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CUPE and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed court documents on Wednesday, July 22, challenging the Ontario government’s process for choosing arbitrators hearing cases involving public sector health care workers who do not have the right to strike.

“The Ontario Government has reneged on its commitment to not tamper with the process for the appointment of arbitrators to interest arbitration boards,” said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE). “The appointment of four retired judges earlier this year, and the recent appointment of four additional judges, indicate clearly that the government wishes to direct the outcome of collective bargaining in the health care sector.”

“Last fall, in discussions around Bill 136, the government made a commitment that it would only appoint from the existing list of accepted and experienced labour arbitrators,” said Ken Brown, Canadian Vice-President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “It is now clear that the Ontario government had no intention of honouring this commitment. The minister is more interested in finding arbitrators who will do the government’s bidding than in the fair treatment of health care workers.”

The appointment of “arbitrators” under the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act has been transferred to the Minister’s Office. Appointments had previously been handled by the Office of Arbitration, to ensure there would be no political influence in the appointment process.

“This is not the first time the Conservative Government has tried to politicize an appointment process”, said Joanne Greaves, Chair of CUPE’s health care workers’ committee. “The Tories have taken criticism for politicizing the appointment process of OLRB members and WCB members, and this is no different.”

The two unions have retained the services of labour lawyer Howard Goldblatt, of Sack, Goldblatt & Mitchell, to lead the court challenge. “The court challenge will seek to prove i006estitutional bias’ on the part of the Ontario Government in their handling of these matters,” said Mr. Goldblatt, who outlined the unions’ arguments at a press conference in the Queen’s Park media studio July 23.

CUPE and SEIU represent over 80,000 health care workers in the province of Ontario.