Some 600 OPSEU members from 27 ministries were in Toronto this weekend to elect leadership teams and chart the way forward for the union in the Ontario Public Service (OPS).
600 members of the Ontario Public Service meet for their 2016 divisionals
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas got the ball rolling with a firebrand talk focused on the government’s relentless efforts to privatize the services OPSEU members deliver.
To counter the privatization threat, Thomas introduced OPSEU’s provincewide campaign, “We Own It!”
The theme of OPSEU’s anti-privatization campaign writ large
“This strike-back initiative will reach into every workplace and every community in the province,” he said. “And I’m counting on all of you to start a debate on privatization. It’s one we can win.”
Thomas noted that, under Premier Kathleen Wynne’s watch, the light of justice in Ontario had dimmed.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas addresses delegates.
“She likes to call herself the ‘justice’ Premier. Well, I call her the ‘injustice’ Premier, because every single marker of a civil society has declined.”
Thomas pointed to the government’s unilateral decision to make retirees pay half of their health premiums.
“I asked [Treasury Board President] Liz Sandals how she could justify someone with a pension of $18,000 paying the exact same amount in premiums as a retired deputy minister. She said she hadn’t been briefed. Talk about cold-hearted.”
The OPSEU president put young workers front and centre, noting their importance for the future of OPSEU. He applauded their refusal to accept a lifetime of precarious, low-paid, no-benefit jobs.
“[Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau wondered aloud how you can dialogue with people who turn their backs. Well, we’ve been trying dialogue for 30 years to fight the right-wing agenda. It’s time for action.
“This is a generational fight. Young workers need to be ready to take it up so they can take over one day, because we’re in this for the long term.”
Mickey Riccardi, OPSEU co-chair of the Central Employee-Employer Relations Committee (CERC)
Mickey Riccardi, OPSEU co-chair of the Central Employee-Employer Relations Committee (CERC), delivered a comprehensive report on the state of the OPS. She spoke passionately about the trillium she recently received as a 30-year member of the public service.
“This trillium is highly symbolic,” she said. “It represents the wisdom, dedication, commitment, and perseverance of public servants. We need to tell Wynne that the trillium is not for sale – because we own it!”
In presenting the CERC report, member Cindy Falcao underscored the government’s search for a chief digital officer to lead its headlong rush to digital government, pointing out four pilot projects: immunization, ServiceOntario, Open Government, and OSAP.
In their update on the OPSEU Pension Trust pension plan, Executive Board Members Len Elliot and Gareth Jones raised the alarm on the government’s concerted efforts to grab the $135 billion in the province’s various public-sector pension plans. “They’re coming after our pension plan,” Jones warned. “They need to build infrastructure – and they want to do it with our retirement savings. It’s an attack on our pension – and we have to defend it.”
Three reports from OPSEU staff followed. They updated members on pay equity discussions, LTIP, and the We Own It! campaign.
We Own It! campaigner Ram Selvarajah
We Own It! campaigner Ram Selvarajah – one of 28 OPSEU members booked off and trained to help deliver the campaign – offered powerful testimony on OPSEU’s initiative to counter privatization. Selvarajah discussed the many ways OPS members could help sway public opinion, including devoting general members’ meetings to fighting privatization, holding lunch-and-learns, and most importantly, talking about it with family and friends, neighbours, and community members.
With conviction and energy, Selvarajah spoke of the way the provincial Liberals have framed the work of public servants.
“They try to make us ashamed of our work,” he said. “But it’s they who should be ashamed. When they attack us, when they attack public services, they attack all Ontarians.”
Selvarajah’s impassioned words drew prolonged applause as presentations wound up for the weekend. Inspired, re-energized, and united, members regrouped in their MERCs to take up the fight for fairness, equal opportunity, and excellent public services in Ontario.