On January 30, 2018, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union received the decision from the Ontario Labour Relations Board that part-time college support workers are now certified as a bargaining unit with full rights and entitlements. I am sure that many of you have questions, and we hope this will help answer some of them.
What is OPSEU?
OPSEU is the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. Prior to this certification, OPSEU represented approximately 130,000 public sector workers across Ontario. They are full- and part-time workers, men and women, young and old. They trace their ancestry to all parts of the globe – as diverse a group as you could imagine.
Our members work for the Ontario government, inside community colleges, for the LCBO, in the health care sector, and they are employed in a wide range of community agencies inside the broader public service.
Why weren’t we unionized a long time ago?
The Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) prohibited part time college workers from joining a union. In 2008, OPSEU was successful, after much lobbying, in getting the government to change the law. Since 2008, we have been working to organize both part-time support workers and part-time faculty. The Colleges and the Council, the agency who represents them, have fought vigorously to keep you from having representation. Part-time workers finally had the chance to vote, once again, in June 2016, to join OPSEU. The ballot boxes had been sealed all of that time because the Council and the Colleges had been making legal arguments to stall the process. Finally, those boxes have been opened and part-time workers’ voices have been heard. You now have representation through OPSEU.
What happens next?
Shortly, you will have the opportunity to tell us what you want in your collective agreement. We are putting together an online bargaining survey and we will let you know when you can participate. We want to hear from you. It will take some time to get a collective agreement in place, so please be patient.
Will we have the same collective agreement as the full-time support staff?
The CCBA says that you must have your own first collective agreement. Together we will work to make that happen. The CCBA also says that after you have your first collective agreement, the full‑time and part-time support staff collective agreements can become one, if the parties agree.
Even though you may not have the same collective agreement as the full-time support staff, their local unions are welcoming you with open arms. Every organized unit in OPSEU belongs to a local. Our full-time support locals have requested that the part-time units at each college join together with in their local. This means that you will have the support of experienced and dedicated leaders within OPSEU to assist you throughout the bargaining process and beyond. It also will give you a greater voice in the college and the system to highlight the concerns of support staff, whether they be part-time or full-time. Solidarity works!
Someone from the local asked me to fill in a membership application card, but I already signed one two years ago, before we voted. Do I need to sign one again?
The card you signed two years ago was for the certification drive. All of those cards were sent to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in order for the union to get a vote in place. Now that you are a certified bargaining unit, you can choose to participate in your union or not. The OPSEU membership application card provides you with the right to have a say in how your local union is run, to attend membership meetings and events, to vote on your local budget and leadership, to run for positions within OPSEU and the labour movement, and to avail yourself of OPSEU discounts.
I heard that I will have to pay dues if I join the union. Is that true?
Everyone in the bargaining unit pays union dues. OPSEU has one of the lowest rates of dues for its membership and the services that it provides, set at 1.375 per cent of your gross salary. Whether or not you join, dues will still be deducted. Any dues you pay will be a deduction on your income tax.
However, OPSEU does not deduct dues until a first collective agreement has been negotiated on your behalf.
If I don’t have a collective agreement yet, what rights do I have?
We are going to work diligently to get a collective agreement in place as quickly as we can. We will be setting up dates with the Council, the agency who represents the college, to start the process. In the meantime, section 15(1) of CCBA provides that the terms and conditions that you currently have will remain in place until such time as bargaining is completed, or there is a strike or lockout.
Who can I go to for help or to get more involved?
Every college in Ontario, where you work, has a support staff local union. They have stewards throughout every college. Get in touch with them. They are going to be looking for part-time college support staff stewards. Stewards are the voice of the union in the workplace. Don’t worry if you don’t feel you have the knowledge or experience, because OPSEU has a great training program to get you the necessary skills to be a voice for your colleagues.
How can I stay informed?
Up until now, you may have been receiving information from www.collegeworkers.org. When you fill in your membership application, you can sign up to receive weekly communications from OPSEU. We encourage you to do that and check the OPSEU website.
Your local union is also a great source of information and assistance for you. Seek out your steward and officers, and get to know them.
– Workers Divisional Executive