Health care workers face many obstacles going into new round of bargaining

As the 2009-2011 round of bargaining comes to a close and the last of the arbitration awards covering this period are released, health care workers across the province are preparing for a new round of bargaining with their employers. Already, workers face an uncommon barrage of nasty attacks on many fronts from government, Hospital CEOs and the Ontario Hospital Association. To fend off these attacks, workers will need to campaign together to educate the public and stand up for the future of healthcare.

The government’s present wage restraint legislation exempts unionized workers, but Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said public sector employers would not receive additional funding to pay for wage increases. For health care employers, this does not necessarily mean a freeze in what they receive in public funding. This year all health care sectors received a total of $2.6 billion more in funding. Next year the rate of increase will be slowed to $1.9 billion, and $1.5 billion in the following year.

The Ontario Hospital Association has been openly advocating for changes to HLDAA, including placing limits on arbitration awards. Windsor Regional Hospital CEO David Musyj has been vocal in the media, claiming he can’t afford the recent two and 2.5 per cent OPSEU arbitration award. This is despite the fact the province gave his hospital an increase of more than 4.5 per cent last year. It is clear hospital CEOs like Musyj are advocating for a legislated outcome.

While public sector workers are fighting off the government’s attempt to diminish their standard of living through wage freezes, the same cannot be said for those at the top, who continue to rake in excessive bonuses.

In the financial sector bonuses are definitely back – this despite the role that sector played in triggering the latest recession. In the U.S. the average Wall Street bonus increased by 25 per cent in 2009. Experts say the real value is more like 30 per cent when the non-cash portion of the bonus is considered. On this side of the border, Canadian bankers paid themselves $8.3 billion in bonuses for 2009 — just a year after the Harper government helped the banks weather the recession with $75 billion in public money.

Bonuses will likely increase again in 2010 for executives at Ontario’s largest companies. Ontario continues to roll back corporate taxes, placing greater profits in the hands of investors and top executives. When the corporate tax cuts are fully phased in, Ontario will hand corporations a gift amounting to $2.4 billion per year. Ontario corporations already pay among the lowest rates of taxation in the industrialized world.

For families of public sector workers, costs are going up and wages are remaining relatively stagnant. The McGuinty government has warned that electricity rates alone will go up 42 per cent by 2015. The HST is also increasing costs on many items by 8 per cent – including energy bills.

Donating the equivalent of $500 per household to Canada’s largest and most successful corporations while attempting to freeze the wages of more than one in three Ontario workers is a bad idea and will only further polarize the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative recently reported the top one per cent of Canadians pocketed 32 per cent of all income growth from 1997 to 2007. This is the highest level of wealth concentration in Canadian history.

The good news is there are several things you can do.

If you belong to OPSEU’s Hospital Professionals Division (HPD), the executive is running a “Tax cuts or health care?” campaign to highlight the choices that are being made at Queen’s Park. They are speaking to locals and handing out bumper magnets and buttons to get the conversation started. HPD Locals are being asked to visit their MPPs in the new year. You can see a video about the campaign at:

OPSEU is also running a central campaign that is demanding a stop to the $2.4 billion corporate giveaway. You can see for yourself how much money you would be losing in the event of a wage freeze by going to

http://www.opseu.org/campaign/stopthewagefreeze/calculator.htm

After you calculate your loss, you can send an e-mail to your MPP at:

http://www.opseu.org/campaign/stopthewagefreeze/december-3-2010.htm

There is also a video about this campaign —

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