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Hundreds of Art Gallery of Ontario workers on strike after rejecting contract offer

TORONTO — More than 400 Art Gallery of Ontario employees are on strike, after union members voted to reject the museum's latest contract offer.
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More than 400 Art Gallery of Ontario employees are on strike, after union members voted to reject the museum's latest contract offer. A visitor checks out an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — More than 400 Art Gallery of Ontario employees are on strike, after union members voted to reject the museum's latest contract offer.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union said in a statement that the offer failed to address key issues such as wage increases, protections for part-time workers and contracting out positions.

The AGO's website said the institution was closed Tuesday due to the labour disruption and that management remains hopeful it will reach a negotiated agreement with OPSEU "soon."

Striking employees are members of OPSEU Local 535 and they include assistant curators, archivists, food and hospitality staff, researchers, instructors, carpenters, electricians and visitor services staff, among others.

The union accused the AGO of "shortchanging long-term, loyal staff with an offer that does not reflect contemporary wages" after 10 months of bargaining.

"We need a deal that helps us stay afloat in a cost-of-living crisis in the most expensive city in Canada – and the AGO’s latest offer falls short of that," OPSEU local president Paul Ayers said in Tuesday's release.

The union has previously said that part-time employees make up more than 60 per cent of the AGO's workforce, and they earn an average of $34,380 per year.

"Meanwhile, most top executives make north of $200,000 annually," OPSEU said in a statement issued earlier this month.

Ayers said on Tuesday that public service employees "were hit right in the paycheque" during the COVID-19 pandemic and three years of wage restraint imposed by the now-repealed Bill 124, which had capped salary increases for broader public sector workers at one per cent a year.

“Being a ‘world class’ institution, as the AGO claims to be, starts with being a decent employer,” Ayers said.

“Last time we checked, part-time workers still pay full-time rent. We need a deal that makes it possible to earn a living and secure your future while working at the AGO.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.

The Canadian Press