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In a major victory for hospital workers, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHUCUPE) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have succeeded in forcing the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) to submit to a mutually agreed upon arbitrator, in search of settlement for 50,000 hospital workers across the province.

That brings hospital workers back to where they were before the Conservative Government started appointing retired judges to hospital arbitration boards, hoping to achieve cost savings by imposing major concessions.

Last November, the threat of an illegal strike in Ontario’s hospitals forced Judge Flanigan to step down after being appointed by the Tories to oversee an SEIU hospital arbitration. Had that arbitration gone ahead, the pattern would have been set and major concessions would have been wrenched from CUPE hospital workers in subsequent arbitrations. With Flanigan forced to withdraw, the OHA was left stunned without a fallback strategy, after the government said it would not reappoint an arbitrator.

The renewed threat of a hospital strike in April, on the eve of a provincial election, forced the OHA back to the bargaining table.

This time they were willing to move away from their previous position on arbitration, agreeing to work with hospital unions to find a “mutually agreeable arbitrator”.

Although details are still to be worked out, hospital workers are counting on a more balanced process with one of the top five arbitrators in the province. Their goal is to fast track the arbitration process with a decision expected before the provincial election.