A tough decision in a tough situation

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Making sense of some complex issues and events with limited opportunity to review and question them is difficult at best. Doing so with a very tight timeline and the pressure of so many potential negative outcomes that will greatly affect your life and livelihood is even more of a challenge. It is my hope that what I share with you now will help clear up some misconceptions and put some of what is happening in perspective.

First I wish to reassure everyone who is new to this process that if the result of the vote is to not accept what the employer offers, then yes, the bargaining team is authorized at that point to use their discretion for if and when to call a strike.

That means that there are two possible outcomes of this vote. The first is that enough people decide that this proposal will become our contract for our next four years – as it is. No changes or adjustments or further negotiation will take place. A majority voting for it makes this so. The second possibility is that the offer is rejected but this does not guarantee a strike will happen. What this result does achieve is that the bargaining team has some support as they return to the table knowing that the members are behind them, with the employer already knowing that the membership is not happy with the direction that the employer’s offer is heading. Without a doubt the higher the percentage of members that reject this offer, the greater the support that the bargaining team has in negotiations. This will translate into a better deal for us all.

As for the timing of any strike, first I need to point out that there is no way we can go out before January 1st, 2015 because we currently have a valid collective agreement and that makes any action before then illegal. Next, even January first is not a possible strike date because in the OPS the Essential Services agreement has to be bargained first. This agreement is the framework for what work the OPSEU members do is considered “essential” to the health and safety of the public during a work stoppage. Those responsible for those duties are required to be at work during any work stoppage. Getting this agreement in place would likely take two months or more. So it is not likely that a strike would happen any time before the middle of March. During this time a deal could be reached negating the need for a strike.

Now in making the decision which way to vote it is essentially a question of can you live with what the employer’s offer does to your pay, livelihood, and future in the OPS? Or do you want to let the employer know that you will not accept all that the offer will do to you and instead, accept the possibility of a strike but also the possibility of a much better deal?

There is an undertone to the structure of this proposal from the employer which you should be aware of. The 2014 Liberal Budget has heavy emphasis on the desire to privatize much of what the public might otherwise choose not to. If you review the current agreement as it is relative to being “attractive to prospective buyers”, this could be the only reason that mass privatization has not yet taken place. Now review the all of the many elements of the proposal, with a view to how much more attractive these changes make our contract for other entities to assume in a purchase. Look not only at the decrease in entitlements we currently have but also examine closely the protection articles we have in regard to sick time, income protection and Employment Stability (which among other things eliminates any considerations for weekends) including removing the oversight and protections where 50+ employees are impacted as part of a group and you can clearly see this is all designed to maximize salability of Public Services to Private interests. This is the road that accepting this agreement will take us all down sooner than you think.

In regard to the tone of the offer, the employer postures about trying to convince us that they are only trying to be fiscally responsible (the same group responsible for wasting Billions of dollars of public money with no consequences for those responsible) and talk about “no new funding for compensation increases” and “no compensation increases for the term of the agreement unless offset elsewhere.” I want to let those who wrote this know that I can see the emperor has no clothes. The idea of a “Net Zero Gain” works both ways.

From my reckoning of all the takeaways and associated diminished protection items we will have already accomplished a substantial savings of such that a 20% increase in year one would be justified based on the need to “offset elsewhere” any increase. The employer cannot take a mass amount away to start and not include that in any cost off-setting calculation and expect us to give away even more. The current agreement is the starting point and they do not have the right to claim a HEAD START. All of our current agreement articles have value to us and that cannot be discounted. Stripping everything down on our side is not a net zero gain and if they claim that what they are trying to achieve is being responsible and fair, well that argument works both ways. This whole proposal is hypocritical, insulting, demeaning and not in the least bit close to bargaining in good faith.

If you are still undecided as to what way you will vote, I suggest you take the employer’s proposal and the OPSEU explanatory notes related to it and grab a piece of paper and pen. Work through the document and record where you feel there will be a positive (none) or negative monetary impact to you. Also keep track of what parts of this proposal are positive or negative relative to your current and expected situation. Summarize it and decide is the end result worth the potential need to take direct action in the form of a strike to protect what you have?

Attend the upcoming info-sessions and participate in a telephone town hall as these events are presented to provide further insight and answers to questions you may have. Being informed before you vote is the most important thing you can do.
I appreciate the time you have taken to read what I have felt important to share and I sincerely hope that I have helped in even a small way. We are in this together and we do have support from other sectors of OPSEU and other unions as we fight this privatization agenda.

In Solidarity.
Frank Wendling
President, Local 468

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