Union scores "major victory" over bill
By Sara Marett
The calm after the storm has arrived for union members as they met with the provincial government Monday and accepted amendments to Bill 136. In doing so, they have dismissed the possibility of a province-wide public employees strike.
After putting pressure on the provincial government regarding the content of the bill, union members were finally shown written details of amendments made by Labour Minister Elizabeth Witmer.
Union members continued to threaten the government with a province-wide strike after an announcement of the proposed changes on Sept. 18. However, the amendments were presented in detail and tabled on Monday to the union's approval.
"This is a major victory for us," said Brian O'Keefe, secretary-treasurer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees. "We got most of what we were looking for as a result of mass mobilization on our part."
Minister Witmer announced Monday that Bill 136 will pave the way for a smooth transition to improved public services with minimal disruption, as Ontario's municipalities, school boards and hospitals restructure. She added the amendments to the bill were the outcome of lengthy and productive consultations with union members.
Belinda Sutton, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, said the bill's amendments are aimed at ensuring a smooth transition to improve public services and added the bill will soon proceed to the legislature for a third and final reading.
"We still however, have a few concerns about the bill," O'Keefe said. There is potential, he explained, for the government to abuse their "no restriction" policy giving the union the right to strike.
Even though we are approving the amendments, we are putting the government on notice, O'Keefe added. "We will not tolerate it if they start pulling ugly stuff through the back door in regards to the arbitration processes."
O'Keefe said CUPE is in full support of the teachers in the province and the similar situation they are facing concerning the government's proposed Bill 160 with changes to the province's education system.
"Their fight is our fight if there is a strike, we will ask our members not to cross the picket lines. They helped us and we will help them," he said.