More than 22,000 OPS members have met with their bargaining heads and OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas by phone and overwhelmingly voted to take action to back their bargaining teams.
“Employers will only give up as much as they have to give up to avoid a strike,” said Thomas. “What I’m hearing is a very high level of engagement and I think we’re going back to the bargaining table empowered to drive a better deal.”
Roxanne Barnes and Dan Sidsworth, bargaining team chairs for central/unified and corrections, emphasized the value of the direct communication they had with members during the November 28 and 29 Telephone Town Hall meetings.
“This is a great tool to take back to the bargaining table,” said Sidsworth. “We have never had the opportunity to speak directly to so many members at one time during bargaining.”
Callers asked questions and heard their co-workers’ questions and concerns. They drilled down to the core issues in bargaining for quality public services, safe and secure workplaces, and to prevent privatization. Over the two nights, there was a strong tide of concern about employer demands for cuts to benefits and short-term sick pay, capped termination pay, an end to surplus factor 80, and two-tier wages and termination pay.
“By using direct communications with the members and a great team of mobilizers out there working with the members,” said Barnes, “the bargaining teams are able to look across the table to the employer and say: ‘This is what our members are saying. And this is what they’re prepared to do to hold their ground.’ The members are there and with their help, we can make a difference.”
The Ontario government’s attack on public structures and public service workers is political, said Thomas. “And the solution is political.”
Members need to make their voices heard in social media and public forums, he said.
“If there’s one place where we do have influence, it’s in the political arena. They (employer and government) can be backed off and backed down.”