First contract negotiations for 170 Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) inspectors, members of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 546, are going nowhere with union negotiators claiming the threat to public safety is growing.
The inspectors, first unionized in early 2021, provide technical safety inspection of numerous installations across the province including ongoing construction projects. An OPSEU list mentions oversight of refurbishment projects at nuclear power plants and newly installed piping systems or modifications, certification of pressure welders, inspection of elevators and escalators, and oversight of operations of steam power plants and refrigeration plants at such facilities as hospitals, universities, processing plants and large factories.
And they also perform inspections of amusement devices – a special concern to Torontonians with the annual Canadian National Exhibition set to kick off Aug. 19.
The safety inspectors have been on strike since July 21. The union’s lead bargainer Cory Knipe said the combination of management and third-party replacement inspections that the TSSA has instituted since then is insufficient to ensure public safety to the level that Ontarians expect.
“We do have some very serious concerns on public safety,” said Knipe.
Inspectors have extensive experience and often enter the profession in their 40s, Knipe said, and they continue to acquire knowledge of hazards as they work.
Management, meanwhile, “normally don’t do the inspections. Now all sudden they’ve all been yanked out of the office and they’re out there doing the work. Things will get missed. That’s what worries us big time.”
The TSSA did not immediately return a request for comment.
Ontario Power Generation spokesperson Neal Kelly denied there were any safety concerns at OPG’s major nuclear refurbishment sites in the absence of TSSA inspectors.
“The strike by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority has not impacted OPG’s ability to safely operate our facilities,” stated Kelly. “We have detailed contingency plans in place in order to keep the stations safely running. TSSA members are not OPG employees and we are hopeful of a swift resolution to this issue.”
Spokespersons for the TSSA and the CNE have similarly made statements that the CNE rides will be fully safe with inspections done by qualified inspectors.
The OPSEU safety inspectors have been in negotiations for a first contract with the TSSA since November 2021. An OPSEU statement said the inspectors “unionized to remedy a host of inequitable practices in our workplace – understaffing, high workloads, wages that are below industry standard and more.”
The union says it met with the TSSA 13 times before applying with the Ministry of Labour to strike.
“At every meeting with the TSSA, we came up against an employer who stonewalled the negotiation process and showed little to no respect for us as workers or for our union.”
OPSEU said the TSSA, which is an arm’s length agency regulated by the government, has not responded to repeated demands to return to the bargaining table.
Knipe said wage demands started with the request for a wage grid that reflects worker experience, and said the inspectors are adamant the wage package keep up with the cost of living.
“We are talking about the inflation part of it as well so that everybody can make a fair living and be able to afford things,” he said. “We hear all the news about the cost of homes, and our benefit package dates back to 1998.”
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