The century is turning 20 – time to grow up

Smokey Thomas working at his desk

If a century is like a person, we’re on the cusp of adulthood – just about to turn 20.

It hasn’t always been easy. Our infancy was scarred by 9/11. Our middle-school years were tarnished by fall-out from the so-called financial crisis. And in our teens, we’ve had to confront the troubling pressures of a rising tide of right-wing fascism.

But finally, it’s time to grow up. It’s time to stand on our own two feet and begin making our way in the world as a grown-up.

The question is: what will we make of ourselves?

Coaches and guidance counsellors say the key to success starts with imagining what you want.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about some of the headlines I’d like to see in 2020 and beyond. Headlines like:

  • Poverty rates drop to record lows
  • For first time in decades, hospital wait times begin to fall
  • Economy booms as personal debt shrinks and consumer confidence hits all-time high
  • High school graduation rates skyrocket
  • Homelessness ‘all but eradicated’ as housing crisis fades
  • Life expectancy rises across Ontario
  • Ontario’s last food bank closes: need has dried up
  • After years of crisis, Ontario’s correctional system now a model for the world
  • From carbon to clean: Ontario achieves carbon neutrality
  • Ontario on a roll: strong investment in public services pays huge dividends

How good would it feel to wake up one morning and read any one of those headlines?

They’re not out of reach – not a single one of them. As I’ve been saying for years, Ontario is richer than it’s ever been. We have more than enough money to build a better world for all – we just have to do it. And the first step is believing we can do it.

I know that it’s been a rough road, especially over the past couple of years of Ford’s chaotic government.

But there are plenty of reasons for hope.

Working together with everyday Ontarians, we’ve helped push Ford back on a number of his heartless cuts. Autism services. Public health. Social assistance. And as we speak, OPSEU’s school board members are among the many educational workers fighting hard to protect students from huge class sizes and violence in the classroom.

And as a union, OPSEU has never been bigger or more powerful.

Over the past year, we’ve welcomed thousands of new members from a range of workplaces, including health care, legal aid, and development services. We also welcomed 4,000 school board workers in the Educational Resource Facilitators of Peel as affiliate members – they were drawn to us by our strength, size, and resources. All told, our membership now tops 165,000.

We’ve also had a number of big wins over the past year.

In April, we celebrated a milestone moment in our years-long battle to ensure decent retirement for all when workers in the non-profit sector began joining the new defined-benefit pension plan that we helped create: OPTrust Select.

Throughout the year, many of our members bargained or were awarded solid new contracts. Our corrections bargaining team also managed to make gains through arbitration on monetary demands without making any concessions. We also struck a deal to ensure better job security for all of our members in the OPS. Speaking of corrections, we also won a small but important victory in the Crisis in Corrections with the government’s commitment to add specialized teams that can disrupt illegal activities in two facilities.

It all adds up to a strong union getting stronger.

And when you have a strong union, you can accomplish anything.

So as we get set to enter our 20th year in the 21st century, I’d like to encourage you to think about what you’d like to accomplish with the services you provide. Together, we’ll make it happen.

For now, I’d like to wish you and your family salutations for the holidays and all the best in the New Year.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU President

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