The health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic were a major factor in a decision by OPSEU/SEFPO’s Executive Board to extend the terms of everyone democratically elected during the 2019 Regional Meetings.
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the decision was not made lightly.
“The democratic right of the members to decide will always be a cornerstone of what OPSEU/SEFPO is all about,” said Thomas. “However, the health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the question marks surrounding virtual voting were simply impossible to ignore.”
The Executive Board reached the decision to extend terms and to postpone Convention 2021 after a long and exhaustive debate at a virtual meeting on Monday, Dec. 7.
It means that all of OPSEU/SEFPO’s Executive Board Members and committees, along with the President and First Vice-President/Treasurer, will remain in their roles until the spring of 2022 when fully democratic and safe elections can be run.
In a move that follows other labour organizations, such as the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) which extended its leaders’ terms last year, OPSEU/SEFPO was forced to make the same unprecedented decision.
Thomas noted that as the second wave of COVID-19 continues to grow bigger and more dangerous, it would be simply irresponsible to expect members to gather in person this winter and spring for the Regionals and Convention, when board members and the President and First-Vice-President/Treasurer are normally elected.
“Imagine if COVID-19 were inadvertently spread during one or more of these meetings? Or even worse, if it was then carried by one or more of us back into our workplaces, sparking an outbreak, sickening or even killing people we are meant to care for,” said Thomas. “This would go against everything we have fought for since the pandemic rocked Ontario last March.”
First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida noted that staff have been working hard to explore the different ways in which we might be able to hold the meetings and the elections online.
“It’s become painfully clear that the available technology is not yet up to the job of hosting such large and important meetings, or holding elections for such important and consequential positions,” said Almeida.
“There is still too much room for error, too high a chance for miscues and problems that could interfere with some of our members’ democratic rights.”
Almeida pointed out the practical difficulties of ensuring a fair process when some members don’t have the same access to reliable technology as others. He also noted that some employers may even refuse to allow members time off to participate because they are working essential jobs on the front lines.
The Executive Board concluded that the most fair and responsible choice – the only choice – was to extend the current terms, said Thomas.
“There is no doubt your current EBMs and Executive leaders were elected in a fair and transparent manner,” said Thomas. “It would be irresponsible, and potentially damaging to our union and our democracy, to hold elections for a new leadership team that could be marred by technical glitches, or unfair and unforeseen barriers.”
Thomas says that leaders elected under a cloud of doubt cannot lead effectively and he added that during a crisis like COVID-19, effective leadership has never been more important.
“We and the entire Executive Board took this decision very seriously. And we all sincerely look forward to the day when the dangers of the pandemic have been mitigated by a vaccine and we can all gather again safely to continue building our solidarity and our democracy.”