Ontario’s Government for the People is introducing legislation that will prevent large scale power outages across Ontario by quickly addressing the collective bargaining deadlock between Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the Power Workers’ Union (PWU).
“We want to see a fair deal reached between the parties,” said Laurie Scott, Minister of Labour. “Our proposed legislation will remove the risk of widespread power outages and allow dispute resolution to happen appropriately.”
“We are taking swift and decisive action to keep the lights on for Ontario families, seniors and businesses,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines. “We will not allow families and seniors to dwell in the dark or go without heat this winter and we will do whatever is required to protect the health and safety of the people of Ontario.”
A work stoppage at OPG would significantly impact Ontario’s electricity supply. The Independent Electricity System Operator has concluded that Ontario would not have the electricity needed to meet consumer demand resulting in brownouts and blackouts across the province.
The collective agreement between OPG and PWU expired on March 31, 2018. A tentative agreement was rejected by a majority of employees represented by the PWU on
August 9, 2018. Following further negotiations, the agreement was put to a second ratification vote, which was also rejected. The parties are in a deadlock and PWU gave strike notice on December 14, 2018.
The proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, 1995 would prohibit and stop any strikes or lockouts between OPG and PWU for the current round of bargaining and send all matters in dispute to a mediator-arbitrator for a fair dispute resolution process.
Proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, 1995 would prohibit and stop any strikes or lockouts between Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the Power Workers’ Union (PWU) for the current round of bargaining and send all matters in dispute to a mediator-arbitrator for a fair dispute resolution process.
PWU represents approximately 6,000 employees who work at all of OPG’s generation facilities, including technicians, tradespeople and nuclear operators. PWU is Local 1000 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
OPG is a government business enterprise, for which the Government of Ontario is the sole shareholder. In 2017, OPG produced 74.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity. Approximately 55% of that electricity came from nuclear sources.
The collective agreement between OPG and PWU expired on March 31, 2018. A tentative agreement was reached on June 4, 2018 and was rejected by a majority of PWU’s membership. OPG indicated that this tentative agreement was its final offer. Following further negotiations, the agreement was presented to the PWU membership for a second ratification vote. It was rejected again on December 13, 2018. The parties are at a deadlock, and PWU gave notice of a strike on December 14, 2018. A Power Workers’ Union strike at Ontario Power Generation would put the reliability of Ontario’s electricity system at risk. The shutdown of OPG’s nuclear and hydroelectric facilities could start within seven days. At that point Ontario would not have the generation needed to meet consumer demand and customers would begin losing power.
Prohibition and termination of strikes and lock-outs
The proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, 1995 would prohibit and stop any strikes or lockouts between OPG and PWU for the current round of bargaining and send all matters in dispute to a mediator-arbitrator for a fair dispute resolution process. If the amendments come into force, a strike or lock-out during this round of bargaining between OPG and PWU would be deemed to be an unlawful strike/lockout. Contravention of the Labour Relations Act, 1995 also constitutes an offence.
Appointment of Mediator-Arbitrator
All outstanding issues in dispute between OPG and PWU would be referred to a mediator-arbitrator for resolution.
OPG and PWU would have five days to agree on the appointment of a mediator-arbitrator and to notify the Minister of Labour. If they fail to do so, the Minister would appoint a mediator-arbitrator.
The mediator-arbitrator would have the exclusive power to determine all matters necessary to conclude a new collective agreement and would also have the ability to assist the parties in settling any related matter. The mediator-arbitrator would also select the method of dispute resolution.
The mediator-arbitrator would be required to begin the proceedings within 30 days of being appointed. The proposed amendments would also require the mediator-arbitrator to make an award within 90 days of his or her appointment. The parties and the mediator-arbitrator would have the power to extend these time limits, on agreement, before or after they expire.
In making the award, the mediator-arbitrator would be required to take into consideration all factors he or she considers relevant including certain listed criteria. The proposed amendments would also provide that the award would not be able to prevent the employer from disciplining or discharging an employee for just cause in respect of activities that took place during the time the parties were in a lawful strike/lockout position and ending on the date a new collective agreement is executed or comes into force.
The award would be final and binding on OPG, PWU, and all employees who are in the affected bargaining unit.
Nothing in the proposed amendments would prohibit the parties from continuing to negotiate, and they are encouraged to do so. If the parties execute a new collective agreement, they would be required to inform the mediator-arbitrator, and the dispute resolution process would terminate.
Until a new collective agreement is in place, the terms and conditions of employment that applied the day before a strike became lawful would continue to apply with respect to the employees in the affected bargaining unit represented by PWU, unless OPG and PWU agree otherwise.
Contravention of any provision of the Labour Relations Act, 1995 constitutes an offence (including the proposed provisions, if passed) punishable upon conviction by a fine of up to $2,000 for an individual and up to $25,000 in the case of an employer or trade union. Each day of contravention would constitute a separate offence.
A strike or lockout in contravention of the proposed amendments that would prohibit and terminate strikes and lock-outs would also be deemed an unlawful strike/lock-out under the Labour Relations Act, 1995, and the aggrieved party would be able to apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board for a remedy.