Welcome to OPSEU – the most effective union in Ontario for public sector and broader public sector workers.
Whether you’re new to OPSEU, new to unions, or a long- time member, I’m sure you’ll find useful information here.
Like any living organization, OPSEU has its own history, structure, vocabulary, and way of doing things. Like any effective organization, OPSEU also changes in response to changing times, changing technology, and changing workplaces.
Throughout our 100-year history, two things have remained constant:
- our desire to make our union stronger so, together, we can achieve more for you and your community
- our desire to shape our own destiny democratically
In OPSEU, you have the backing of a team of professional staff with expertise in many specialties. They have solid technical knowledge and the creativity required to bring innovative thinking to the challenges that face us.
Our history has proven that when we work together, we achieve great things. We do this in the workplace for our members, in our communities for the people we serve, and in the larger world, where the struggle for social justice is ongoing. With OPSEU, you are in the driver’s seat – you and the other members of our 150,000-strong family.
I hope this Owners’ Manual will help you find your way around your union, understand how it works, and what your place is in it. We want you to be able to get involved in OPSEU, doing things that reflect your interests and priorities.
We may be a large organization, but it’s the experience and imagination of individuals that produce the best results for everyone we represent.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Ontario Public Service Employees Union
OPSEU, the big picture
OPSEU has about 150,000 members across Ontario.
There are full- and part-time workers. They trace their ancestry to all corners of the globe – as diverse a group as you could imagine. They work for the Ontario government, for community colleges, for the LCBO, and for a wide range of community agencies in the broader public service.
You will find OPSEU members in hospitals, services for families and children, art galleries, ambulance services, school boards, municipal offices, mental health services, correctional services, and more. What they share is the power of working together.
- Working together, we can make the changes OPSEU members want.
- Working together, we can share experiences, expertise and a vision for a better future.
- Working together, we can deliver results in our workplaces, in our communities, and in the wider world.
OPSEU’s resources include:
- a head office in Toronto, with meeting spaces for member groups
- 20 fully staffed regional offices
- 27 membership centres, either standalone or connected to regional offices, with meeting space and equipment for the use of union locals
- a staff of about 350, including specialists in bargaining, grievance handling, pensions, benefits, health and safety, pay equity, human rights, communications, campaigns, education, research, organizing, and more
- a multimillion-dollar strike fund to support members, when required
- experience in mobilizing members to get what they need
- a strong voice at local labour councils and larger labour organizations
Who runs this operation?
OPSEU’s supreme governing body is its annual convention, held in the spring. As a member, you elect delegates to represent you at convention, based on the size of your local. Locals with up to 150 members have one delegate, while locals with more than 2,300 have nine.
The co-workers you elect to convention set union policy, approve the annual budget, and revise the constitution.
Every two years, local delegates also elect the members of the union’s Executive Board at regional meetings.
In election years, your convention delegates elect the union’s President and First Vice-President/Treasurer from among the elected board members. They also rank the Regional Vice-Presidents. Between conventions, the Executive Board runs the union.
But it begins with the locals. In OPSEU’s democratic framework, locals hold the keys to power. Other structures within the union bridge similar workplaces, share common experiences, and draw locals together within a geographic area. These links support locals and give them wider influence.
Who pays for all this?
Again, you do.
OPSEU members pay union dues of 1.375 per cent of their gross pay. Union dues are fully tax deductible, and newly organized members pay no dues until a first collective agreement is negotiated and ratified.
With annual revenues of more than $97 million, OPSEU has the strength and stability to support its members. Five per cent of dues go directly to the strike fund – a powerful resource to back up members in negotiations. All the rest goes to services for members and locals: experienced staff, member expenses, training, support for bargaining, defending contracts, and more.
The power of working together and pooling resources means your relatively small contribution creates a huge network of support.
OPSEU where you work – your local
The purpose of establishing locals of the union is to encourage participation of all members in their union.
– The OPSEU Constitution
Your OPSEU local is your primary link to the union. It represents you where you work, and you elect its leaders – your stewards, your local president and other officers, your delegates to convention, and so on. It’s your first step to getting involved.
Locals have the autonomy and resources to do what they think is important for their members. You have a vote on those decisions.
What can locals do?
- participate in negotiating collective agreements
- process grievances to enforce the collective agreement
- establish joint labour-management committees to resolve local or unit issues
- control their own money
- collaborate with other unions and community groups affiliate with local labour councils
- organize social or community activities publish newsletters or create websites elect delegates to the OPSEU convention
- send members for union education and training monitor workplace health and safety
- adopt bylaws
- help craft union policy
- promote human rights and equity
OPSEU has three kinds of locals:
- single-unit locals, where all members work for the same employer at the same location
- multi-unit locals, where all members work for the same employer but at different locations
- composite locals, where members work for more than one employer at one or more locations
How do locals work?
