The Ontario government passed a law recently called the Public Sector Compensation Restrain to Protect Public Services Act, 2010. That legislation froze wages of nonunion employees of the government for the period March 2010 to April 2012. But it does not apply to unionized employees covered by collective agreements. That is obviously unfair to the nonunion employees and no doubt pisses them off. On the governments Q&A page, the government explains why the law applies only to nonunionized employees as follows:
Employees who are part of a union or who bargain compensation collectively would see their current agreements honoured. When these agreements expire and new contracts are negotiated, the government will work with transfer payment partners and bargaining agents to seek agreements of at least two years’ duration that do not include net compensation increases. The fiscal plan provides no funding for compensation increases for future collective agreements. It doesn’t matter whether contracts expire next month, next year or the year after that – all employers and employee groups will be expected to do their part.
So, in other words, the government is “asking” unionized employees to just accept the same wage freeze voluntarily, but under the threat that the government will not fund any wage increase. That strategy is having little effect on the behaviour of interest arbitrators or unions. I mentioned an award a while back involving nurses that rejected the employer’s claim that wages should be frozen.
Now arbitrator Martin Teplitsky has ordered a wage increase of about 2.3% for two years for U. of Toronto professors, which is based on the rate of wage increases in the private sector (so all those anti-public sector workers out there shouldn’t be complaining that public sector workers are getting special treatment). Here is the arbitration award.
Teplitsky wrote that he would not be a “minion of government”, and that public sector workers should not be asked to shoulder any more of the pain of a large budget deficit than other Ontarians:
It is plain that what drives the Government’s legislation and policy is its legitimate concerns about the huge provincial deficit and its impact on the Government’s ability to provide services. Obviously “0%” public sector increases make funding of services easier… This is a clear case of either requiring or asking public sector employees to subsidize the public because public services benefit the public as a whole. A more equitable approach to protect these services would be to spread the ‘pain’ by measures which increase revenues (more taxes or user fees) although I recognize that such measures would be less popular than the one adopted by the government.
The University must have known that its argument that unionized employee wages should be frozen because the government would like that had no chance with Arbitrator Teplitsky. Teplitsky has long been on the record with his view that arbitrators should not accept public sector employer wage freezes just because that would make life easier for politicians. As I noted in my earlier post, Teplitsky has said that, in the public sector, it is never about “inability to pay”, it is about unwillingness to pay.
What do you think about the argument that public sector workers should not be expected to fund the provincial deficit through wage freezes?