LAO staff lawyers’ union bid rejected
The Law Times has interviewed Steven Barrett about Legal Aid Ontario’s refusal to voluntarily recognize the union selected by its lawyer employees for collective bargaining.
The Law Times report notes that lawyers need voluntary recognition in order to collectively bargain. Lawyers employed by LAO had requested that it voluntary recognize the Society of Energy Professionals as their bargaining agent. The request was rejected on the basis that the Society was somehow different from the organizations that represent other Crown lawyers. The Law Times report continues:
Steven Barrett, counsel for the LAO staff lawyers, says Ward’s response “is not rooted in reality or common sense.”
There’s no difference between their desired union and the associations that represent other government lawyers, according to Barrett. “It’s frankly not a reason that would make any sense for anyone who has any understanding of labour relations. I think the real motive is made clear by Bob Ward’s statement that he wants to deal and bargain directly with individual lawyers.”
Eighty per cent of legal aid lawyers chose to join the Society of Energy Professionals, Barrett notes.
“For the employer to say, ‘No, we don’t want to bargain with your choice and we’re just going to bargain with you and set a committee’ would be illegal,” he continues. “It’s not really for the employer to decide who its employees choose to be represented by.”
Besides what Barrett calls “classic union busting,” the lawyers also allege there’s “an element of discrimination” in LAO’s refusal to grant voluntary recognition.
Two-thirds of LAO staff lawyers are women and the group includes other “vulnerable” lawyers from diverse racial backgrounds, they say.
“On the one hand, the more traditional associations are recognized to have collective bargaining rights, yet [to] the group of lawyers who are most vulnerable, Bob Ward is saying no,” says Barrett. “That’s blatantly discriminatory.”