Politics
ON contract offer to OPSEU sets up 'knock-down, drag-out fight

Credits: TYLER KULA/THE OBSERVER/QMI AGENCY

ANTONELLA ARTUSO | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO -- An offer tabled by the Ontario government for its 38,000 public workers is a recipe for a "knock-down, drag-out" fight, union head Warren "Smokey" Thomas says.

Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), said the government's opening offer in collective bargaining talks this past week would kill job security protection for union members and pave the way for massive privatization of public services.

"They're putting all the ingredients on the table to have a big knock-down, drag-out fight. And we're up to that challenge. Don't want it but if they bring it on, if they start it, we'll finish it. Guaranteed," Thomas said recently. "We don't back down."

The Ontario government's collective agreement with its unionized employees expires at the end of 2012.
Last week, the government gave notice that it would like to begin bargaining.

John Friesen, a spokesman for Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar, said the government has made it clear in Ontario's 2012 budget that no compensation increases will be offered.

"The deficit is the single biggest challenge to the province and it must be dealt with so that we can continue to provide important public services such as health care and education," Friesen said in an e-mail. "We look forward to working with OPSEU to reach a negotiated collective agreement."

The government's budget also leaves the door open for the privatization of ServiceOntario.

According to OPSEU's website, the government's first offer included a two-year pay freeze, a reduction in sick benefits, increased use of temporary employees and consultants, and the "gutting" of job security language.

Thomas said the union is most worried about job security for its members and he argued the government's deal would allow wholesale privatization of public services. The job security provisions in the existing contract are a "strike" issue for OPSEU, he said.

"Part of what they tabled I think is designed to scare our members. And it has. It should scare them," Thomas said. "If they don't really want that, that's shameful on their part. Why would you subject 38,000 people to an emotional roller-coaster that may not be necessary?"

So far this year, the Dalton McGuinty government has secured deals with the province's doctors, OPS managers and Catholic school teachers. Provincial negotiators are struggling to reach agreements with public school teachers.

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