For starters, democratically.
Local elections normally take place at membership meetings, but in special cases, there may be polling stations.
The frontline voice of the union in the workplace is the shop steward. Your local (or your unit in a multi-unit or composite local) decides how many shop stewards it needs and how they should be distributed. You elect the steward for your work area. It takes a clear majority to win.
From among your shop stewards, you elect your local executive committee (LEC). So every member of the LEC has already been elected as a steward.
Your LEC must have a president and at least two other officers (vice-president, secretary, treasurer, secretary- treasurer, chief steward, etc.). In single-unit locals, all shop stewards are automatically on the LEC.
Each unit in a multi-unit or composite local elects one or more unit stewards from among their shop stewards to sit on the LEC, and the officers are elected from these unit stewards.
Locals can define their structure in local bylaws, which must conform to the union’s constitution. Article 29 of the constitution governs locals that do not have their own bylaws.
How are locals funded?
- Local funds come from your union dues. A portion of your dues comes back to your local.
- OPSEU locals get quarterly rebates from the union, depending on how many members have signed union cards. Each local gets a cheque in January, April, July, and October. Composite locals get a supplement to reflect their more complex structure.
- Rebate levels are revised annually.
- A typical OPSEU local with 250 members would receive nearly $15,000 annually in operating funds.
What do locals spend their money on?
In OPSEU, most member expenses are covered by the central union. This includes travel, accommodation, meals and lost wages for members attending convention, education courses, bargaining sessions, grievance hearings, and the many other meetings and events that the union organizes or participates in.
That leaves local funds for things like sending extra members as observers to convention, child care or refreshments at meetings, publishing newsletters, or other things the local decides. Locals can also make contributions to their community, such as by supporting
the local food bank or a kids’ soccer team. Some locals set up their own strike fund to augment strike pay from the central union. Others send fruit baskets to members in hospital. It’s up to the local to decide.
by workplace commonality – OPSEU’s “sectors” and “divisions”
Union action is united action. Unions gain their power by people working together – at the local level and provincewide. Sectors and divisions are essentially the same thing. By linking locals with similar employers, they unite members to take on issues they have in common.
In some sectors – like the Ontario Public Service – all members work for the same employer. The same is true for the Municipal Property Assessment Division and the Liquor Board Employees Division. The two Community College divisions (Academic and Support Staff) work for separate college employers but bargain centrally for common collective agreements. In other sectors and divisions, members work for different employers that provide the same or similar services. The Long-Term Care Sector, with about 30 different employers offering similar supportive health care, is a typical example.
How are they funded?
Division and sector budgets vary widely, depending on their activities. The OPSEU Executive Board and annual convention allocate funds from the union’s budget. Some groups also collect dues from their locals, paid from local funds. This money supplements central funding to send members to conferences, provide scholarships, make donations, and so on.
What do sectors and divisions do?
- Their main job is co-ordinating activities within the group. This may include:
- helping locals prepare for demand-setting and co- ordinating objectives
- deciding on common bargaining priorities organizing a provincewide action
- campaigning on a policy issue that affects members – such as rebuilding public services, stopping privatization, or fighting for greater equality
- developing an organizing policy to bring union rights to more workers in the sector
Their mandates are broad and varied, reflecting the different priorities of their members. They are governed by their own bylaws, which set out how they operate, how their leaders and committees are structured, and so on.
Common interests, uncommon power: OPSEU’s divisions and sectors
- Ontario Public Service
- Community Colleges (Academic)
- Community Colleges (Support)
- Developmental Services
- Boards of Education
- Children’s Aid Societies
- Community Agencies
- Long Term Care
- Universities Ontario
- Hospital Professionals
- Hospital Support
- Child Treatment Centres
- Municipal Property Assessment
- Community Health Care Professionals
- Mental Health
- Canadian Blood Services and Diagnostics
- Liquor Board Employees
Divisional councils create broader groupings
In two areas of OPSEU – health care and community services – several sectors and divisions are grouped to work as divisional councils.
The Health Care Divisional Council encompasses seven health care divisions: ambulance, community health care professionals, hospital support, hospital professionals, long-term care facilities, mental health, and Canadian Blood Services and Diagnostics.
The Community Services Divisional Council is the umbrella for members working in developmental services, Children’s Aid, child treatment, children and family services, child care, community agencies, and youth correctional centres. Their mandate is to work on issues that are broader than individual sectors, including:
- co-ordinating activities of member divisions
- developing policies that affect members across divisions
- monitoring trends and issues across divisions
- developing proposals for the OPSEU Executive Board
- communicating on a wider scale
In about a dozen centres, OPSEU locals representing a wide range of workplaces have come together in “area councils” to be a combined force at the municipal level.
