‘Together Toward Tomorrow’
A total of 1,486 delegates, alternates, observers, guests, and committee members arrived in full force to the 2014 OPSEU Convention.
In his down-to-earth manner, President Smokey Thomas quickly caught everyone’s attention with a compelling speech—a speech that should be heard by all workers in Ontario. Thomas noted Ontario workers are in very dangerous times, but that in dangerous times come opportunities—huge opportunities. Currently, OPSEU members are in a position to make a huge difference and to implement change. Never in the history of our union have we been so ready to influence the outcome of the upcoming provincial election. According to President Thomas, OPSEU is stronger than ever and is prepared to take on Hudak and the policies he is trying to push—policies designed to weaken labour laws, weaken unions, cut public services, and cut taxes—which would inevitably lead to weaker public services and greater inequality among Ontarians. Thomas says, “We all should be afraid of Tim Hudak. His ideas will make Ontarians weaker and poorer.”
Thomas then outlined how he opposed Premier Wynne’s provincial budget. Initially, he thought there was “good stuff” in the Liberal budget, but after closer observation, he noticed an underlining theme that is corrupt, toxic and nasty. Wynne’s budget supports privatization, and we all know the dangerous consequences that privatization will have on the working class. Privatization means exploitation of the working class through lower wages, loss of jobs, and loss of benefits. Smokey also opposed the budget because it means lower wages for more than 90 per cent of OPSEU members. Wynne’s budget would reduce funds allocated for public services resulting in weakened labour laws. It is clear that privatization will make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
President Thomas eagerly noted “We, more than ever, need to get involved in the upcoming election.” He said this is a crucial time for us and a time where we can have our voice heard and make a positive change in the province. He said we want to make Ontario a better place, and we want to give Ontarians “confidence that things could get better today and for the next generation.” Thomas says Ontarians are about “good jobs, fair taxes, income equality” and about “building Ontario, not tearing it down. This is our vision, and we need to act on this vision.”
Thomas noted that communication is the key to getting OPSEU’s message out to all Ontarians. He called on everyone—Executive Board Members, elected chairs of OPSEU, local presidents, stewards and delegates—to communicate and empower their members to step up and vote. The leaders need to communicate the issues that matter, to commit themselves to a better Ontario, and to better the lives of OPSEU members. The members need to ensure that OPSEU’s campaign is heard and acted on by all. With strength in numbers, members need to build our bargaining power, stop austerity, and start to rebuild public services.
Gilda Cobb-Hunter: Humility, Perseverance & Determination
A highlight of Day 1 of Convention was keynote address from State Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter—one of the “stars” of OPSEUs Made in the USA.
Representative Cobb-Hunter, in office since 1992, is a Democrat from South Carolina—a state that has struggled with “right-to-work” style legislation for the past fifty-nine years. With the thirteenth highest unemployment rate in the US and close to the lowest wages in the US, South Carolina’s legislation prohibits government workers to organize or bargain for contracts, and anyone can be fired for no reason.
In her address, she urged OPSEU members to take this threat of right-to-work legislation seriously. Electing a Conservative government will be devastating, adding they and their legislation will “take no prisoners.”
Cobb Hunter urged us to think of four things when moving forward in our campaign to resist Hudak and his proposed legislation:
- Language—We are to be wary of the language of the profit-driven legislators who carefully craft words to move ahead their agendas.
- Tenacity—Even though Hudak has “shelved” the legislation for the time being, Cobb-Hunter warns it will come back and that we “can’t open the door” for it to sneak in.
- Power in numbers—She urges us to stay strong and not take for granted services we currently have.
- Fight a “divide and conquer” mentality—Cobb-Hunter urges us to look at and share the message of the video to those who are questioning the problem with this legislation.
Overall, Cobb-Hunter urges us to not “suffer from the illusion of inclusion” and to remember services we currently enjoy can be taken away in a “skinny New York minute.”
Addressing questions from Convention floor, Cobb-Hunter urged us to not place elected officials on pedestals. We must vote in those “who serve the public and not those who have the public serve them.” She added we must not vote in “those whose first love is to be elected.”
Cobb Hunter stressed the need for education, outreach, and to keep things simple.
Finally, when asked if there would be any chance for repeal if this legislation was to pass, she is doubtful of repeal and cannot stress enough how this issue is a slippery slope, that legislators can be merciless, and that once right-to-work legislation gets a toehold, “it’s over.”
OPSEU welcomed by Toronto City Councillor
Toronto City Councillor Janet Davis opened Convention 2014 by conveying a warm welcome from Toronto City Council. She was excited once more to be at Convention as she sees the work of OPSEU workers around her daily. She is very quick to attribute Toronto’s greatness to its great public servants. In addition, Davis recognized that current public services are under attack. With governments constantly attempting to cut costs of services by applying private sector strategies, she urges OPSEU members to support the fight to stop privatization of public assets. She reminds us that these assets belong to all of us and that we need to work together to protect the interests of the public. “Public servants serve their communities. [We must] get engaged, fight, and build the society we want.”
Resolutions & Constitutional Amendments
C1 – All OPS MERC members be automatic delegates to Convention – Defeated
C2 – After debate, resolution amended to maintain that all mobilizers are elected at LBED pre-bargaining conference – Carried
C3 – Canadian Blood service negotiation procedures be approved – Carried
C4 – Public Heath Ontario, (PHO) negotiation procedures – Carried
C6 – Corrections to have its own division – Defeated
C7 – Broaden scope of the Corrections Bargaining Unit – Defeated
D1 – OPSEU to take every means possible to keep current calculation of Rand Formula – Carried
A.1 An amendment to allow all OPS MERC members to be delegates to the annual Convention – Defeated
A.3 An amendment to allow delegate positions to be filled by highest ranking members of the local if local meetings do not achieve quorum at GMMs – Defeated
A.5 An amendment to section 21.4.1 to read “Divisional Councils may be formed subject to the approval of the Executive Board, to bring together Divisions with common interests and to co-ordinate Division activities” – Carried
A.4 Amendment to move 2 per cent from the Strike Fund to mobilizing and bargaining – Defeated
A.2 Amendment to change quorum rules – Defeated
Denise Wiese, from Tourism Toronto, welcomed attendees and encouraged all to take some time to explore what Toronto has to offer. Wiese also presented a generous donation of $10,000 donation to the OPSEU Social Justice Fund.
Convention 2014 by the Numbers
As of 4:30 p.m. May 8, 2014
902 – Delegates
474 – Alternates
170 – Observers
4 – Retirees
17 – EBMs
36 – Committees
10 – Solidarity Guests
7 – Guests
1620 – Total
4,305 – Total likes on Facebook for Ontario Public Service Employee Union
65 – Tweets: #opseu2014
18 – Photo tweets
71 – Children
- 10: 0-2 years old
- 16: 3-5 years old
- 29: 6-11 years old
- 16: 12 years & up
11 – Providers
6 – Volunteers
1 – Security Guard