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Convention Update Day 2 – April 15, 2016

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas at the podium during Convention 2016
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Wynne seeks to destroy public services, Thomas tells convention

Le gouvernement Wynne cherche à anéantir les services publics, déclare Monsieur Thomas au Congrès

Le gouvernement libéral de la première ministre Kathleen Wynne ne cherche rien d’autre que de céder au secteur privé les services publics que fournissent les membres du SEFPO, si ce n’est de les éliminer, a déclaré jeudi le président du SEFPO, Warren (Smokey) Thomas, devant les délégués et autres personnes assistant au Congrès 2016.

« J’étais là dans les années du gouvernement Davis, et du gouvernement Peterson, et du gouvernement Rae, et du gouvernement Harris », a dit Monsieur Thomas à près de 2 000 membres et hôtes présents au Palais des congrès du Toronto métropolitain, se référant à quatre des cinq derniers premiers ministres de l’Ontario. « Mais je n'ai jamais, au grand jamais, rien vu de pire que ce que nous vivons maintenant avec Kathleen Wynne.

Songeant aux 13 dernières années sous deux gouvernements libéraux successifs, Monsieur Thomas nous rappelle que Madame Wynne et son prédécesseur, Dalton McGuinty, se sont fait élire sous de fausses promesses. Dans le cadre de leurs campagnes, ils ont tendu une branche d’olivier aux électeurs, mais une fois au pouvoir, cette branche s’est transformée en un joug pesant pour les services publics.

« Nous pensions que Dalton McGuinty nous apporterait quelque chose de nouveau après les années Harris. Et qu’est-ce que ça a fini par être? Un gouvernement encore plus impitoyable et sans cœur », a encore dit Monsieur Thomas. « Et la même chose se répète avec Kathleen Wynne.  Elle s'est présentée comme une leader en justice sociale.  Nous avons bien cru que les choses changeraient. Mais jamais dans l’histoire de ce pays n’avons-nous observé d’attaque aussi vicieuse contre les services publics. »

« Les choses allaient mal, oui, mais au moins, les conservateurs (sous Monsieur Harris) n’y allaient pas par quatre chemins. De leur côté, les libéraux disent une chose et font le contraire. »

Le président du SEFPO a dit qu’il avait encore toute l’énergie qu’il faut pour faire front au programme d'austérité du gouvernement et à ses attaques crapuleuses contre les travailleurs du secteur public et les services qu’ils fournissent au peuple de l’Ontario.

« Je sais à quoi m'attendre. Je sais comment les battre. Je ne suis pas né de la dernière pluie. Je dis : « Allons-y! Je suis prêt. Nous sommes sur la bonne voie. »

Monsieur Thomas a profité de son discours inaugural pour contrer toute spéculation comme quoi il s’apprêterait à quitter son poste de président du SEFPO pour prendre les rênes du SNEGSP (le Syndicat national des employées et employés généraux du secteur public).

« J’ai entendu dire que je m’en allais au SNEGSP. Laissez-moi vous dire que tant que vous me garderez ici, je n’ai aucune raison d’aller ailleurs. »

Wynne seeks to destroy public services, Thomas tells convention

Wynne seeks nothing less than to hand over to the private sector – or eliminate altogether – the public services that OPSEU members deliver, President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told delegates and others to the union’s 2016 convention on Thursday.

“I’ve been there for the Davis years; for the Peterson years; for the Rae years, and for the Harris years,” Thomas told close to 2,000 members and guests at the Toronto Convention Centre, referring to four of Ontario’s past five premiers. “But I’ve never, ever, seen it as bad as what we’re seeing under Kathleen Wynne.”

Looking back over the past 13 years under two successive Liberal governments, Thomas said Wynne and her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, got themselves elected on false promises. They campaigned by offering voters an olive branch, but once in power they ruled with an iron fist when it came to their treatment of public services.

“We thought Dalton McGuinty would offer something new after the Harris years. But what did he turn out to be? More heartless; less caring,” Thomas said. “The same with Kathleen Wynne.  She presented herself as a social justice leader.  We thought things would change. But never in the history of this country have we seen this unprecedented attack on public services.

