notes of any work assignments or discussions with supervisors regarding any job actions. Any concerns should be shared with the local on an ongoing basis.
  • Other concerns may arise that affect members’ personal well-being. A job action can be an extremely stressful time. The workplace climate, relationships, and expectations may all be affected. Members should recognize this possible impact, and should seek information and support as necessary, such as from an EAP provider, personal counsellor or doctor. Further advice may be necessary.

This is a brief summary of possible issues. Members should contact their local OPSEU union steward and OPSEU staff representative for further advice if required.