The bright sun on Saturday morning reflected the buoyant mood of college full-time support delegates, alternates and observers as they gathered, in person and virtually, at the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto on April 30 to set their demands for the 2022 round of bargaining.
Also attending were a number of Executive Board Members, which included Veronica Attard from Region 4 and also a member of the division.
If there was a heightened sense of excitement, it was partly due to many of CAAT-S members’ not having experienced bargaining: The last time they were at the bargaining table was 2014. In 2017, support staff ratified a four-year extension of their collective agreement expiring August 31, 2022.
The President addresses the assembly
OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick and OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Laurie Nancekivell set the tone for the two-day meeting. The newly elected President delivered a rousing message that hit all the right notes with members who share so much with Hornick, a college faculty member.
She underscored the unique relationship enjoyed by the union and college support, the first non-OPS members to join the union. She reflected on her on own long experience with support staff, calling them indispensable parts of the college ecosystem and assuring them they would enjoy every possible support from the union during bargaining.
As faculty bargaining team chair, Hornick is uniquely positioned to offer glimpses into the College Employer Council (CEC). She expressed what members knew: The employer consistently tries to divide and conquer the three college divisions. She pledged her full support to building bridges and having the hard conversations to help heal divisions.
Hornick denounced Doug Ford’s record of damage and called for the election of a government on June 2 that would repeal the wage-capping Bill 124 and legislate for the working people of Ontario – not CEOs.
FVPT draws attention to two saved academic years
First Vice-President/Treasurer Laurie Nancekivell expressed how good it was to be among people again – and how honoured she felt to address college support members – the “worker bees” who give so much of themselves to support college students.
To great applause, she underscored their sacrificial efforts to save two academic years. She also called on the CEC to “stop hiding” behind Bill 124 and pay workers proportionately to what they contribute.
Nancekivell said it was high time college employers stowed their notoriously elitist style of management in favour of an appreciation for the experience and expertise that make support workers the most qualified to make decisions that foster student success.
Outgoing DivEx chair reflects
Janice Hagan used her last occasion as DivEx chair to speak passionately about the last five years – the challenges, but also the achievements, especially the organizing of part-time support workers. She took great pride in the progressive nature of CAAT-S, notably in the area of equity, where members were pioneers in fighting anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
She underscored the absolute need to strengthen unity among college members and the value of having a group of leaders making decisions, rather than just one.
Hagan emphasized the importance of wins made, in addition to overcoming present challenges and fighting for a better future, reminding members they were achieved on the backs of countless college support members since 1969. She singled out a commitment to centring equity, as well as the leadership CAAT-S have provided to their workplaces and to OPSEU/SEFPO as a whole.
As she took her leave, she said that after 115 semesters at the college and 100 in OPSEU/SEFPO, she was honoured to have been chair – and honoured now to step back.
Bargaining team chair sets out his vision
Bargaining Team Chair Rasho Donchev noted he had been involved with every bargaining team since 2007 – but had never experienced the “amazing dynamic” of this round’s team. He underscored their leadership qualities and diverse points of view – and their determination to move forward as one.
Donchev was also insistent on solidarity as the key to success, both within the division, but also among the three college divisions, since division was the employer’s most effective anti-union tool. He pointed out that even Amazon and Starbucks workers had leveraged unwavering solidarity to do the unthinkable: organize in the face of two of the most ferociously anti-union employers in the US.
He pointed out the obvious, but something even workers too often don’t grasp: Without workers, business can’t operate. True and ultimate power lies with the workers, not CEOs. Contract negotiations are the ideal moment for workers to flex their muscle, and the team was going to take full advantage, not to push extravagant demands, but to have members treated fairly and justly.
Following speeches, bargaining team members took turns presenting slide deck information dealing with the demands submitted and the bargaining environment. What were members seeking most? What have they achieved in the last 20 years, relative to other sectors like the OPS and hospitals? What are the wage caps imposed by Bill 124?
Delegates choose their representatives
The rest of the day was given over to the election of members and alternates to a number of committees, including:
Joint Insurance Committee
Dan Brisson, 672, chair
Xiaoyan Wang, 561, vice-chair
Michelle Dupuis, 137
Owen Smith, 731
CAAT Pension Plan representatives
Rasho Donchev, 559, trustee
Virginia Di Monte, 561, trustee
Veneise Samuels, 557, sponsor
Grievance Scheduling Committee
Veronica Attard, 416, chair
Shelly Gartshore, 124, vice-chair
Odessa Austin, 559
Join Classification Committee
Bob Holder, 243, chair
Christine Kelsey, 416, vice-chair
Naz Binck, 137
Ciaran Megahey, 557
Divisional Executive Board (DivEx)
Christine Kelsey, 416, chair
Megan Carter, 557, vice-chair
Rasho Donchev, 559
Dan Brisson, 672
Michael Mckeown, 353
Region 1: Carla Tillapaugh, 124
Regions 2 and 3: Eric Lacroix, 471
Region 5: Colette Cameron, 559
Regions 6 and 7: Lynn Ainslie, 656
Delegates build a demand set
For ease of organization, the team condensed some 600 demand submissions into 46 recommendations grouped into 13 categories. Each category was debated and voted upon:
- health and safety
- job postings
- job security
- layoff and recall
- leaves of absence
- other (new)
- union matters
- working conditions
Megan Carter deconstructs racism
One of the highlights of the conference was a presentation from new DivEx Vice-Chair Megan Carter. After playing a video of collated clips from some 15 professional development videos Local 557 had created, Carter called on racialized delegates to relate their experience with racism and the barriers they had encountered.
A number of delegates courageously witnessed to some appalling encounters with racism in their workplaces and in job competitions – even though CAAT-S is one of the most diverse and most progressive of the union’s divisions. Delegates were quick to express their solidarity, and the prevailing mood was that this outrageous injustice could not, and must not, continue.
Celebrating May Day – the OPSEU/SEFPO way
Sunday’s lunch hour was extended to allow delegates to participate in May Day events, including a demonstration at Nathan Phillips Square across from the Sheraton.
Amidst a miserable drizzle and frigid temperatures, a number of courageous registrants and staff took the opportunity to hear labour leaders from across Toronto, including President Hornick speak passionately about the importance of International Workers’ Day – and the reasons we must urgently replace the Ford government this election.
The meeting wraps
Delegates sensed a renewed sense of solidarity that extended to their bargaining team. Notwithstanding the shadow cast by Bill 124, the conviction and talent of team members created an infectious feeling of optimism. Members left the conference knowing their next collective agreement was in highly competent hands.
May 9-13: The team prepares bargaining proposals:
- Chair: Rasho Donchev, Local 559
- Vice-Chair: Christine Kelsey, Local 416
- Daniel Brisson, Local 672
- Shelley Gartshore, Local 124
- Robert Holder, Local 243
- Michael McKeown, Local 353
- Veneise Samuels, Local 557
June 2 – The teams submits its notice to bargain.
Scheduled bargaining dates:
- June 13-16
- July 18-22
- August 8-12
- August 22-September 2
August 31: The collective agreement expires.