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Legal Aid lawyers’ campaign in high gear

August 18, 2016

The campaign for Legal Aid Ontario lawyers’ collective bargaining rights moved into high gear this summer. With seven events that upped the pressure on Premier Kathleen Wynne, The Society and Legal Aid Ontario lawyers who are fighting for the right to join The Society have generated media attention and social media buzz. They are pledging to continue this campaign for as long as it takes to win Legal Aid lawyers’ democratic right to form a union.

The renewed campaign efforts began with a hand-delivered letter from Society President Scott Travers to Wynne’s recently appointed attorney general, Yasir Naqvi. The letter outlined Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) lawyers’ more than three-year struggle for bargaining rights. It also warned Naqvi of the escalation in tactics his government would face, saying “until you exercise your new authority as Attorney General to resolve this matter justly, please be advised that our approach to this issue, after demonstrating extraordinary patience over three years, has had to change.”

The first event that took place following the letter was a picket of Liberal MPP Joe Dickson’s $1,400-per-plate fundraiser that featured Minister of Finance Charles Sousa and Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca. The picket informed attendees and passers-by of the inequities Legal Aid lawyers face: while other groups of public sector lawyers, who are mostly male, have been granted their bargaining rights, the mostly female group of Legal Aid lawyers continues to face opposition. The picket was so effective that Sousa went through a back ally to avoid facing the picket.

On July 13, Legal Aid lawyers filed a complaint with Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission, alleging that Legal Aid Ontario has not complied with its responsibilities under pay equity laws. That same day, The Society held a rally with dozens of supporters outside another high-priced Liberal fundraiser with the aid of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and the $15 and Fairness Campaign. OFL President Chris Buckley spoke in support of LAO lawyers, as did Society Executive Vice President Michelle Johnston, Legal Aid lawyer Dana Fisher, $15 and Fairness organizer Jared Ong and constitutional lawyer Steven Barrett.

More events followed. The Society did pickets of Kathleen Wynne’s midtown Toronto office and Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn’s Oakville office, and a rally outside the downtown Liberal cocktail fundraiser at the TIFF Bell Lightboxwith the support of OFL, OPSEU, CUPE, IATSE and $15 and Fairness.

The campaign’s recent activity has grown support for the Legal Aid Lawyers’ campaign, including from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and garnered new media coverage in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Inside Halton, Queen’s Park Briefing, Canadian Lawyer, and Law Times.

Society President Scott Travers believes this effort is important to The Society because it will allow the union to appeal to a broader range of professionals.

“Whether engineers, lawyers, accountants or any other profession, the key issues we face in the workplace are very similar,” said Travers. “The Society understands the balance professionals need to strike between their legal obligations as professionals, their responsibility to their employer and their commitment to improving their working lives through their union.”

Travers also noted that the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, to which The Society is affiliated, already represents lawyers and judges in the United States.

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