Editorial: Let LAO lawyers unionize

With the holidays around the corner, Legal Aid Ontario could reward its staff lawyers for their hard work by giving them the gift of collective bargaining.

Last week, supporters of the LAO lawyers’ organizing committee held yet another rally in an effort to boost their campaign for recognition of their right to bargain collectively through the Society of Energy Professionals. The Labour Relations Act excludes lawyers, but employers can grant voluntary recognition of their bargaining rights.

LAO has declined to do so. In a letter in October, LAO chief executive officer Bob Ward suggested the lawyers are seeking a relationship no other group in the legal field has and reiterated the fact it has no obligation to recognize the union. Since then, the lawyers have stepped up their campaign with the Ontario Federation of Labour vowing its support at the rally last week.

While it has no legal obligation to do so, LAO should relent on what’s likely to be a losing battle. While it may be the exception for a trade union like the Society of Energy Professionals to represent lawyers, organizations like the Association of Law Officers of the Crown do bargain on behalf of counsel working for the Ontario government with provisions for arbitration. In Saskatchewan, CUPE Local 1949 represents legal aid lawyers. If LAO maintains that what it’s lawyers are seeking is different, it should outline the type of collective-bargaining arrangement it would accept.

LAO may fear increased costs if it allows for collective bargaining with its lawyers. It’s a legitimate fear given its limited resources, but fairness dictates that it allow for an arrangement for its lawyers to have the same rights as their counterparts working for other government bodies.

If LAO fears increased costs, it should be willing to enter into tough negotiations with whatever bargaining arrangement emerges. LAO might argue it can’t pay its lawyers as much as those who work in other areas of government but it should be making its case at the bargaining table with the consequences that flow from that position rather than denying its staff the basic rights enjoyed across the public sector.

For more, see "LAO staff lawyers' union bid rejected" and "LAO staff lawyers want recognition and respect."

Glenn Kauth

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