Rebuild the public service.
Resource management or resource banishment.
Equal pay for equal work.
White placards bearing these and other messages marched back and forth on picket lines across town as members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union marked their first week on strike.
“The people are willing to be out here as long as they have to,” said Linda Chepil, an integrated resource management tech specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources office here and picket captain for 10 other workers.
“I think we have the support of the community,” she added, waving at a honking car as it passed by.
Still for this mother of two, whose husband also is on strike, the thought of being without a paycheque for the foreseeable future is troubling.
“I have a daughter in university . . . I tell her to save up lots of money because we don’t know how much money we will have to give her,” Chepil said.
Conservation officer Mike Veniot agreed it’s hard for his two children, aged eight and 11, to deal with their dad being on strike.
“What got me was that we had plans for March Break [a trip to Winnipeg] that had to be cancelled,” he said. “We have to tell them we can’t do these things because we don’t have the money.”
Veniot said he understands why the union chose to reject the province’s offer of 1.95 percent a year over three years, but is upset the government has put them in this position.
“I feel betrayed with the Harris government,” he remarked.
About 45,000 OPSEU members, including 4,000 in Northwestern Ontario, have been on strike since last Wednesday.
The union was asking for six percent a year over two years, to retain control over pensions, no pay-for-performance, and protection from contract workers.
The province charges it can’t afford such concessions since they would cost taxpayers $900 million.
It doesn’t appear a solution to this labour dispute will be coming anytime soon. There hasn’t been any movement at the negotiation table since the strike was called.
“All the negotiating people on both sides have been resolving disputes,” Bob Dakin, president of OPSEU Local #711, said Monday.
Some of those disputes have included claims by the government that picketers have been preventing management from entering offices, that some OPSEU members in southern Ontario threatened to ignore 911 calls, and that corrections officers deemed essential haven’t been showing up for work.
“OPSEU is using public health and safety as a bargaining chip,” David Tsubouchi, chair of Management Board of Cabinet, said in a press release Friday.
“OPSEU’s actions are generating needless amounts of litigation and I believe the best place to resolve issues is at the bargaining table,” he added.
The Ontario Labour Relations Board ordered all essential correctional officers represented by OPSEU back to work Friday.
Dakin said for the most part, these charges have been nothing more than rhetoric and that, for instance, there hasn’t been problems at the Fort Frances Jail.
“There was one glitch in the system when the strike was called. It was part way through one of the shifts and that may have caused some consternation here,” he said, adding that it has since been worked out.
“People have been working on rotation and there’s been no problem as far as I can tell.”
Dakin charged most of the disputes stem from managers who are unwilling or unable to handle staff being on strike.
“They’re required to do things they’ve never had to do before . . . they end up filing disputes only to find out they have no basis,” he said.
For the most part, Dakin said spirits on the picket line are good, especially with warmer temperatures this week, but that there’s no telling how long this strike will last.
“Nobody knows,” he said. “We can’t tell. Maybe they’ll come back to the table tonight, or maybe next week.”