Lockout at OLG Woodbine ends

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Woodbine. Photo: Oliver Mallich/flickr

Regular service at the slot machines at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto will resume on Tuesday.

Slot machine workers have been locked out since July 14, after the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) couldn't agree to a new contract.

The union accepted the OLG's latest offer on Thursday.

The new contract, which expires on March 31, 2019, will see workers' pay increase and address their concerns about full-time jobs and scheduling.

The dispute was about more than pay and benefits, said Sharon DeSousa, the executive vice-president for PSAC in Ontario. Until the lockout began, the employer "didn't really understand that our members were tired of the precarious work," she said. Workers were "fed up" with the lack of a work-life balance.

Many of the more than 400 slot machine workers who work Ontario's largest gaming floor are part-time employees. Some have been working at Woodbine for decades, but had no prospect of receiving full-time positions.

This new contract creates 25 new full-time positions across the different departments at Woodbine. These positions will be advertised internally. Part-time workers can apply, and jobs will be given based on seniority, DeSousa said.

A committee will examine scheduling and propose new models. Employees will give input, instead of "the employer dictating (schedules) to them," said DeSousa. The employer has to accept the proposals, but this committee shows OLG is willing to be flexible, DeSousa said.

The union didn't receive everything it wanted, though. The wage increase it accepted is less than what it proposed. This begins with a retroactive increase of 1.75 per cent from April of last year, with another 1 per cent increase for this past April. Wages will increase by 1 per cent every six months until October 2018. The union wanted annual increases of 2 per cent beginning in April 2016. An arbitrator will decide this issue.

The OLG is in the middle of a years-long plan to have private operators take over its facilities across the province. Businesses have taken over at several casinos and racetracks, but Woodbine's new operator has not been named yet. Workers have been concerned about how this will impact their pensions and job security. This new contract includes language about job security, said DeSousa. The details of the new pensions will be worked out once a new operator takes over at the site.

The union had asked that workers receive a $3,500 lump sum to address concerns about pensions. They agreed to a $3,000 lump sum. An arbitrator will decide this, along with the amount of the wage increase.

DeSousa praised the support picketers received from other unions, politicians and customers at Woodbine. Woodbine customers, many of them seniors, walked the lines with them and brought workers coffee and water. But she said local Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Shafiq Qaadri "was nowhere to be seen." Qaadri had spoken to The Globe and Mail during the lockout, expressing his anticipation for the area becoming a "Vegas North."

When locked-out workers visited his office a few days later, they learned he had left for vacation the previous day. They received no response from his office during the remainder of the lockout, DeSousa said.

"You'd think he'd care what the working conditions would be," DeSousa said.

In a statement provided to rabble.ca, the OLG said it is pleased about the agreement, and is looking forward to the employees returning to work.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Oliver Mallich/flickr

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