OLG lockout continues in Ottawa

Pension changes, wage increases major sticking points for union
By Sabrina Nanji
|Canadian Labour Reporter|Last Updated: 03/21/2016

SINCE just before Christmas, about 120 workers at the Rideau Carleton Raceway casino in Ottawa have been locked out of their jobs. In March, they were on the steps of Queen’s Park in Toronto, flags waving and hip hop blaring, during a rally to get the provincial government to put pressure on the Crown corporation to return the parties to the bargaining table after talks broke down. That same week, the union that represents the casino employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the provincial labour relations board for the alleged hiring of so-called scab workers. The impasse during negotiations could be attributed to wages and pensions — two major sticking points for PSAC. According to the union, Rideau Carleton work- ers have not received a wage increase in the last six years, and the modest bumps proffered by OLG are not enough (1.75 per cent in the first year of the contract, then nothing for the following two years). Further exasperating the union is the fact that pension provisions have been removed from the col- lective agreement language, which PSAC said is unacceptable. “OLG is forcing these workers into accepting low wages and giv- ing up their pension language in order to make gaming operations more attractive to private sec- tor buyers,” said Larry Rousseau, president of PSAC’s Ontario faction. OLG, however, said remov- ing the clause from the contract doesn’t mean workers won’t get a pension, but that a service pro- vider will be contractually obli- gated to provide one instead, said Rui Brum, a spokesperson for the gaming commission. By law, OLG employees are not able to participate in the public service pension plan after they move to a service provider, as they will no longer be public employ- ees once OLG restructures as part of the province’s modernization plan, Brum said. “However, in order to address the union’s concerns, OLG has advised PSAC and all other unions that have been involved in bar- gaining in 2014 that OLG employees will be members of the public service pension plan up to the date until the site is transferred to a service provider,” he said. “This is important to ensure OLG employees will continue to have a pension plan — the service provider will be contractually required to provide a registered pension plan for registered employees from the very first day they trans- fer to that service provider.” Brum added that the deal on offer to Rideau Carleton workers mirrors the one OLG has signed with 17 other unions, including employees at the same casino that are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OP- SEU). Scabs or supervisors? Making matters more complicated is that the casino is still operating, keeping tensions high on the picket line. That came to a head when PSAC filed a complaint to the labour relations board in midMarch, after OLG posted open positions on its website for fourmonth term supervisors. While the employer said it is just business as usual, the union said these workers would be replacing bargaining unit work and, therefore, takes away the leverage that a strike or lockout would have during negotiations. “That’s the kind of pressure that makes the employer come back to the table and say, ‘OK, we’re going to move,’ but by hiring these workers for four months — the message from that is ‘We expect this to go on for another four months.’ And what’s that all about? So we filed an unfair labour practices complaint,” Rousseau said. Though Brum said it would be inappropriate to comment on the complaint before the OLG receives it, he added that the nature of the concern is moot. “Every summer season, the slots at Rideau hires employees to help out because it’s a busier time of year. These employees are not part of the gaming floor bargaining unit represented by PSAC,” Brum said. Bypassing partisanship Both the NDP and Progressive Conservatives have voiced their support for the union and employees, and denounced Premier Kathleen Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa for not putting more pressure on OLG. “The OLG and Wynne government are once again trying to attack the Rideau Carleton raceway in order for them to have a down- town casino,” said Lisa MacLeod, Conservative MPP in Ottawa. “In my opinion, the Liberals are using this as an example and a tool to build a downtown casino in Ottawa, which the community does not want.” NDP labour critic Cindy Forster echoed the sentiment during a joint press conference with the union. “These are employees who have a public pension plan and they’re here to demand that Premier Kathleen Wynne put a stop to the OLG trying to gut it,” Forster said. “The Liberal premier has done nothing to ensure that the OLG returns to the bargaining table. It’s allowed them to lock out these em- ployees right before Christmas. So they’ve been out on the street for almost three months, they’ve had their wages frozen for six years, and they want to eliminate any mention of a pension in their collective agreements. I believe this is an attack on the hardworking em- ployees at this facility and on their families.” Both Forster and MacLeod raised the lockout during question period at Queen’s Park in March, calling on the Liberal government to put pressure on the Crown corporation and sign a deal. Finance Minister Charles Sousa did not respond to requests for comment.