Ontario is offering public servants a four-year contract extension with 7.5-per-cent raises, which, if ratified, would avoid possibly contentious bargaining before the next provincial election.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union workers would get 1.5 per cent on July 1, then one per cent on Jan. 1, 2019 and another one per cent every six months for the life of the deal. The approximately 35,500 workers and correctional staff represented by OPSEU are employed across the public sector, from administration and enforcement to social work, IT and laboratory staff.
The possible deal follows the Liberal government's successful offering to teachers and education workers of two-year extensions that came with four-per-cent raises and more than $275 million in additional funding.
OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas called the scope of the latest contract extension offer "unprecedented" and said he suspects it is related to the June 2018 election.
"I'm kind of shocked the government actually made us any kind of an offer," Thomas said. "It's no secret that my union and myself, my executive board, we're always in a battle with the government...We're at odds with them on a lot of fronts."
But, Thomas said, the offer contains a number of positive changes with no demands of concessions for members, and no matter the motivation he's looking for the best deal for the workers.
Premier Kathleen Wynne disputed that the offer was about the upcoming election.
"My position has always been, since I've been in elected politics, has been that good working relationships with our labour partners is good for the people of the province," she said.
For many years now, the government has only been able to offer public-sector workers small increases, as it worked to eliminate a multi-billion-dollar deficit, but the budget is now balanced.
"One of the reasons that we have been able to come to this position now where we are able to balance the budget, where we are able to make investments, is that we've worked very well with our labour partners," Wynne said.
The last deal saw OPSEU workers get no raises in 2015 or 2016, a 1.4-per-cent lump sum payment in 2016 and a 1.4 per-cent raise in 2017.
The contracts are currently set to expire Dec. 31. Members are set to vote on ratification June 20-22.
Government officials invited the union to a routine meeting to discuss bargaining and the extension offer was a surprise, OPSEU said.
The correctional bargaining unit is recommending its members reject the deal, in part because of how it came about.
"It started as a secretive offer," said corrections bargaining team chair Chris Jackel. "Then there was some closed-door negotiations with the bargaining team that really was not elected...It bypassed our entire bargaining process."
Being presented with an already complete offer means the bargaining team wouldn't get the chance to look at increases to benefits, vacation entitlements or time off, Jackel said.
"We want this current bargaining team...to be able to negotiate a fulsome contract from beginning to end and not have something just given to us," he said.
In the last contract, correctional officers got the same deal as other OPSEU workers, but an arbitrator ruled their salaries had fallen behind those of their federal counterparts and police officers and awarded them additional raises totalling 4.4 per cent this year.
The negotiated deal also removed correctional workers' right to strike, sending future disputes to binding interest arbitration, like police and firefighters.