The Hospital Decision is frustrating on so many levels
June 10, 2020
A Message from ONA President Vicki McKenna, RN
On June 8, Arbitrator John Stout released the hospital “award” to the Ontario Nurses’ Association and the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA). Like most of you, I don’t consider this an “award” – it is a legal decision that is binding by all parties.
The ONA Board of Directors and I are all in full agreement: the decision is insulting and demeaning to the hard work that we – as registered nurses and health-care professionals – do every day for our patients, residents and clients. And, given that we are dealing with a global pandemic, the decision is all the more frustrating and mind-boggling.
Bill 124 capped all public sector wages across the board, including nurses
When Premier Ford and his caucus were elected in June of 2018, one of his first orders of business was to rein in spending, and cut programs. We all remember the devastating cuts to public health units, autism funding, and more.
Part of these provincial cuts included the introduction of Bill 124 Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. Basically, Bill 124 imposes wage restraints on public sector employees. Bill 124 prohibits ONA from bargaining wages, benefits, and other monetary compensation that total more than one per cent.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association’s hospital bargaining is the first major bargaining without the right to strike to occur in Ontario under this new Bill 124 legislation.
All public sector employees will be affected by this one per cent cap each year in three years, including teachers, provincial employees, correctional officers, other health-care workers as their contracts expire and others. If contracts do not contain the one per cent currently, it will be tagged on at the end.
ONA – along with several other large provincial unions including OPSEU, all of the teachers’ unions, and others – has a Charter Challenge regarding Bill 124. We await the next steps regarding litigation.
In December of 2019 (before bargaining), ONA applied to the Treasury Board for an exemption from Bill 124 pursuant to provisions contained in the Act. We have yet to receive any type of response from the Treasury Board.
We met with the government several times leading up to the passage of Bill 124. We urged the government not to pass Bill 124, and to allow a free collective bargaining process to continue without government intervention. ONA has advocated time and again about the detrimental effects of Bill 124.
Bargaining begins with the OHA; mediation fails
Bargaining in February quickly resulted in an impasse. We then participated in mediation, which failed to achieve a settlement. We then proceeded to arbitration before Arbitrator John Stout.
During the arbitration hearing, ONA maintained that the continuing introduction of inappropriate skill-mix changes, unfilled full-time vacancies, and the over-reliance on call-in and on-call, agency usage along with excessive workloads is making it very difficult for members to provide safe, quality patient care. ONA also sought normative compensation improvements, including wage increases, premiums, and benefit improvements.
Arbitrator’s decision and ONA’s next steps
On June 8, 2020, the Stout Arbitration Board released its decision. As I said, the decision sorely misses the mark on so many levels. Unfortunately, Arbitrator Stout (as other arbitrators have concluded under this legislation) determined that his hands were tied by the legislation - Bill 124.
We will hold open telephone town halls on June 11. Please check the website at www.ona.org/bargaining for details. I encourage you to listen in and ask your questions. We will be on hand to answer your questions as best as we can.
In the short term, we are determining our next courses of action, which will include the Charter Challenge in the courts, proceeding with pay equity negotiations and mobilizing initiatives that members can participate in, and will provide you with updates as soon as they are available.
Vicki McKenna, RN