By: Julius Arscott
President, OPSEU Local 532
Members of the Ontario Public Service (represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union) are being asked to ratify a three year (2015 – 2017) concessionary tentative agreement. While many of the major concessions sought by management, such as a 12 step wage grid and a 5% pay reduction at the bottom of the grid, were fought off, the deal the members are now asked to ratify is filled with concessions that would continue the downward spiral of wages. It reflects the ‘Net Zero’ stance of the Premier Kathleen Wynne Liberal Party regime.
Many locals, particularly in Region 5, made it a point to fight for a non-concessionary agreement at the demand set in 2014. Many of the small gains won could have been negotiated in any round of bargaining. They are not a break-through. Is this what we took a strike vote for? Since bargaining began, large portions of the membership have been mobilized in an unprecedented way. Local information meetings, general membership and unit meetings, coffee break gatherings, a higher union presence in the workplace, pickets at Liberal Party fundraisers, have all contributed to the building of local capacity. A very strong strike vote (Central: 90%, Correction: 96% and Unified: 88%) occurred at the beginning of negotiations, in the face of drastic cuts. We deserve a better result.
The tentative agreement includes the following concessions:
The wage adjustments include a two year wage freeze (on top of the 2 years already suffered in the previous collective agreement). In year two we would receive a lump sum payment of 1.4% (non-accrual, not rolled into pension or wages), and in the third year there will be a 1.4% increase in base salary (an increase in wages from the beginning of the four year wage freeze). Merit increases will be frozen for 2016 and 2017. This proposal will cost new and recent hires thousands of dollars throughout their career. Though the wage increase in the third year may appear to be a gain, it comes at the cost to the newest workers and to those in career transition. By freezing progression an OAD8 will lose $2321.18 over the period of the contract, even after factoring in the lump sum and raise. This is not just cash loss, as pensionable earnings are reduced ever further since the lump sums are not pensionable. This is money lost forever. Members at the top of the grid may feel safe for now, but keep in mind that the people most harmed by these concessions will be deciding your future contracts and benefits. If we sell them out now, they will have no incentive to protect your pension and benefits later. Members close to retirement will not see improvements that should form part of their best five years.
Termination pay: Our members will lose out on $850 million in termination pay. It is a benefit we accepted, in lieu of banked sick days, many contracts ago. Termination pay consists of members receiving 1 week of pay for every year employed up to 26 years. In the last contract, we accepted a concession that new hires would not be eligible for termination pay. Now it appears that the employer is completing the elimination of this benefit by disallowing the accumulation of termination pay after December 31, 2016. And to add insult to injury, the pay will be issued (frozen) in 2016 dollars, lowering its value over time. In monetary terms, this can add up to thousands of dollars. For an OAD a loss of only 6 weeks termination accumulation would cost $5,674.58.
There is language which anticipates the future privatization of public services. The proposed language includes a 150 member threshold which still allows the Employer to privatize your work in smaller pieces without consultation with the union. The proposed appendix allows for voluntary participation in a committee to look at privatization and gives the Union an opportunity to help the government meet its objectives. Instead of holding steadfast to fighting all forms of privatization and job loss, this agreement is asking us to endorse provisions which could open the doors to further concessions in future negotiations, further weakening our collective agreement and existing protections.
There are also provisions amendments to Appendix 32 which would allow the employer to expand its use of flexible part time employees as opposed to full time employees. This increase on the precariousness of our work has the potential to impact our work culture and job security in a very real way. We know that a large number of members will retire in the next several years and the Employer will have the right to replace full-time positions with part-time workers. This also allows the Employer to change work locations on a daily basis with little notice.
One of the biggest concessions is the attack on 2,700 of our most vulnerable members – those on Long Term Income Protection (LTIP). Members on LTIP will have to retire at earliest unreduced pension or 30 years of service (whichever is later) or pay the approximate 9.4% pension contribution themselves if staying on LTIP. What this means is that the proposed changes would push members off LTIP and into retirement (possibly with less compensation). Members who do not want to, or cannot afford retirement can continue to be on LTIP if they pay contributions while already on a reduced budget. Members will also be required to report their retirement dates to the employer, which could ensure that the employer may force these members to retire as part of future negotiations. Changes also include that once LTIP is received, the insurance carrier can force members into work plans or ‘forced rehab’, even if contrary to a doctor’s orders. If members don’t comply they would lose their benefits. There would be no confidentiality between your doctor and employer (through the benefits provider).
