If your cause is just, why hide?

Image of OLG picket at Rideau Carleton Raceway On December 15, 2015, the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Commission (OLG) locked out 124 workers at the Rideau Carleton Raceway Slots (RCRS) following the union's (PSAC) rejection of the OLG's December 14th contract offer. The offer, which sought to "freeze wages for the first two years of the new contract and ... remove existing pension language from the current collective agreement" was ultimately rejected by the workers at a vote which followed the lockout.

A strike is the refusal to work by employees acting with a common purpose: to compel an employer to agree to the terms and conditions of an employment contract. Conversely, a lockout is the restriction of work by the employer (generally available to the employees), the intention of which is to compel the workers to accept the terms and conditions of an employment contract. Regardless of whether the work disruption is a consequence of strike or lockout, a picket generally ensues; it's primary objective being to persuade individuals not to work for, or do business with, the employer.

This, in fact, is precisely what is currently happening at Rideau Carleton Raceway. Locked out OLG workers, exercising their legal right to picket, are actively stopping and delaying all vehicles entering the Rideau Carleton facility. Their objective, of course, is to dissuade patrons from going to the slots gaming facility. It is difficult to confirm what impact, if any, the picket is having on the overall revenue of Rideau Slots. In a lengthy telephone conversation, PSAC's media spokesperson, Elroy Fonseca, indicated the picket has brought about a decline in numbers and had a profound affect on the OLG's net revenue. In a similar conversation with Rui Brum, spokesperson for the OLG, it was asserted that the picket has had no significant effect on overall revenues. It would seem to me that one, or both of them, is disingenuous.

I can understand the rationale of the picket and the picketer's underlying desire to cause financial hardship to the OLG. Targeting patrons of the OLG, assuming they are influenced, could elicit that outcome. The problem, however, is that the picket also serves to inconvenience patrons of other businesses simply by virtue of being co-located at the same facility. Such is the case of Rideau Carleton Raceway, a harness racing establishment which has been in operation at the site since 1962. Rideau Slots are a rather recent addition, only coming to the location in 2000. As a regular patron of Rideau Carleton Raceway with absolutely no interest in Rideau Slots, it is quite annoying to have to endure these delays, a point I have expressed to those on the picket line, representatives of their union and the OLG. Since no one, outside of me, seems to really give a shit, it seemed a good reason to embark on this diatribe.

When we were stopped last month entering the facility, I specifically asked the woman who approached the car. "Why are you stopping vehicles and inconveniencing people who are going to the race track? Do you not recognize that by detaining people who might otherwise support your position that you are, in effect, just pissing them off?" Her response was that they were not able to distinguish who may be going to the track and who may be going to the slots. I might have agreed with her, were it not for the fact that it was 5:00 pm on a Sunday night, one of only two nights per week that the races actually run. Clearly, the point went right over her fucking head as she embarked on a verbal jihad about the serious injustice they were enduring and how it was my responsibility to take up their cause. Were I not so utterly frustrated by her total lack of logic, I might have laughed.

When she appeared to have finished her obviously rehearsed narrative, I reminded her that while a picket does extend certain rights to the disgruntled workers, that it does not provide them an unfettered right to unduly restrict people's freedom of movement. "My understanding is that you've got five minutes," I said pointing to my watch, "and you've already used up three or four of those." She indicated that they could detain us for "30 minutes" to which I responded "Fill your fucking boots". She was, of course, incorrect. Courts have regularly applied the reasonable standard or, conversely, no unreasonable delay standard. Moreover, picketers are not allowed to impede traffic by standing in pedestrian crossings AGAINST the light. In other words, they are required to obey traffic laws. Interestingly, Ottawa police don't seem to be enforcing this requirement giving picketers greater latitude than required or, in my view, deserved.

Image of KKK gathering During one such extended delay while attempting to go to the races last month, I decided the time had come to photograph the inconsiderate scoundrels; the same photo, incidently, featured above. Ironically, the picketers, who presumably feel their plight so just, are camera shy. The whole lot of them prefered to hide their faces from the scrutiny of the lens and turned away. I'm reminded of another group of upstanding gentlemen, they too believing their cause a just one, who also choose to hide their faces from the gaze of the public. The two mobs differ slightly, however, preferring leadership titles like Steward as opposed to Imperial Grand Wizard.

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Earlier this month, while dropping off some papers at the City of Ottawa on Laurier, I was approached by a smaller, more cordial contingent of locked-out PSAC members. They were, of course, attempting to garner support for their cause from members of the general public, urging them to contact their councillors and MPPs. I afforded them the respect I felt they deserved pointing out that they were complete morons if they could not intuit that anyone going to the Rideau Carleton facility between 17:00 and 18:30 on a Thursday or Sunday evening were, in all probability, going to the harness races. Moreover, I asserted that their deliberate actions to interfere with and inconvenience harness racing patrons was completely irrational and discussing the matter further was pointless since "any attempt to reason with someone who lacked the capacity to do so was like administering medicine to the dead." To emphasize my position, I suggested that "if they were looking for sympathy they could find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis" but that I certainly would make a few calls, including one to the folks at Rideau Carleton Raceway, suggesting that they seek an injunction to limit the intrusive nature of the picket. The presence of news cameras, in no way, detracted from my candor.

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Ironically, the Ottawa and District Labour Council tweeted shortly thereafter that an injunction had just been served on PSAC employees picketing Rideau Slots limiting the number of picketers at each entrance, limiting the number of vehicles being delayed to four with no individual vehicle being detained more than one minute. It would seem that the members are abiding by the terms of the court injunction as the last three or four times we've been there we have been held up for EXACTLY one minute. With the labour dispute now entering its sixth month, there's a noticeable decline in the l'esprit de corps on the picket line. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that many of the picketers are now sporting longer faces than most of the horses on the track. Admittedly, I have derived a small amount of satisfaction bearing witness to these inconsiderate clods, trudging along, their import relegated to the benign. Despite this, I am not totally without empathy to offer the troops some kind advice: "Wear lots of sunscreen and keep hydrated. It's going to be a long summer!"

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It is my understanding that the current injunction (which limits the picketer's actions) is temporary. As a consequence, by mid-June, harness racing fans may, once again, be subjected to the same inconsiderate and vitriolic delays they experienced earlier in the year. While I would hope the court would uphold the current restrictions and recognize that the venue has been a much safer place for all parties concerned since the injunction, I suspect PSAC will argue that the injunction serves to legitimize OLG delays and prolong the labour dispute. I suspect a more plausible reason for a prolonged labour dispute is that, for the most part, the facility seems to run just fine without the otherwise redundant staff.

Union officials will undoubtedly continue to assert that the picket is having a profound affect on OLG revenues. To counter the rhetoric, I feel compelled to offer at least one alternative explanation for any apparent downturn in OLG revenues. The payout for slot machines in the Province of Ontario is established through administrative law and set to an 85% minimum return. The operative word is, of course, minimum meaning payouts may be set higher. As a means of compensating Rideau Slot patrons for the inconvenience of the picket, could the OLG set the payouts on Rideau machines higher during the lockout? Like Edna always says... "If you don't hear a good rumour before noon, start one."

Submitted by "Big Banana" Bob Loblaw, 30 April 2016