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Minister Naqvi: give Legal Aid lawyers their rights

June 23, 2016

The Hon. Yasir Naqvi was appointed as Attorney General on Monday, June 13, and on Thursday, June 16, the President of The Society of United Professionals, Scott Travers, hand delivered the following letter reminding the Minister of the issue of the denial of our voluntary recognition and asking him to take swift action to rectify the situation.

June 16, 2016

To Hon Yasir Naqvi
Attorney General of Ontario

On behalf of the Society of United Professionals, I would like to extend congratulations on your recent appointment as Attorney General of Ontario.

It is, however, with equal measures of regret, frustration and impatience that I must address in this letter of congratulations your government’s response over three years to the campaign of Ontario’s Legal Aid lawyers for the right to representation in their workplace.

For over three years, The Society has been working with the 250 lawyers who work for Legal Aid Ontario, seeking a voluntary recognition agreement that would allow them to bargain collectively with their employer. A clear majority of these lawyers selected The Society as their bargaining agent, and they have unfailingly continued to support this course of action despite encountering demoralizing opposition from their employer and their government. As you likely recall, you met with several of these lawyers in March of 2014 and expressed sympathy for both their efforts to secure collective bargaining rights and the persistent legal predicament they have been forced into.

The government, including your predecessor, has refused to take steps sufficient to ensure that Legal Aid Ontario agrees to bargain with The Society on behalf of these lawyers for 37 months, despite the fact that the Government has previously recognized crown prosecutors within your ministry and lawyers working in other ministries across the Ontario government. Over that time period, Legal Aid Ontario, your predecessors and the Premier have refused to even engage The Society in a conversation about the concerns and issues that animate the efforts of their lawyers to seek representation.

Instead, your government and Legal Aid Ontario have spent and plan to continue spending hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting to deny democratic rights to their own employees while access to justice is denied to low-income Ontarians because of the inadequate funding of Legal Aid.

Instead, your government has clung to Harris-era amendments to the Ontario Labour Relations Act while publicly committing to a modernization of the Act through the Changing Workplaces Review process.

Instead, your government continues to bargain with other public sector lawyers through voluntary recognition agreements while forcing Legal Aid Ontario lawyers, a group that is comparatively female-dominated and more racially diverse, through a costly and lengthy Charter challenge so they can secure the same consideration as their peers.

To any observer, the message your government is sending in this approach is that it prioritizes inequity and denial of Charter freedoms in budgetary and legislative matters.

Further, inspired by the campaign and commitment of LAO lawyers, LAO’s articling students have sought and filed for representation by The Society. Instead of respecting the wishes of the articling students, LAO has filed a series of costly, frivolous and obstructionist charges at the Labour Board to frustrate those wishes. Your government has, to date, tolerated if not condoned this retrograde approach to labour relations at LAO.

Legal Aid Ontario is a government agency accountable to the Attorney General. As the signer of the memorandum of agreement between the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Aid Ontario, as an appointer of the board members of Legal Aid Ontario and as the primary funder of Legal Aid Ontario, this government and the Attorney General have the ability to rectify the situation and have the lawyers’ voluntary recognition of their proposed union granted.

It is our hope that your appointment as Attorney General brings with it your swift and decisive action of choosing the fair and equitable path that will also save hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money – the immediate granting of voluntary recognition of the Legal Aid Ontario lawyers with their chosen bargaining agent.

I would be pleased to talk to you at any time, but 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.

Scott Travers
President, Society of United Professionals

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