“As bad as they were, at least the Tories (under Harris) came straight up and straight at us. The Liberals, on the other hand, say one thing and act the opposite.”

The OPSEU president made it clear there was still plenty of fight left in him to go toe-to-toe against the government’s austerity agenda and its full-bore assault on public sector workers and the services they provide to the people of Ontario.

“I know what’s coming. I know how to fight them. I’ve been around a long, long time. I say, ‘Bring it on. I’m ready.’ We’re on the right track.”

Thomas used the opportunity of Thursday’s opening address to squash speculation that he was about to step down as OPSEU president in favour of the top job at NUPGE (the National Union of Public and General Employees).

“I’ve heard the rumours that I’m off to NUPGE. Let me tell you I’m not going anywhere as long as you will have me here.”

Horwath and Buckley stand solidly behind OPSEU’s anti-privatization fight

Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath and recently-elected Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) head Chris Buckley told OPSEU’s 2016 convention Thursday that they stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” behind the union’s fight against the Wynne government’s relentless assault on public services.

Horwath was clear with her position on the issue.

“This government has no qualms about cutting public services; no second thoughts about attacking public sector workers,” the NDP leader told delegates and others who filled the main convention hall. “This is a government that is willing to ignore the vast majority of Ontarians and sell off a public asset, like Ontario Hydro, that belongs to the people of Ontario.”

She singled out hospital workers, long-term health care providers and correctional officers who have experienced the sting of the government’s hostility to public services.

“Our hospitals are cutting jobs. Long-term care workers don’t have enough time or enough support to serve their clients as they should. Correctional officers face dangerous conditions every day. And yet this government ignores those concerns.”

Buckley, who was elected president of the OFL last November, struck a similar theme in his address.

“I share your frustration with the government’s austerity measures. I am with your union. I’m going shoulder-to-shoulder with you to show this government we have a strong and united labour movement in Ontario,” said the former auto worker and president of Local 222 of Unifor.

He made a special appeal to delegates to vote in favour of a convention resolution that would see OPSEU re-affiliate with the OFL after an absence of five years.

Both leaders praised OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas for his strength in the fight-back against privatization of public services.

“Smokey and I talk regularly,” said Horwath. “He’s a dear friend and I’ve got to tell you: There’s no greater advocate for workers and for our public services than Warren (Smokey) Thomas.”

Delegates strongly endorse move to re-affiliate with OFL

By a margin of 93.8 per cent, OPSEU delegates at convention on Thursday overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution to re-affiliate with the Ontario Federation of Labour after an absence of almost five years.

“The resolution our convention passed today tells me, in no uncertain terms, that our members want to be back in the Ontario Federation of Labour,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “I and my Executive Board are looking forward to negotiating the details that will make it happen as soon as possible.”

Credential Report

932 –    Delegates

486 –    Alternates

200 –    Observers

7   –      Retirees

19  –     Executive Board Members

51  –     Committee Members

25  –     Solidarity Guests

5   –           Guests

1725 Delegates

Canada and Australia: two countries facing privatization

When it comes to the public health care delivery, Canada and Australia share much in common. Regrettably, the similarities amount to cutbacks, underfunding, and handing over services to the private sector.

That’s the message that keynote speaker Gerard Hayes, general secretary of the 32,000-member Australian Health Services Union (HSU), shared with OPSEU delegates Thursday on the first full day of convention.

Canada and Australia share many similarities, Hayes told his audience. We are both members of the Commonwealth. Each country’s popular cultures run on roughly parallel tracks. Our public institutions – healthcare and the way our governments are structured, for example – bear a strong resemblance to each other.

So, too, he explained, is the way state and federal governments “Down Under” are systematically privatizing public services, with health care, education and power generation leading the way.

Hayes also alerted OPSEU delegates to the way the Australian government is slowly, but deliberately, undermining the power of public sector unions by measure such as forensic financial audits of his union. Few in his union were found to have been negligent in their duties to members, and those who were, were criminally indicted. The real motivation to conduct the audits was to discredit the union movement, Hayes explained.

