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Union files to have Bradford library arbitration dismissed

‘Without legally challenging this decision it stands on the record and it does have implications for any other workers that are trying to negotiate a first collective agreement,’ says union official
Katherine Grzejszczak, president of CUPE Local 905, speaks from within the crowd during a regular meeting of town council in September.

Bradford’s library workers are waiting for an arbitration decision in the new year, but their union is already filing a legal challenge.

Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 905, which is representing the 34 (previously 36) workers, filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Oct. 31 seeking a judicial review of the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) decision to send negotiations with the library (the employer) to arbitration. CUPE wants the library's request for arbitration to be dismissed and the OLRB decision quashed.

The workers were mandated back to work on Oct. 4 after the OLRB agreed on Sept. 29 to grant the employer's request for arbitration of the workers’ first collective agreement, putting an end to the 71-day strike, which began on July 21 when negotiations came to a head.

“We don’t agree with the decision that was reached by the labour board. In our opinion the union had a reasonable justification for our wage ask,” Katherine Grzejszczak, president of CUPE Local 905 said, in reference to the union taking a hard stance on their $1.35 request.

The union’s filing claims “the Board’s reasons and decision are unreasonable, irrational and illogical, do not follow a rational chain of analysis, and fail to meet the requirements of intelligibility, transparency and responsiveness.”

Grzejszczak explained that’s largely due to how the board determined the union’s wage request was unreasonable.

In his decision on behalf of the board, Timothy Liznick noted that the union’s “refusal to consider any wage increase below that which it has arbitrarily set as its target does amount to maintaining an uncompromising position without reasonable justification.”

Liznick acknowledged the union “can justify a wage increase, even a significant wage increase,” by pointing to higher wages in other libraries, by comparing wages of library workers to those of other municipal employees and by pointing to recent fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

However, Liznick also concluded none of these factors could “justify precisely the $1.35 proposal.”

Part of that reasoning was the duration of the strike and the wages workers lost as a result.

Liznick determined that by the ninth week of the strike, the average worker would have lost about $8,338 in income, which he calculated to be almost $1,000 more than the increase in income workers would receive over the term of the agreement.

“Absent some specific and objective justification of the specific $1.35 demand, the reasonableness of maintaining that position decreases as the strike goes on,” he said in the decision.

However, there were are at least two things wrong with that argument according to Grzejszczak, with the first being the way those lost wages were calculated.

Liznick based his figure on a 35-hour work week, but of the 34 striking workers, staff have said the 27 part-time staff average only about 20 hours per week, with some working fewer.

Additionally, the decision failed to take into consideration strike pay, the details of which Grzejszczak did not disclose for the library workers specifically, but various other CUPE locals indicate strike pay usually starts at $15 per hour, with members often picketing for four hours per day, five days per week.

Even if the calculation had been correct, Grzejszczak thinks the workers should be able to determine for themselves if the potential benefits of staying on strike outweigh the cost of lost wages.

“Workers make these types of calculations all of the time. It’s a factor that workers use to consider whether they should even engage in a work stoppage in the first place,” she said, adding that while Liznick only calculated to the end of the agreement’s term, workers consider the potential benefits to future terms and generations.

The union also took issue with what it claims is the unconventional nature of Liznick’s rationale.

“That is not something that, traditionally, the board has used in making these determinations,” Grzejszczak said.

While she admitted the application enters “uncharted waters,” and the union wasn’t sure what the outcome would be if the board’s decision was overturned, Grzejszczak still felt it was important to try — not just for the sake of the library workers, but for anyone who might be affected by the legal precedent.

“Without legally challenging this decision it stands on the record and it does have implications for any other workers that are trying to negotiate a first collective agreement and their ability to take a hard position in bargaining with an employer,” she said adding the union has no anticipated timeline for when the court will make a determination on the application, but suspects it likely won’t be until well after arbitration concludes.

Library chief executive officer Matthew Corbett acknowledged the employer was served documents relating to the application by CUPE.

“We expect the process to play out well into the summer and fall of 2024,” he said.

Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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