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Ontario hospital workers received good news June 29 with the release of an arbitration award that protects their job security. The award preserves the contracting out language and chain bumping rights that CUPE members have enjoyed, rejecting heavy pressure from the employers to gut job security provisions.

“We’re pleased,” said Helen Fetterly, Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. “It’s been a long time coming, but the members stood together. We took a strike vote and put pressure to get a fair arbitration process. It just goes to show what can happen when you pull together.”

At the outset of negotiations, the Ontario Hospital Association had been seeking 18 per cent wage cuts and an end to restrictions on contracting out. They were aided by the Harris government, which tried to rig the arbitration process in the employers’ favour. But the CUPE members joined forces with SEIU, forming a 50,000-member block, and demanded an experienced and impartial arbitrator.

The contract provides for 5.5% in retroactive wage increases, with a further 2% in September 2000. Members who were earning more than $30,000 in 1996 will receive a further 2 per cent retroactive increase to compensate for increases denied under the Social Contract.

Describing the wage increase as “stingy”, Fetterly welcomed the improvements in bumping rights. Members can now bump up 7% (up from 5%) if they have received notice of layoff and can’t find someone with less seniority in a lower paying or equal classification. While notice of layoff was cut from six months to five, Fetterly said: “We can live with that. It’s still superior to the contracts for nurses and OPSEU.”

OCHU will hold a conference September 13 and 14 to examine the award and ensure it has been applied province-wide.