Fight tough and fight smart
Fight tough and fight smart was the theme of the OPS Presidents’ Meeting in Toronto on Feb. 4. OPS presidents, supported by Executive Board members and observers from various OPS locals, came together to strategize and plan for bargaining with the government later this year.
The meeting was chaired by Roxanne Barnes, chair of the Central Enforcement and Renewal Committee. The CERC and the Ministry committees (MERCs) have been enforcing the job security rights of members in the biggest wave of layoffs since the Mike Harris era.
OPSEU’s collective agreement with the province expires Dec. 31. Members will gather in their locals in the spring to establish and vote on demands for the next contract.
Thomas said the government’s handling of the Feb. 1 announcement of the closure of Ontario Place is a sign of things to come. The union received no warning, leaving 75 full-time employees, many of them only two to three years from retirement, reeling from the news that their jobs could soon disappear. 600 summer students are without work at a time when youth unemployment is at an all-time high.
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told the Presidents: “We’re in for one hell of fight and we’re ready for it.”
“The government violated fair and honest labour relations with this obviously political announcement,” said Thomas. “This is how we should expect to be treated everywhere.”
Thomas said the union has been preparing for the release of banker Don Drummond’s report on Feb. 15. The union has been working with the Public Services Foundation of Canada on an alternative study of public services. The Foundation is holding hearings and town hall forums across Ontario and will submit a final report in advance of the provincial budget in the spring.
Thomas said he is working closely with other private and public sector union leaders on a unified strategy to fight back against the cuts. He said the union continues to work with the Occupy movement which has changed the conversation about income inequality around the world.
“We’re going to fight smart and win,” said Thomas. “If we stick together and direct our fear and anger where it belongs – the government and big corporations – we can win.”
“We will use every resource necessary to fight the cuts,” said First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. He said the union has found savings in a number of areas, including replacing physical meetings with video conferencing where possible. He explained the union will seek a temporary dues levy at the union’s Convention in April in order to have the resources to vigorously defend members’ jobs and services. If passed, the levy will bring dues from 1.375 per cent to 1.5 per cent, effective May 1, 2012.
Dan Sidsworth, Corrections MERC Chair, explained his members are about to face some difficult times in one of the OPS’ toughest jobs. Currently, corrections members are facing criticism and disciplinary actions in cases where force is used on offenders, despite the fact that officers are not receiving updated training and many facilities lack proper guidelines and procedures. He also voiced his concerns about the upcoming Drummond report that could recommend cuts which would severely impact health and safety, or even the spectre of privatization, an experiment that was already tried and failed in Ontario.
CERC Chair Roxanne Barnes thanked the Presidents for their activism in response to the mass layoffs and service cuts.
“You have been filing grievances challenging those layoffs,” she said. “You have participated in 26 stewards’ assemblies across the province and many of you have presented at the hearings and town hall forums for the Commission on Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness.””
Barnes outlined the priorities for the months ahead: preparing to defend the contract at the bargaining table, preventing the gutting of public services and building the union presence in the workplace.
“We will need to be flexible and nimble on the ground to respond and resist the austerity agenda of the Ontario government,” Barnes said.
Following the speeches, there were detailed presentations from the CERC’s Chris Cormier and Ron Langer, MGS MERC Chair James Cushing, and staff on:
- the Public Services Foundation of Canada’s Commission on Public Services and Tax Fairness,
- the layoffs to date, including figures on redeployment, temporary assignments and displacements under Article 20,
- the attack on public sector pensions by right-wing business lobby groups,
- the politics of austerity including polling that shows the public does not back cuts to public services, and
- the privatization threat at ServiceOntario.
As well, the CERC outlined the bargaining timeline and gave a presentation on suggested bargaining demands. Members were urged to ask themselves:
- What changes to the collective agreement will protect public services for Ontarians?
- What are the greatest threats to my job?
- What are the demands that will prevent the employer from dividing and conquering us?
- What actions am I willing to take?
In the afternoon, OPS Presidents worked with staff reps and their Executive Board Members to discuss the resources needed to fight for services and jobs in their communities and workplaces.