OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, right, high fives striking Children's Aid Society workers in October of 2011.
Credits: CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT/QMI AGENCY
"The best thing that (Education Minister) Laurel Broten can do, that (Premier) Dalton McGuinty can do, that (Finance Minister) Dwight Duncan can do, that (Health Minister) Deb Matthews can do, is shut their mouths," said Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU).
"Shut their mouths and let the collective bargaining process take its course. They'll get there if the government keeps its nose out of it and leaves it alone."
Determined to impose a two-year wage freeze on public sector workers to keep its deficit-reduction plan on track, the government has dispatched cabinet ministers such as Broten and Duncan to talk tough to unions.
But Thomas said the rhetoric will just make settlements harder to reach when workers are well aware of the need to bend.
"In tough times, my locals are going in and they're actually bargaining to preserve services," Thomas said. "We'll forego our raises but we want to know you're not going to cut more services to clients.
"All you're doing is backing people into a corner with no side door out."
Case in point, Thomas said, is a decision by Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond to skip voluntary talks with the province and bargain instead with local school boards.
Thomas said the move makes sense and could well deliver the zero wage deals the government wants. But Broten took a dim view and publicly chastised Hammond.
Matthews last week also publicly scolded doctors, just as talks opened with the Ontario Medical Association on a new four-year deal.
"What they did with the teachers and the doctors is self-defeating for the government," Thomas insisted.
"All they think is that somehow, they can turn public opinion against doctors and teachers and get what they want.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has done little to lower the temperature, telling reporters in Kingston, Ont., last Friday that layoffs aren't out of the question.
"I can't guarantee that there aren't going to be any layoffs at any time," McGuinty said. "But what I can say is that our intention is to protect the gains we've made in our public services."