The eight-week strike by tens of thousands of public servants could be over soon after a tentative deal was reached between the province and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.
“I’m relieved we’re at this stage,” said Bob Dakin, president of OPSEU Local #711 here. “On the surface, it looks good. It’s encouraging.”
The proposed settlement announced early this morning includes an 8.45 percent wage increase over three years and an additional one percent raise for employees at the top of the pay scale except corrections workers, who will receive an immediate additional five percent hike.
The agreement also includes an immediate wage hike for medical and chemical technologists, classroom assistants, and school aides, and a four percent jump in pay in lieu of benefits for contract employees.
“Everybody’s happy. They’re in a better mood than they have been in the last eight weeks,” Dakin said. “But it’s a cautious optimism.”
About 45,000 public service workers, including 4,500 in Northwestern Ontario, have been on strike since March 13. The walkout has sparked violence at provincial jails, concerns over area forests, and numerous disputes before the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
“It’s been a long strike for our employees, our managers, and the public,” Management Board chair David Tsubouchi said in a press release.
“But at the end of the day, we have a tentative agreement that is both fair to our employees and fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of Ontario,” he added.
OPSEU president Leah Casselman was especially pleased with the fact the union will retain control over the pension surplus in the new agreement.
“This is a major victory,” she said in a press release. “It means OPSEU members will hold on to $140 million worth of pension improvements in an average year, in perpetuity.
“The OPSEU Pension Trust gives more workers more control over more money than virtually any other pension plan,” she noted.
Still, Casselman was angry the strike has lasted this long.
“In the last 51 days, OPSEU members have paid a high price to defend and improve their rights on the job and off,” she said.
“They have waged an historic battle against a vicious employer, and I am proud to say that they are still standing strong,” she added. “They will now have an opportunity to vote on the contract they fought so hard for.”
There’s still no word on when union members will vote on the deal but Dakin expected voting should take place by early next week. He added negotiators also are working on back-to-work protocol with the government.
“Should we ratify, it will be a quick back to work,” Dakin said.