Around 1,000 health care workers from Hamilton, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls descended upon Queen's Park Wednesday for a rally defending arbitration and free collective bargaining.
"Workers in Hamilton are really upset at this point," said Dave Murphy, president of CUPE 7800, the union representing health care workers in most Hamilton hospitals.
"To have the government override bargaining rights to pay off deficits they created doesn't seem fair."
Murphy called the protest "nice and peaceful," but added that it would have been good to see more support from other public sector unions that may be facing increased government scrutiny in the future.
Workers gathered in front of the Ministry of Finance at noon hoping to persuade Liberal leadership candidates not to pursue legislation similar to Bill 115 — passed Sept. 11 to impose a contract on elementary and secondary teachers across the province, as well as 50,000 support stafff — for other public sector workers.
"Regrettably, none of the candidates have said that if they become Premier they won't pursue changes to the arbitration system," said Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. "If rebranding is truly a goal for the Liberals, then stepping back from some of these ideas that have been disastrous for them would set them on a better course."
Health care workers had their right to strike replaced by arbitration in 1965 — a process Hurley says most workers have faith in.
"But now we're rallying because the government is trying to pass legislation that would impose terms on negotiations and not use arbitration," Hurley said.
He says the union is urging Liberal leadership candidates to focus on economic recovery and job creation rather than "public sector restraint policies."
Murphy says he's hoping the provincial government will listen to the outcry coming from public sector workers.
"The government seems to want to dictate. They don't want to listen," Murphy said. "But you can't just ram bills through."
"So let's work collaboratively, not unilaterally."