BRANTFORD – The roulette tables could be spinning soon at the Brantford Casino after it was announced Saturday that a tentative agreement had been reached between OLG and UNIFOR. The tentative agreement — if ratified — would end the strike immediately.
The parking lot at Brantford’s OLG Casino is normally full, but has been all but empty recently, costing Ontario tens of thousands of dollars a day in the wake of a labour dispute involving UNIFOR casino workers.
The strike arose after the Province decided to privatize OLG casinos and began tampering with workers pensions and benefits packages to make the privatization more palatable to potential buyers.
“Our contract ended at the end of May, and in good faith, we decided to hold off negotiations until after the Pan Am Games, hoping to receive some good faith in return,” said picket line captain Tim Lockwood. “Unfortunately, on September 19th, they decided to lock us out.”
According to union insiders, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are trying to dabble with the employees’ existing pension plan and other benefits in preparation of the privatization of Ontario’s casinos with a move the province is labeling as “modernization”.
“We are not looking for gains in our next contract, only that what we already have is protected,” says Lockwood. “What we want however is just the word “comparable” to be added to the wording of the proposed pension clause. We want the provider to provide a comparable pension plan to what we have had in the past.”
The union acknowledges the current economic conditions and believes they are acting in good faith.
“It would be greedy especially in these hard economic times to be looking for big raises. We are not that naïve,” says Lockwood. “All we want is to protect our pensions and to make sure the benefits remain the same. That’s all.”
They also want representation in on any negotiations with the private sector, but the OLG says the union will have to trust them to negotiate a pension plan on their behalf, which is not acceptable to UNIFOR.
According to Lockwood, the Province has not been acting in good faith and is even lying to its members.
In a letter sent to some of their membership by OLG, it states that other unions have accepted this arrangement, but according to UNIFOR, last week, Point Edwards Casino voted 85.5% in favour of strike action.
“They are telling lies to our membership to try and demoralize us,” he says. “But as a union we are strong and we rely on each other.”
Since the last labour dispute at the Brantford Casino, the former UAW and other unions merged to become UNIFOR, Canada’s largest labour union.
Support has also been shown by the Steelworkers, Transit Workers Union, the Canadian Labour Council and others since setting up pickets outside the Brantford Casino.
NDP federal candidate Marc Laferriere has dropped in several times to offer his support. Daniel Takacs, the Liberal candidate came by to find out what the issues are, however, requests to open talks with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne have fallen on deaf ears.
“Conspicuous in his absence is Liberal MPP and Speaker of the House, Dave Levac, in his own constituency,” says Lockwood. “I believe that when we elect these people, they should be representing us first, not the party leaders.”
UNIFOR National president, Jerry Dias, is reported to have met with Premier Wynne to pressure the OLG back to the negotiation table and to negotiate this contract in good faith.
“All we are looking for is a fair deal.” says Lockwood.