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Strike votes set on Bill 136

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The Ontario Public Service Employees Union and Canadian Union of Public Employees over the next week will ask its locals in Rainy River District to do whatever it takes to stop the Harris government from passing Bill 136.

OPSEU will hold an information meeting and strike vote for its five locals in the district Monday at La Place Rendez-Vous starting at 7:30 p.m.

And the district’s 10 bargaining units with CUPE Local #65 will cast their ballots next Tuesday during two meetings (1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.) at the Fort Frances Heritage Depot.

Meanwhile, employees at the hospitals in Fort Frances, Rainy River and Emo are going to the polls this week. The ballot box was available yesterday at Emo hospital, and will be in Rainy River tomorrow and here Friday.

Those ballots will be disclosed provincially at a special meeting of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions on Oct. 2-3 in Toronto.

“It gives the right for CUPE to take whatever action necessary up to and including [a] strike to stop Bill 136,” Jerry Lava, a CUPE national rep based in Kenora, said yesterday, stressing a vote in favour of strike action didn’t necessarily mean there would be one.

And he’s hopeful the four meetings between the province and the Ontario Federation of Labour coalition, which started Sept. 2 and are set to end today, will resolve the two sides’ differences.

“A lot is going to depend on the action of the government, naturally,” Lava noted, adding a conference call is slated Friday with CUPE executive members across the province to discuss further plans.

Joe Barron, a staff rep at OPSEU’s office in Dryden, stressed any action would be decided by its Toronto office.

“We’re just dealing with the local stuff here,” he noted.

The last votes are being cast Oct. 1, and Lava noted an illegal strike could start as early as the following day.

He said the only time unions were in a legal position to strike was if they were in bargaining, and a conciliator was brought in. Once the conciliator files a “no board” report, the two sides have 17 days before employees are in a legal strike position, or employers are in a legal lock-out position.

“Any of the organizers could be legally charged,” Lava noted, adding employees, especially those in homes for the aged or hospitals, could be disciplined.

“They don’t have a right to strike. They’re deemed essential.”

Lava also said the province could bring in “scab” workers, or table legislation ordering the strikers back to work. But since it would be an illegal strike anyway, Lava wondered how effective another piece of legislation would be.

But Tony Maxwell, with Labour minister Elizabeth Witmer’s office at Queen’s Park, stressed she had been getting feedback on Bill 136 from all the stakeholders.

“Some time within the next week we hope to be able to indicate what sort of changes we would make to try and accommodate some of their concerns,” he said yesterday.

Bill 136 is currently at second-reading stage, which means it’s being debated. Once it passes second reading, it will go to the committee for discussion before third reading.

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