The Ontario Public Service Employees Union is taking the province to court over its failure to abide by a ruling involving court reporters as the government gets set to create a new body that would oversee their work as independent contractors.
The new process will create a division between salaried court reporters overseeing the recording of trials and independent contractors performing the resulting transcription work.
The move, according to OPSEU, flies in the face of a recent Grievance Settlement Board decision. In response, the union, which represents 650 court reporters, has filed an application with the Superior Court asking to have the Ministry of the Attorney General found in contempt.
Under the new scheme, court reporters working for the government will oversee in-court digital recordings of the proceedings. Contracted court transcriptionists on a panel list overseen by an independent body will then take over. Some court reporters are happy with the new arrangement.
“I am relieved to finally be getting some answers after seven years of not knowing that for sure,” says Tricia Rudy, who has been working for the ministry as a court reporter in Newmarket, Ont., since 2006.
“I’m thrilled that the ministry recognises that the reporter of record is and always has been in the best position to produce an accurate transcript and will still be offering us the option to continue working as ministry employees and to also be grandparented onto the approved list for independent transcription.”
The position has been something of a hybrid. While in court documenting proceedings, Rudy works as an employee. But as a transcriber of those proceedings, she’s an independent businesswoman with an incorporated business that keeps her very busy.
Next January, contractors regulated by an independent administrative body will produce all certified transcripts for Ontario’s criminal, civil, and family court systems. The change will take the work outside of the OPSEU bargaining unit.
The government will create the independent body to administer transcript production and maintain a publicly accessible list of court transcriptionists.
“The ministry researched the court reporting and transcript production models in place in other jurisdictions across Canada and the United States, the technology currently available, and the unique needs of a jurisdiction as large and complex as Ontario,” said Ministry of the Attorney General spokesman Jason Gennaro.
“The proposed framework is consistent with the proven approach in most other provinces and many international jurisdictions.”
“It’s going to be the same basic product and service. It’s going to be done in a different way,” says Joanne Hardie, president of the Court Reporters’ Association of Ontario.
“If the integrity of the record is to continue to be preserved at the highest possible standard for the people of this province to be properly served, and for the profession of court reporting to remain the same, those fundamental goals will only be successful if we accept the change.”
The province offered existing court reporters the option of taking the in-court record and not producing the transcripts; doing the in-court work and performing transcription duties as independent contractors; or becoming completely independent and just doing the transcript work.
The changes resulted from a plan developed after a grievance launched by OPSEU against the provincial government’s treatment of court reporters before the Grievance Settlement Board.
In its latest appearance before the board, OPSEU accused the province of being in violation of the collective agreement by not applying it to court reporters who prepare and certify transcripts. The union sought and got a cease-and-desist order aimed at applying the terms and conditions of the collective agreement.
The issue of the scope of the work covered by the bargaining unit has long been in dispute. The board had earlier found that the duties court reporters perform in typing and certifying transcripts of court proceedings was bargaining-unit work rather than additional freelance-type duties beyond their regular courtroom activities.
The issue has lingered because the parties have struggled over how to implement a decision in the matter that already dates back several years.
But in a March decision, board vice chairman Nimal Dissanayake ordered the province to apply the collective agreement to all of the work the court reporters do.
“The employer shall forthwith cease its violation of the collective agreement by failing to apply the collective agreement to court reporters, who the board has declared to be employees performing bargaining unit work when producing transcripts,” wrote Dissanayake in Ontario Public Service Employees Union v. Ontario (Attorney General) on March 1.
OPSEU says the province’s current plans to privatize the transcription work circumvent the collective agreement. “That flies in the face of the arbitrator’s ruling,” says Jim Jurens, OPSEU chairman for the Ministry of the Attorney General employee relations committee.
“It totally divorces the taking of the record from the producing of the record. Members of the legal community should be very concerned.”
Jurens says that by dividing transcript creation from the recording of the proceedings, there will be a loss of continuity that could affect the quality of the end product.
OPSEU is now asking the Superior Court to find the province in contempt of court with an expected hearing on March 17, 2014. In the interim, both parties are to return to the Grievance Settlement Board in October to follow through with its recent decision. There are also three outstanding individual grievances involving court reporters.
For more, see "Court reporters treated unfairly" and "Ontario looking to contract our transcription work."