Picket signs were propped up against trees, shoved into lawn chairs, and sticking out of car windows in front of the courthouse here today as local Ontario Public Service Employees Union members took part in a provincial “day of action.”
The day of action served to highlight concerns of the 2,500 court workers across the province, almost all of whom were ordered back to work by the Ontario Labour Relations Board last Wednesday.
But the more than a dozen picketers at the courthouse learned this morning they were not permitted to carry their signs during the rally.
“For today, we’re not allowed to carry picket signs,” said Melissa Pearson, president of Local #35 which represents court workers as well as numerous other groups.
“We’re allowed to decorate the site but not to carry them.”
Pearson said the province cited a ruling dating back to the late 1980s that said strikers cannot picket outside a courthouse. While the union investigates this claim, they are agreeing not to carry their signs.
Instead, union members were handing out flyers about the plight of court workers working inside.
Pearson said more than half of the 2,500 court employees have absolutely no benefits, pensions, or job security. This is because they may be working up to three different short-term contracts to make up full-time hours but, as a result, are deemed unclassified workers.
“We have one lady who’s been an employee for over 15 years and she’s basically given up a pension,” she said.
The province has argued the OPSEU strike was interfering with operation of the courts by preventing the public and accused from appearing for court dates.
“This government won’t tolerate any actions by OPSEU that jeopardize the justice system,” Management Board chair David Tsubouchi said in a press release.
Pearson said that hasn’t been the case here.
“We had one person who was to appear in court but didn’t want to cross the picket line,” she said. “Our people told [the person] they had a legal responsibility to go inside and appear before the court case.”
About 45,000 OPSEU members have been on strike since March 13. Wages, control of pensions funds, and benefits are the key issues in the dispute.