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Toronto (October 26) - The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) has broken off talks with 50,000 Ontario hospital workers represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and CUPE.

Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) and Ken Brown, SEIU Canadian Vice-president call the OHA five-year proposal a blueprint for privatization.

After consulting with local leaders over the weekend, the unions decided to begin strike balloting. They have also begun to poll hospital Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to find out who supports the OHA plan to eradicate “no-contracting out” language and open the system to privatization.

Brown says the unions want to find out exactly who - and what - are driving the OHA. “We know that communities don’t want privatization and we can’t believe that a majority of CEOs support it either. The collective agreements of front-line workers seem to be the only thing blocking the sale of Ontario’s hospitals.

“Our goal is to get the OHA back to the table before we find ourselves trapped in a political showdown.”

Traditionally the unions have gone to arbitration. The Tory government, however, has replaced the process of selecting arbitrators from an approved list of labour relations professionals with an arbitration body consisting of retired judges with no labour background.

Hurley cited recent arbitration awards under the new regime, which have awarded concessions to employers.

The current OHA proposal contains no wage increase for the two years in which management salaries went up 11.6 per cent and one per cent increases in years, three, four and five.

“The OHA proposal strips our n006f contracting out language’, reduces lay-off notice to the union from six to four months, and to the employees from six to three months and eliminates staff planning language, ” says Hurley.

“The hospitals say that they need these concessions in order to have the flexibility to deal with restructuring. Yet the Ontario workforce has shrunk from 220,000 in 1990 to 108,500 workers today. In the last year alone, according to the OHA, 11,500 jobs were eliminated. The hospitals have more than enough flexibility to downsize,” says Hurley.

“In the face of these cuts, it’s clear why we’re insecure and prepared to fight to protect the few remaining rights we have,” added Hurley.