Ford government prepared to force power workers back to work in case of strike
Paola Loriggio and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, December 14, 2018 12:55PM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 14, 2018 7:29PM EST
TORONTO -- The Ontario government is planning an emergency session next week to pass legislation that would prevent power workers from going on strike.
The Progressive Conservative government says it will recall the legislature on Monday afternoon -- a week after the house rose for the Christmas break -- to stave off the labour action involving some 6,000 workers at Ontario Power Generation.
"Given the uncertainty created by the impasse between Ontario Power Generation and the Power Workers' Union, it is the intent of the government to reconvene the 42nd Parliament ... for the purposes of introducing legislation to ensure that power workers remain on the job," Government House Leader Todd Smith said in a statement Friday evening.
The government has said a strike could cause power outages in as little as a week.
Notice of a strike came late Friday, a day after the members of Ontario's Power Workers' Union rejected a contract offer from OPG, putting them in a legal strike position as of Dec. 26.
In a letter to OPG obtained by The Canadian Press, union president Mel Hyatt said members will withdraw their services in 21 days.
Earlier Friday, Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the 21-day delay in withdrawal of services is mandated because the union deals with nuclear assets. He said the government was prepared to take any steps necessary to safeguard the province's power supply.
"This is a slightly different set of circumstances than most," he said. "There's a very technical process to the wind down of these 10 units."
Some units would start to shut down about a week into the process, the minister said. "Seven to 10 days would be our first potential scenario for an interruption," he said.
Not all the union members involved are nuclear workers but the others have agreed to follow the same 21-day timeline in case of a job action, he said.
Rickford would not say whether power workers should be designated as providing an essential service under law, like doctors and police, which would prevent them from striking down the line.
The organization that manages Ontario's power system said Friday that a strike at OPG would put the system's reliability at risk.
"The shutdown of OPG's nuclear and hydroelectric facilities could occur in approximately three weeks. At that point Ontario would not have the generation needed to meet consumer demand and customers would begin losing power," the Independent Electricity System Operator said in a statement.
"The IESO will take every action available to delay and mitigate the impact. Planned generator outages will be deferred, operating reserves will be utilized, and there will be increased use of the gas fleet and energy imports from our neighbours," it said.
"However, these actions will not be enough to prevent significant losses of power."
The union, which has been without a deal since March 31, said in a statement Friday that OPG's final offer was rejected by a nearly 60 per cent vote of its membership.
The main sticking point in talks is OPG's refusal to grant over 300 so-called "term" workers the same rights as full-time employees at the Darlington and Pickering Nuclear Plants, the union said.
"OPG has failed to treat over 300 of its highly trained workforce fairly or responsibly," Power Workers' Union President Mel Hyatt said in the statement. "These employees, like all PWU members, are the backbone of Ontario's reliable electricity sector and should not be treated as second-class employees."
The union represents over 16,000 workers in Ontario's energy sector, including about 6,000 OPG employees.
Ontario Power Generation expressed disappointment Friday that its offer was rejected and said it was activating contingency plans in the event of a labour disruption. CEO Jeff Lyash said the company's goal has been to negotiate a "fair and reasonable" agreement and it's willing to go to arbitration to secure an agreement with the union.
Lyash said the three-year offer rejected by the power workers included wage increases totalling 6.6 per cent, improvement to overtime and shift differentials, and no involuntary layoffs over the term of the collective agreement.
"OPG cares about the safety and working conditions of all of its employees and will continue to move forward in a thoughtful and respectful manner that also ensures the safety of all Ontarians while recognizing the fiscal realities of the company and the province of Ontario," Lyash said in a statement.