After a difficult, three-year struggle, The Society of Energy Professionals has great news for lawyers at Legal Aid Ontario! LAO has finally agreed to respect the right of its lawyers to democratically choose the Society of Energy Professionals as their bargaining agent, and to collectively bargain with their employer.
As you know, we have been campaigning for more than three years for voluntary recognition from Legal Aid Ontario of our collective bargaining rights, and to negotiate a framework agreement with The Society as our bargaining agent.
Late Wednesday night, LAO agreed with The Society that it would respect a majority vote of LAO lawyers in favour of The Society as their bargaining agent. LAO also agreed that following a majority vote, it would enter into a Framework Agreement governing collective bargaining with The Society, and that an arbitrator would determine any terms of that Framework Agreement that the parties cannot settle themselves.
All we are seeking is the right to collectively bargain transparent and fair working conditions, improved client access to Legal Aid, and to have Legal Aid Ontario address our concerns around working conditions. More than ever, we see the need for a democratically chosen and independent collective voice to articulate our concerns and protect our terms of employment and professional and ethical obligations. To that end we have taken a giant leap toward making that a reality.
The agreement reached with LAO, entered into with the aid of respected arbitrator Bill Kaplan, means The Society no longer needs to pursue the constitutional challenge. Instead there will be a secret ballot vote to take place the week of October 17, 2016 with a ballot question as to whether or not LAO lawyers want to be represented by The Society.
The bargaining unit is comprised of all lawyers employed by LAO — with the exception of lawyers engaged in the General Counsel Office; lawyers in the labour relations and human resources department; the Senior Advisor Clinics; Special Advisors, Investigators, Supervisory Duty Counsel; Managers, and any other person above the rank of Manager.
As well, The Society was able to secure agreement for the first time that LAO lawyers will now be protected by the Labour Relations Act, including the statutory “freeze” and other protections against unfair labour practices. And, assuming a majority of those voting vote “yes”, these protections will continue in place while a permanent framework agreement governing collective bargaining is being negotiated. Notably, arbitrator Bill Kaplan has remained seized to make final and binding determinations in the event there is a complaint of a violation of these protections, with all the powers and remedial authority of the Labour Board under the Labour Relations Act.
Equally important, if a majority vote in favour of The Society as bargaining representative, LAO and The Society will work expeditiously to develop a permanent framework agreement for collective bargaining. And, as noted above, if the parties are unable to reach agreement, arbitrator Bill Kaplan will settle the terms through binding mediation/arbitration.
This game-changer has been a hard struggle and a long time coming. It has only come about because of the incredible work, commitment and support of so many of you.
But, while we take a moment to celebrate, we need to keep in mind we now have a vote coming with a firm deadline of the week of October 17, and much work to do! In the days and weeks ahead, we will be contacting you with information about the vote and The Society, and confirming your support for this significant step forward to secure collective bargaining rights.
We are also very much looking forward to, after the successful outcome of a vote, holding elections for a bargaining committee as well as surveying and consulting all LAO lawyers about our priorities for collective bargaining.
Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to this work.
Read the agreement here: Agreement Sept 2016