Editorial: Court reporters treated unfairly

A rather strange case over how many pages court reporters should be able to type, whether their work producing transcripts falls under their collective agreement, and the benefits flowing from a determination on that issue is still dragging on despite a six-year-old ruling against the Ministry of the Attorney General’s treatment of those employees as independent contractors.

Last month, Grievance Settlement Board vice chairwoman Randi Abramsky ruled yet again in Ontario Public Service Employees Union v. Ontario (Ministry of the Attorney General). The ruling followed her 2006 decision that the work court reporters do in typing and certifying transcripts of court proceedings was bargaining unit work rather than additional freelance-type duties beyond their regular courtroom activities.

Under the ministry’s framework, court reporters got a per-page fee for transcription work often done outside of regular hours. The union, however, argued transcription work was a key function performed by court reporters that should be subject to the provisions of the collective agreement and the associated remuneration for things like overtime and holiday pay.

Despite the 2006 ruling, the parties have struggled to agree on how to implement it and, as such, the government has maintained the existing regime that essentially treats court reporters as employees for their regular courtroom duties and independent contractors for transcription work. As a result, they’ve been back before Abramsky repeatedly since 2010 in a bid to resolve the issue.

Some of the arguments on both sides have, quite frankly, been bizarre. The union, for example, asserted that in the case of Helen Haggith, the employee considered by Abramsky in her ruling last month, the government owed her up to $236,871 “for the period 2004 to 2009 due its failure to follow the collective agreement.”

As part of its case, the union contended that an inexperienced court reporter could produce as little as 1-1/2 pages per hour. The province put that figure at 6-1/2 pages an hour, while Abramsky eventually settled on a number very close to the government’s after considering the minutiae of a typical reporter’s typing speed.

It’s odd that both sides are having so much trouble resolving the issue. It’s inappropriate, for example, for the government to continue to treat transcription duties as the work of independent contractors when Abramsky so long ago convincingly ruled that those activities are integral to court reporters’ duties. While many employers try to save money by deeming people to be self-employed, this is clearly a situation where that shouldn’t be the case.

The union, on the other hand, has made some ridiculous arguments. For example, it asserted that the government shouldn’t deduct the fees Haggith received as an independent contractor over the years from the money owing to her as part of the damages flowing from the violation of the collective agreement. Such a double recovery that would enable her to receive as much as $237,000 beyond her current wages and transcript income is unconscionable.

Abramsky was right to reject that proposal in her recent ruling.

Both sides, then, appear to be dragging the case on. The government was wrong to treat its court reporters the way it has been. Both it and the union should be reasonable in coming to a resolution to settle the matter.

Glenn Kauth

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