Legal Aid Ontario lawyers rally for bargaining rights

Female-dominated agency calls for an end to discrimination

Yesterday, lawyers with Legal Aid Ontario (a non-profit government agency that provides assistance to low-income clients) rallied outside Toronto’s Old City Hall alongside the Ontario Federation of Labour, demanding the provincial government recognize their collective bargaining rights – and put an end to the discrimination.

More than 200 Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) lawyers – the majority of whom are women – have been entrenched in a battle with their employer. About six months ago, 80 per cent of staff voted in favour to enter into collective bargaining, but Legal Aid turned down the request.

“I can’t understand how Premier (Kathleen) Wynne can allow Legal Aid Ontario, an agency that is accountable to the government, to discriminate against women-dominant groups of employees by denying them the same rights that male-dominant groups already enjoy,” said Sid Ryan, president of the labour federation. “The OFL believes that collective bargaining is a constitutional right and Legal Aid lawyers should not be denied a collective voice.”

That the majority of them are women only fuels the culture of discrimination, said Jillian Rogin, a Legal Aid lawyer and spokesperson.

“More than two-thirds of Legal Aid lawyers are women. They are the most racially diverse group of public sector lawyers in the province and they have been denied the right to collectively bargain,” Rogin said. “All other provincial government lawyers, such as those working for the ministry of the attorney general and those employed as crown attorneys, enjoy the right to collective bargaining. They are primarily male.”

Back in October, president and CEO of LAO, Bob Ward, wrote a letter to the president of the Society of Energy Professionals – the union LAO lawyers chose to represent them. In it, Ward rejected the union as the exclusive bargaining agent.

“LAO does not have any legal obligation to voluntarily recognize a trade union to represent employees to whom the (Ontario Labour Relations Act) does not apply, nor to enter into a bargaining relationship with a trade union entirely outside the established processes and structure of the OLRA,” Ward said in the letter. “No group of lawyers in Canada, to the best of our knowledge, is, or ever has been, represented by a trade union such as the Society of Energy Professionals in their employment relationship.”

Attorney General John Gerretsen has previously voiced his support for the Legal Aid lawyers, saying their right to collectively bargain should be recognized.

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