The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents 12,000 faculty members at Ontario’s public colleges, has filed a court challenge to the legislation that ended the union’s five-week strike when contract talks failed and imposed an interest arbitration process to resolve the contract dispute.
In October 2017, the union had called a strike when bargaining for a new contract with Ontario had not yielded a new contract. Faced with the curtailment of the college semester which affected about 250,000 full-time students, the Ontario Legislative Assembly approved Bill 178, which ordered the strikers back to work, and imposed a $1,000 per day fine for anyone violating the law. The bill also imposed a mediation/binding interest arbitration process in which a mediator/arbitrator would determine the terms of a new contract if the parties could not come to an agreement as part of the mediation process.
OPSEU had fought against passage of the legislation, arguing that it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of freedom of association. Although faculty complied with the law and returned to work, the union vowed to bring a constitutional challenge in court. The mediation process ensued, but the parties could not reach an agreement. The arbitrator (NAA member William Kaplan), then made a binding determination on the terms of a new contract in an interest arbitration award which was released on December 20, 2017. At the time, newspaper accounts did not indicate that the union objected to the interest arbitration award.
As part of its legal challenge to Bill 178, filed on January 23, 2018, OPSEU is seeking an order finding that the legislation violated workers’ Charter-guaranteed right to strike and also requested the court to deem the contract created by the interest arbitration award to have expired so that the parties have to go back to the bargaining table. The court will have to determine whether the bill imposed a valid and necessary alternative dispute mechanism in the form of the mediation/interest arbitration process as part of its decision as to whether the law’s infringement on the right to strike was justified. For additional analysis see here.