On the other hand, their examples have lifted the spirits of those who want strong, publicly-owned services. Despite coming under pressure to privatize its operations, the general public and unions fought back against the proposed privatization of the national airline, Qantas. The government also suffered a defeat when its efforts to privatize operations was successfully resisted at a major port on Botany Bay.

Hayes concluded his remarks by observing that while Canada and Australia may be separated by the vast Pacific Ocean, we enjoy common cause in our mutual struggle to keep public services in public hands. He urged delegates to keep up the fight, always mindful of our “humanitarian doctrine” to build a better world.

Rally participants demand that special schools stay open on a permanent basis

Rally participants demand that special schools stay open on permanent basis

Hundreds of parents, students, OPSEU members, MPPs from both the New Democratic Party and Progressive Conservative Party, and supporters, gathered on the grounds of Queen’s Park Thursday to show their concern and solidarity over the actions by the Ministry of Education and its earlier decision to discontinue support for four demonstration schools and a school for the hearing impaired.

Two months ago, Education Minister Liz Sandals announced a consultation process that would explore and re-examine the way students with specialized needs would receive their education.

The five schools appeared targeted for closure, without even hearing the results of the consultation. The affected schools in Milton, London, Belleville and Ottawa had stopped accepting submissions for student enrollment. Staff, who had been teaching at the schools on secondments, were scheduled to be returned to their home schools. The ministry had suggested that Ontario was the only province to have these schools, along with claims that enrollment had declined. That view was challenged by school supporters. No less a figure than Don Drummond, an advisor to Kathleen Wynne on privatization of public services, referenced the issue in a 2012 report to the premier.

Families and their supports fought back.

Two days ago, Sandals did an about-face and announced the schools would be open in time for the 2016-17 school year. However, Sandals was silent on whether or not the schools would be open beyond 2017.

At Thursday’s rally, it was clear that school supporters and their allies would continue the campaign to keep these schools open on a permanent basis.

“You’ve won a battle, but it’s a long war,” OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told the crowd. He said OPSEU would be there for them for as long as it might take to ensure the schools stay open on a permanent basis.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the issue was another example of how the Liberal government is attempting to balance the province’s books on the backs of some of Ontario’s most vulnerable young people. 

 “These schools are centres of excellence that bring fairness and opportunity to the people of Ontario,” she said.

Resolutions and constitutional amendments

Passed

A1 – A statutory resolution to approve receipt of the 2015 Financial Statements and to authorize the signing of financial statements.

A2 – A statutory resolution to endorse actions of the board since the closing of last convention.

A3 – A statutory resolution to appoint PricewaterhouseCoopers as auditors of OPSEU for the 2016 fiscal year.

EB5 – A resolution to have OPSEU continue to fight privatization at the bargaining table to protect public interest and jobs. In addition to the launch of “We own it” campaign

EB13 – A resolution to transfer five per cent of all dues to the strike fund for a 12 month period, further resolve to code it on a separate line in financials “strike back fund”, further to resolve it be on a separate stand-alone report within financials, further resolved any funds will have to be authorized via Motions, Officers (under $10,000) or the Executive board

EB15 – A resolution to authorize the Executive Board to re-engage with OFL provided acceptable terms, and issue of arrears.

Nancekivell elected to Executive Board

A rare, but not unprecedented event for OPSEU occurred Thursday evening when delegates from Region 1 attended a meeting to elect a new Executive Board Member (EBM), alternate EBM and alternate regional vice-president.

After 23 years of dedicated service as an EBM, many of those as the Regional Vice-President, Brother Ron Elliot accepted a position as OPSEU’s administrator of local services. This created a vacancy for EBM in Region 1. The alternate EBM position was also vacant and, as per OPSEU’s constitution, a regional meeting was scheduled to hold the election.

Region 1 activists, Christine Laverty, Local 151 and Laurie Nancekivell, Local 116 contested the position.

They had a half hour “bear pit” session with delegates; answering questions on subjects including, the health care sector, barriers to participation, pay equity, and whether some caucuses should be committees or not. At the conclusion of the “bear pit” the room was cleared so that attendees could receive their credentials and start to vote.

Laurie Nancekivell was elected. Christine Laverty is the Alternate Executive Board Member, and Phillip Shearer is the new Alternate Regional Vice-President.

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