Public service workers across the province went on strike this morning after contract talks with the province dissolved Tuesday afternoon.
Picket lines were set up outside the courthouse, local Ministry of Natural Resources building and at the jail early Wednesday morning, as people waved at honking cars speeding past.
Many of those on strike weren’t happy it had come to this.
“I expected the government to bargain in good faith,” said probation/ parole officer Gary Beck who was picketing outside the Ministry of Transportation office. “They’re the ones who put us on the picket lines.”
“This is horrible,” said Tony Elders outside Ministry of Natural Resources office. He said he was shocked by the government, saying it would cost $900 million to give in to their demands. “I’m just at a loss for words.”
“They’re not very happy, but unfortunately that’s what they were probably expecting,” Bob Dakin, president of local 711 said Tuesday. “The government hasn’t made much of a change in position from Feb. 14.”
The more than 45,000 OPSEU employees, including 4,000 in Northwestern Ontario, had been in negotiations with the province since before Christmas. Their current three-year-contract expired on Dec. 31. Wages, control over the pension fund and prevention of contract workers were some of the issues both sides grappled with.
Last month, union members voted 88 per cent to reject the province’s offer of 1.95 percent wage hike each year over a three year contract, putting them in an official strike position today.
“Usually calling a strike is a difficult decision, but in this case it is very straightforward,” OPSEU president Leah Casselman said in a press release.
“The key features of the government’s central offer are unchanged from the one that 88 percent of our members rejected at the end of February.”
The province stands by it’s offer, saying that agreeing to OPSEU’s demands would cost the province $900 million over the next two years.
Local MPP and leader of the NDP Howard Hampton said it is hard to believe the province is worried about the bottom line after giving raises to themselves.
“If the government of Ontario can be increasing wages and salaries of MPP’s by 30 percent, and the salaries of deputy ministers by 20 to 30 percent how can they tell the people who are actually delivering the services, the front line workers, they’re limited to two percent or less,” he said.
“I want to reassure the people of Ontario that the government will continue to work hard to provide public services if OPSEU decides to strike,” Management board chair David Tsubouchi said in a press release earlier this week.
“It will not be business as usual. Some services may be temporarily disrupted or unavailable as a result of a strike.”
The province has been running ads in newspapers for the past week outlining what services will be halted due to the strike.
For instance birth, death and marriage certificates as well as drivers licenses and business registrations will be unavailable. Information lines and centres will be closed, workplace safety complaints will not be investigated and adoption services will be halted do to the strike. (For a complete list of services affected by the strike, see ad on A6)
Those services deemed essential by both the province and the union outlined in a contingency plan will continue to operate during the strike.
“The government will continue to take the necessary action to ensure the life, health and safety of the public,” Tsubouchi said. “We expect the union will honour the essential services agreements to ensure this is accomplished.”
The last time OPSEU went on strike was for five weeks in 1996.