Representatives of CUPE and Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) hospital workers in Ontario have welcomed the resignation of a provincially-appointed arbitrator as a step towards a negotiated instead of arbitrated contract settlement.
Retired judge Keith Flanigan stepped down as arbitration board chair just as hearings were to begin in Toronto on Tuesday, November 24. The unions opposed Flanigan’s appointment arguing that the government has changed the system by appointing retired judges without labour relations experience as arbitrators. Previously, experienced labour relations practitioners were appointed as arbitrators.
“We are relieved at this point that a crisis in bargaining haas been postponed.” Michael Hurley, head of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) told the media. “These talks will heat up again, probably in the new year.”
The unions have launched a court challenge on the appointment of retired judges, which will be heard in January.
During mediation on Monday, November 18th the unions agreed to lower wage demands from 10.8 per cent over four and half years to less than eight per cent over five years. But the unions are refusing to make concessions on contracting-out which would result in layoffs and wage or benefit cuts.
The unions proposed that a joint committee study and review contracting-out but the study was rejected by the Ontario Hospital Association which bargains for hospitals in the province.
The employees have been without a contract since 1995.