By pooling resources from many locals – both money and active members – area councils allow the union to get involved in things like better transit policies, support for the arts, safer playgrounds, and support for other unions in difficult fights. Area councils often co-ordinate central union campaigns in their communities. The largest, in Greater Toronto, has 30 locals as members. There are also area councils in London, Niagara, the Hamilton area, Orillia, Kingston, Rideau-St. Lawrence, Ottawa, North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay.
OPSEU’s seven regions
A democratic structure and a resource for locals
OPSEU divides Ontario into regions for two reasons: to create a democratic framework for the union, and to bring resources closer to the locals. The first digit of a local number tells which region it is in: Local 123 is in Region 1 and Local 654 is in Region 6.
On the democratic side, the members of OPSEU’s Executive Board are elected in the regions. Every two years, each local sends delegates to a regional meeting, which elects three members to the board. One of the three is elected Regional Vice-President. In the same election years, convention delegates elect the union’s two top full-time officers – the President and First Vice-President/Treasurer – from among the 21 elected Executive Board Members (EBMs). The board meets regularly to direct union priorities, and some two dozen board subcommittees augment the board’s work. The officers – the two full-time officers and the seven Regional Vice-Presidents – meet between sessions of the full board.
EBMs give locals a direct link to the board, which is second only to convention in OPSEU decision-making.
Many other union activities take place regionally – including regular weekend educational sessions to train members in such things as running local finances, communications, monitoring health and safety, handling grievances, promoting human rights, and participating in campaigns.
The union’s provincewide campaigns are also rooted in the regional structure, drawing support from the EBMs and the locals. Past campaigns have advocated for better health and safety legislation; opposed privatization; supported collective bargaining; urged stronger public services; and raised many other issues of provincial concern.
Each region has a number of regional offices. Staff representatives, who work to support locals in bargaining, grievance handling, running their operations, and so on, work out of the regional offices. So do grievance officers, who specialize in taking cases to arbitration for final resolution.
In addition to the staffed regional offices, OPSEU has a network of membership centres, which provide office and meeting spaces for member use.
Other ways to get involved in your union
OPSEU’s locals, sectors, and regions are central to the union, but there are many other areas where members can play a major role.
OPSEU has long been a pioneer in fighting for equity for workers who face discrimination on the basis of gender, age, race, sexual orientation, disability, and other factors. Union members have successfully argued for ever-stronger efforts to represent, organize, and protect members of all groups – at work, within the union, and in our communities.
Four elected provincial equity committees – each with one member elected from each of the union’s seven regions – are mandated by the union’s constitution to advance equality. These are the Provincial Women’s Committee, the Provincial Human Rights Committee, the Provincial Francophone Committee, and the Provincial Young Workers Committee. A fifth constitutional committee, the Indigenous Circle, is composed of members selected from each region. Committee members are also regional advisers for OPSEU’s Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy and Personal Harassment Policy, answering questions and offering advice.
Their work is supplemented by members of three caucuses – the Disability Rights Caucus, the Workers of Colour Caucus, and the Rainbow Alliance arc-en-ciel, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, inter-sex, asexual, queer, questioning, and two-spirited members and their families.
OPSEU funds meetings and activities to support the work of these caucuses.
Staff in the union’s Equity Unit support the work of the committees and caucuses as they develop and promote policies and practices to enable full involvement for all in the life of our workplaces, our union, and our communities. Equity Unit staff also administer the harassment complaints process, advise on human rights cases, and help develop courses and conferences to promote all equity policies.
The union recognizes locals and members who have made a difference through human rights awards conferred at convention.
Health and safety
Legally mandated workplace health and safety committees offer members an opportunity to get involved in reducing the incidence of workplace injury and disease. This work makes changes in our workplaces to benefit present and future colleagues.
Again, OPSEU supports this work with health and safety expertise, and by training member representatives to effectively monitor workplace conditions.
OPSEU annually honours locals and members who have made outstanding contributions to health and safety.
OPSEU is not content to challenge injustice only in workplaces across Ontario. Members have taken up the challenge of working to enhance social justice on a much wider scale.
OPSEU’s Social Justice Fund sponsors solidarity exchanges and supports development projects in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
The Live and Let Live Fund gives money to organizations battling HIV/AIDS in Africa and Ontario.
Both funds are managed by a board that consists of OPSEU’s President (or designee), three EBMs, and one member from each of the Provincial Human Rights Committee, the Provincial Women’s Committee, and the Provincial Young Workers Committee.
