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March 30, 1998

DON'T DISPUTE THEIR SUCCESS

MEDIATION COMPANY DEALS WITH LABOR AND UNION GRIEVANCES

By LINDA A. FOX -- Toronto Sun
  Mediation is the key to harmony in the workplace, but sometimes it takes an outside party to bring both sides together.
 That's where Independent GSO Mediation Services enters the picture.
  The small business was formed by eight former 'grievance settlement officers' from the Ontario Ministry of Labor -- hence `GSO' in the company name.
 In 1996, the ministry downsized and, facing the proverbial pink slip, the civil servants decided to open their own private mediation company.
 "We had dozens of cumulative years of experience between the eight principals of GSO," says spokesman Wanda Sanginesi, 38. "Therefore, we felt there was a niche for us in the marketplace, and we were not wrong."
 Sanginesi's fellow principals in the business are Don Sheppard, Bill Davis, Michael Simon, Gerry McKerral, Susan Sapin, Greg Long and John Quinn. They range from people with experience in pay equity to a former director of a community legal clinic to another with four decades in labor relations.
 "We are lucky in that we all work independently of each other," says Sanginesi. "One of us might be working on a case in Timmins, while another is in Toronto or Kingston."
  CASH POOR
 As laid-off employees, none of the eight had a lot of ready cash to start a small business on a grand scale.
 "We approached the Toronto Business Development Centre about office space and we were able to locate our company in offices there," says Sanginesi. "That way we have someone to man the telephone lines when we are on the road."
 Sanginesi estimates that each partner threw in maybe $200 to get started -- mostly for business cards and a small amount of promotional material.
 "Apart from that we are in our cars a lot of the time on the way to mediate a dispute," she says. "The majority of our jobs are between union and management."
 Independent GSO Mediation has acted as the go-between for disputes in hospitals, daycare centres, nursing homes, retail outlets, the hospitality industry and all manner of private-sector companies.
 "Sometimes when we go in, neither side will even sit in the same room," says Sanginesi. "We have to take each person aside and negotiate separately and then try to find a common ground or meeting point. It isn't always easy."
 I-GSO recently handled one case in which one of its mediators dealt with 90 separate grievances against one company in only three days. The combined cost to the company and the union was only $1,800 -- whereas binding arbitration could have run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
 "We have worked with almost every major trade union in Ontario," says Sanginesi. And companies that are huge household names. Basically, by the time the sides come to us, they want to find solutions that work. People are usually very frustrated."
 Grievances range from salary disputes to work assignments, overtime and holiday problems, and wrongful dismissals.
 The mediation company also holds seminars on the things companies need to know about peaceful negotiations.
 "We offer information on general labor practices, dispute resolutions, relationship-building, labor-management committees, and a one-day session on making effective use of the grievance procedures," she says.
 I-GSO's training sessions are mostly under $1,000 for the day, and the going rate for mediating disputes is $600 a day.
 As in any small business, the owners hope to get a salary at some stage in the game.
 "We work it so that whoever is handling the dispute situation pays themselves from the daily fee," says Sangenisi. "Because our overhead is low, we don't need to put a great deal of money back into the day-to-day business operation."
 The group gets together for a board of directors meeting every few weeks to discuss cases and new business.
 "Among the eight of us, we have negotiated hundreds of collective agreements, resolved thousands of grievances, trained other staff, and written and rewritten policies," says Sanginesi. "It's a field we all are dedicated to and see it as a life long career choice."
 You can contact Independent GSO Mediation Services at 345-9467 or e-mail them at igso@idirect.com.
 

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