The employer began negotiations attempting to bury us in an array of major concessions, building enough pressure to ensure that they get to steal some portion of your wages and benefits. We reacted in a strong way, and took a clear position for a non-concessionary deal. The decision to fight back was made in light of recent concessionary agreements, as some believed we had to ‘do our part’ in the recovery from the economic recession of 2008. We are increasingly asked to do the work of two or more employees. We are understaffed and increasingly underpaid. The employer has thanked us for our hard work by unilaterally imposing a 50% premium on post retirement benefits, and doubling the eligibility period from 10 to 20 years of service. The cost of living continues to rise; the 1.4% increase does not nearly match the rate of inflation (cost of living). If you are on the grid anywhere but at the top, you suffer. If you are planning a change in career, you suffer. If you are converting to full time or just started your career, you really suffer.
Two members of the OPS bargaining team voted against the tentative agreement and are recommending that members VOTE NO. I interviewed one of the dissidents, Glenna Caldwell.
Julius: “Why do you urge your fellow workers to vote NO on the OPS tentative agreement?”
Glenna: “Vote NO to both the Central and Unified contracts because the employer has achieved their mandate of deep concessions bargaining at your expense. Their proposals of continued wage freezes, progression freezes, termination pay cuts, cuts to sick leave and WSIB, mandatory rehabilitation and other concessions to the current contract are not fair or respectful.
The Liberals say they have no money. What they really mean is they have no money for the working public servants because they are transferring money to big corporations and private investors.
I believe this contract will harm the sick and vulnerable and new workers the most. This supports Wynne’s race-to-the-bottom mentality .
Now is the time to stand up to protect ALL workers in the OPS… even those who have not yet joined the public service. Those workers will be our future, and the future of the services we all rely on. Please VOTE NO on both the Central and Unified agreements”.
Julius: “What went wrong in the bargaining process that led to this result?”
Glenna: “Negotiating a contract is complex process that is time consuming and frustrating. The Employer has attempted to bury us in so many concessions to ensure that many stick, and they have. If you accept these concessions the employer has the blueprint for the next round in late 2017 and you can be sure that they will continue to steal your money, like changing the wage grid to 10 or 12 steps, lower starting pay, stealing your banked termination pay, tiered drug formulary, etc. They expect us to keep on giving, giving and giving. Stop giving!”
Julius: “How can OPS members organize to turn back this deal, and prevent concessionary collective agreements in the future?”
Glenna: “Political action matters. Demonstrating our solidarity is key to getting a good contract. Stay strong, don’t waiver. Our leverage is an ongoing process. Many members don’t bother to vote. Get out and vote! Tell the government you have had enough already! Tell them to get back to the table and bring back a fair and respectful deal. In between contracts, enforce the terms of your collective agreement, work to contract, support ongoing campaigns. Leaflet, attend or organize Information Pickets. Call and write your MP and MPP, attend or provide lunch-and-learn sessions to members. Send postcards or petitions to the Premier. Start preparing now for your next contract. “
The excuse that timelines for reaching agreement on essential services are too lengthy, and that the membership is losing momentum, and that therefore we should settle suggests that bargaining will ALWAYS be a losing game. EES is part of our negotiation process, by law. There are always ebbs and flows in the level of energy amongst union members. We cannot allow this process to be a barrier to negotiating a fair agreement. The employer continues to use divide and rule tactics. Now is the time to stand up, to protect all workers in the OPS, even those yet to be hired. After all, it’s the new workers who will be our future, and the future of the services on which the public relies. Now is the time to organize rank and file groups in every union local to defeat this bad deal, to replace union officials who urge us to accept it, and to advance a Workers’ Agenda to change the direction of our union and society as a whole. Act together now, organize now, or face a steeper climb tomorrow.
Enough is enough!
Vote NO to the Unified and Central agreements!