UWOFA supports OCUFA’s legal challenge to Ford government’s attack on workers’ rights

John Ciriello, President

In late spring of 2019, the Ford government introduced Bill 124, “Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for the Future Generations Act 2019” into the Legislative Assembly. According to the government, the Act ensures that increases in public sector compensation reflect the current fiscal situation of the province.

The second reading of the legislation took place on October 31, 2019. After a protracted consultation period, the Bill received Royal Assent on November 7, 2019. This means that the Bill is now law in Ontario, retroactive to June 5, 2019. The Act applies to all unionized and non-unionized employees of the government, including school boards, hospitals, and non-profit organizations receiving more than $1 million in government funding, including Universities and Colleges.

The Act establishes moderation periods of 3-years during which salary increases are limited to 1% for each year of the period. Incremental increases to existing compensation entitlements and new compensation entitlements, including salaries are also limited to 1% on average for all members subjected to the moderation period. Bill 124 specifically prohibits any salary or compensation increases after the moderation period if they are designed to make up for the salary and compensation limits imposed by the Act. The Act also stipulates that an agreement signed prior to June 5, 2019 will be subjected to a 3-year moderation period upon renewal. The Act supersedes all collective agreements and gives the Finance Minister the exclusive power to determine if any collective agreement or arbitration award is inconsistent or in contravention with the Act.

However, the Act still recognizes collective bargaining and the rights of workers in the Ontario. Additionally, while the Act restricts salary and compensation increases, larger salary increases can still be achieved based on length of service and/or performance assessment.

Several unions have expressed concern and disagreement across Ontario and after considerable discussions, a coalition of unions in the K-12 sector (OSSTF, ETFO, OECTA and AEFO), announced their intentions to launch a Charter challenge against the legislation. Although the challenge was announced in unison, each launched their own independent challenge based of their unique issues. The Ontario Nurses Association has now also launched its own separate challenge. On December 17 an Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) Charter challenge involving several unions in Ontario (Canadian Union of Public Employees, Service Employees International Union, United Steelworkers, Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Society of United Professionals Local 160, Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, AMAPCEO, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 636, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175) was launched. 

At a recent emergency meeting of the Board of Directors of OCUFA, OCUFA entertained the possibility of either joining the OFL coalition, launching an independent challenge, not getting involved in a challenge, or intervene in one of the ongoing challenges. After considerable discussion, OCUFA introduced a motion and seconded by UWOFA that allows OCUFA to join the OFL coalition in launching a Charter challenge. UWOFA stands with OCUFA to defend the principle and the right to free and fair collective bargaining. All 17,000 OCUFA members are impacted by the introduction of this Act, and the Act has already affected the collective bargaining process with the UWOFA Librarians and Archivists who were stymied in their collective bargaining process this past fall.

The OFL is launching the Charter challenge in light of the Supreme Courts’ more expansive view of freedom of association under Section 2d of the Charter that it has extended to the right of free and fair collective bargaining. Goldblatt and Associates Court estimate the legal challenge to cost approximately $850,000 if it proceeds ultimately to the Supreme Court. However, as a cautionary note, the last three most recent challenges on wage restraint, including those at the federal level, have failed. The government has argued that pressing, compelling public policy reasons to interfere in free and fair collective bargaining, and that the measures introduced were proportionate to the public policy challenge.  

At the end of the legislation period (2019 – 2022), a moderation period will affect UWOFA Faculty when the current collective agreement expires on June 30, 2022. If the legislation is still in effect in on July 1, 2022 when the current UWOFA faculty collective agreement expires, our faculty will face the same 1% salary constraint that affected the UWOFA Librarians and Archivists during their negotiations in 2019.

As this legal challenge proceeds, UWOFA will continue to monitor the situation with OCUFA and update our members as appropriate.