Unique to OPSEU is a central union publication produced by and for members. inSolidarity is produced four times a year for union stewards and activists. It is written and designed by an elected five-member committee with support from an EBM and staff from the communications department. The committee also operates Informed Newsletters for OPSEU (INFO), which helps locals produce their own newsletters and websites.
INFO organizes regular training for local communicators to enhance their abilities to share the union’s stories effectively. Awards for local newsletters and websites are presented. If your local has a newsletter or website, its editor would welcome help. Do you enjoy writing, taking photographs, drawing cartoons? If your local doesn’t have a newsletter, this may be a great way to get active in your union.
OPSEU’s education program offers a wide range of courses to equip members with leadership skills and useful information. Many of the courses are relevant to all aspects of one’s life – in the workplace and well beyond it. They are offered on weekends and in one-hour “lunch and learn” sessions, as well as educational components in union conferences.
There are courses in things like running better meetings, public speaking, local newsletters, challenging harassment and bullying, climate change, and understanding pensions. These are skills that have broad application.
Others focus on workplace legislation – working with the Employment Standards Act, health and safety legislation, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and so on.
Other courses provide skills for specific union positions – the role of a local treasurer, steward, or president. New courses are constantly under development to reflect the changing needs of members in changing workplaces. Your regional board members can tell you what courses are being offered in your area, and when. All the costs of participating are covered by the union.
Over the years, OPSEU has initiated and participated in many campaigns to achieve many goals – stronger health and safety legislation, better labour legislation, fairer taxation policies, more resources for vulnerable citizens, enhanced support for bargaining goals, and so on.
Campaigns work at the community level – keeping a local hospital open or fighting a closure – as well as provincewide. OPSEU works with a wide range of allies in its campaigns – clients and users of services, municipal councillors, faith organizations, business organizations,
student, Indigenous, and environmental groups, as well as labour councils and other unions. Campaigns can involve petitions, meetings with MPPs, delegations to legislative committees, and rallies. A visit to the union’s website at www.opseu.org will direct you to current areas where union members are working together to achieve change. If some of these resonate with your priorities, it’s a good opportunity to join with other members in fighting for something you believe in.
OPSEU keeps a link to former active members through its Retired Members Division. Retirees are represented – one per region – on the floor of convention, where they have both voice and vote. They publish their own newsletter, Autumn View, and speak out on issues that affect retirees and other seniors, including health and tax policy issues.
Fly the union flag – literally and figuratively
OPSEU Enterprises sells union-made flags, as well as clothing, travel mugs, pins, pens, keychains, and similar items to let members show their pride in the organization.
The OPSEU website – www.opseu.org
Whenever you need information, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the OPSEU website is there. A computer and an Internet connection give you access to thousands of pages of content, tens of thousands of documents and photos, and a database of grievance records. There are archives of information going back to 2010.
There is information on current campaigns, OPSEU committees, health and safety, pensions and benefits, wage settlements, the consumer price index, discounts available to OPSEU members, job opportunities, and much more.
You’ll find the OPSEU constitution there, as well as recent publications, announcements of courses and conferences, news releases, contract settlements, and so on. While it can’t tell you who your steward is, it’s a huge resource, updated at least five days a week.
In times of turmoil – such as a provincewide strike – web updates can be seven days a week and even round the clock.
You can also subscribe to OPSEU This Week, an email summary published Fridays of everything new on the site, with links to the new articles.
OPSEU’s Head Office
The union’s two top officers work out of 100 Lesmill Road in Toronto, as do many of the union’s specialized staff. This is where you will find the team of health and safety officers,
negotiators, campaigns officers, communications specialists, equity unit staff, education staffers, and more, as well as the administrative and accounting staff required to keep the entire operation humming along smoothly.
OPSEU in the regions
Connect with us
From the Greater Toronto Area: 416-443-8888
Toll-free from anywhere in Ontario: 1-800-268-7376
Deaf: 416-443-9898 or (toll-free) 1-800-663-1070
These resources are available at www.opseu.org
- Power Tool: A Handbook for OPSEU Stewards
- Health and Safety: Resource Handbooks
- Member Education: Hands-On Education Activities and Tools Telling Our Stories: A complete guide to media relations inSolidarity: the newsletter for OPSEU stewards and activists Equitably Speaking: Human Rights and Equity News
- Autumn View: the newsletter of the OPSEU Retired Members Division
- OPSEU Constitution
Additional resources are available at www.joinopseu.org
- Owners’ Manual
- Union Basics
- Professionals Need Unions
- Hospital Professionals
- Ontario’s Union for Healthcare Workers
- Your Union Dues