Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Close to 50 unionized government employees picketed in Stratford Friday morning (Jan. 16) to draw attention to their troubled contract negotiations with the province.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union's current collective agreement expired Dec. 31, 2014, and members have voted more than 90 per cent in favour of strike action.
Todd Snider, president of OPSEU Local 119, which encompasses about 170 frontline Ministry employees across Stratford and Woodstock, remains optimistic that a new deal can be struck before workers have to take such a drastic step.
"What we really want is (Ontario Premier) Kathleen Wynne to come to the table and bargain a fair collective agreement with us," he told the Gazette following last week's protest, which was held out front of the government services building on Lorne Avenue West.
Snider, who has been employed by the province for 25 years and has worked as a correctional officer at the Stratford jail since 2002, said OPSEU wages make up less than one per cent of the overall provincial budget, yet the Liberals' opening contract offer on Nov. 30 included a two-year wage freeze and cuts to benefits. Salaries could increase in years three and four, he noted, providing there were cutbacks elsewhere.
The deal would also introduce a new wage grid that Snider said would reduce a new employee's compensation in some cases by as much as $40,000 over 11 years.
The union has come out and stated that the province would prefer to privatize many of the services currently provided by public service employees.
Snider said OPSEU members have proven they can deliver quality services for cheaper, and points to the recent Auditor General's report that found Ontario’s use of private-public partnerships for infrastructure cost $8 billion more than traditional public financing as proof of the government's flawed austerity measures.
Snider said public employees are now paying the price for the Liberals' past misspending.
"They wasted eight billion bucks and now they're putting it on our backs," he added.