CNE assures public safety while inspectors on strike cite concerns

Safety inspectors are on strike as the CNE is set to return on Friday after a two-year hiatus, and the union says it's worried about public safety during the 18-day fair.

Safety inspectors concerned for quality of inspections but CNE says there is no risk

OPSEU union members picketing outside CNE grounds on Sunday for a better collective agreement said they were also concerned about safety for the rides and equipment. (CBC)

Safety inspectors are on strike as the CNE is set to return on Friday after a two-year hiatus, and the union says it's worried about public safety during the 18-day fair.

Members of the Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU) picketed outside the CNE grounds on Sunday, asking that the Technical Standards and Safety Authority return to contract negotiations. They're also worried that rides and equipment may not be properly inspected as a result of the strike.

In total, 170 safety inspectors employed by TSSA walked off the job on July 21, they've been negotiation since November 2021, a bargaining committee member said.

Cory Knipe told CBC News that the union demands included addresing wage inequality, substandard pay, and micromanagement. Knipe says the lack of extra oversight from safety inspectors during the strike means there might be a risk on the safety level of some equipment.

"All I can say is that we really do hope that nothing goes wrong," he said.

Knipe says the union contacted the TSSA "multiple times" and that "they just do not want to come back to the table."

Cory Knipe, one of the bargaining committee members, says he wants TSSA to return to negotiations. (CBC)

'No safety concerns'

TSSA has responded to safety concerns by saying it's brought managers and consultants to facilitate safety inspections and there is no public safety risk as a result of its rigorous inspection process. The CNE Association agrees.

"There are no safety concerns as far as we're concerned," said Darrell Brown, CEO of the CNE Association.

"We have a significant safety protocol, it's been in place for years," he said. "We have our own team to make sure things are up to scratch always."

Brown assured that food trucks, propane tanks, and other equipment will be properly installed, with permits checked and certified. TSSA personnel is also expected to review and ensure equipment throughout the 18-day period.

"We've love to see the safety inspectors back, but that hasn't affected what we do," he said.

Darrell Brown, CEO of the CNE Association, says despite the safety inspector strike, there is no safety risk from rides or equipment. (CBC)

Inspectors want 'fair deal'

Stephanie Coyne, one of the safety inspectors on strike, said the workers just want a fair deal. She's been working at TSSA for 18 years.

"It doesn't look good and it's only getting worse," she said.

Wage compensation, vacation time, and a better work-life balance were some of her requests. She also doesn't think the TSSA's safety plans for the CNE's return are sufficient.

"We used to have 10 to 12 inspectors coming in the first week before opening, and now we're down to a couple of supervisors, maybe three or four doing our work," she said. 

But TSSA spokesperson Alexandra Campbell assures members of the public that all rides and equipment will have had inspections by "highly qualified employees" including non-union employees.

"There's a lot of layers of safety," she said.

She mentioned licensing, engineering reviews, permits, daily safety checks, as all part of the "strict" inspection process.

"People coming to the Ex should feel really confident that every safety inspection has been done," Campbell said.

Responding to the union bargaining committee, she said TSSA has been "bargaining in good faith all along" and it tabled a complete offer with terms for a collective agreement including health, dental, pension, benefits, and salary increases under a multi-year agreement.

"They did not respond to that offer, their response was silence and to walk out on a strike," Campbell said.

In a statement, OPSEU president JP Hornick said workers want improved accountability for safety standards, wages and benefits matching industry standards, and help with understaffing, retention and recruitment.

With files from Sara Jabakhanji and Mirna Djukic