Week 7 Recap
On June 14, the Fairness Express arrived in Thunder Bay for eight eventful days in Region 7. From June 14 to June 21, the big green bus made stops in Thunder Bay, Kakabeka Falls, Fort Frances, Rainy River, Sioux Narrows, Dryden, Vermillion Bay, Sioux Lookout and Kenora.
In Thunder Bay, the big green bus was joined by OPSEU Region 7 activists Elaine Kerr and James Nowe, as well as executive board members Mary Cory, Carl Thibodeau and Glen Archer. In the afternoon, the Fairness Express and its team of activists participated in the 4th Thunder Pride Parade. The team was proud to march in the parade and was joined by Robert Hampsey, chair of OPSEU’s Rainbow Alliance, and several other local OPSEU activists.
The parade made its way through downtown Thunder Bay and concluded in Marina Park for the Pride in the Park festivities. In the park we set up a tent and conversed with the hundreds of local folks out to show their pride and support for the local LGBT community.
On June 16, the Fairness Express was scheduled to visit Fort Frances to chat with local folks about income inequality. However, the small northwestern Ontario community was under a state of emergency. Water levels on Rainy Lake were at an extreme high; the highest they have been since 1950. A number of roads had been washed out, and local officials feared flood conditions would get much worse.
With the community in need of volunteers to assist with sandbagging, the team aboard the bus decided to lend a hand, and help local residents protect their buildings and docks on the shore of Rainy Lake.
It was not much, but the team was glad to lend a hand.
The following day, we learned that the neighboring community of Rainy River was also under a state of emergency due to rising water levels. We decided to visit the community and assist with their flood preparation efforts.
When we arrived, we could see quite clearly the severity of the flooding. Several homes were under threat. Entire backyards were submerged, and flood waters were rising. Local authorities expected the river to rise at least 8 more inches, with further rainfall in the forecast.
The Fairness Express team assisted an elderly couple in building a wall of sandbags around their home to prevent the waters from getting inside. Their backyard was completely submerged, and the waters were right on their doorstep. Several other community members joined the effort, and in a matter of hours we had erected a protective barrier around the home.
In Dryden, the Fairness Express stopped to chat with recent graduates at Confederation College. On the afternoon of June 18th, the school held its commencement ceremony, and the bus arrived in time to talk with several graduates and their parents.
It was great to see so many young people in their caps and gowns, excited and ready for the future in front of them. Youthful optimism is important. It is the energy that drives many of us to overcome adversity, and find hope in the bleakest of times. Nowadays, it is too often dashed by the harsh realities of a depressed job market and insurmountable debt.
In the evening, the bus relocated to a local soccer field to speak with families about the growing income gap in Canada.
One local resident talked about the challenges of raising his family in the community.
“I am a single dad, and I find it really difficult to provide for my kids” he told us “too often I am telling them there isn’t enough money to buy them the things they ask for when we are in the grocery store.”
On June 19, the big green bus spent the day at the beach in Sioux Lookout. One local resident we spoke with was Garnet Angeconeb, a member of the Lac Seul First Nation.
A journalist and residential schools survivor, Garnet spoke about the importance of developing a sustainable strategy to foster economic growth in northern aboriginal communities while at the same time avoiding the mistakes of the past.
“We don’t want history to repeat itself. We need to learn from our collective past” said Garnet.
In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about developing the potential of the “Ring of Fire” in the mineral rich James Bay lowlands. The area is considered one of the largest potential mining reserves in Ontario, and could be a very lucrative project. However, development in the region would significantly impact the nine first nations’ communities resident in the area.
“Everybody can benefit from resource developments and extractions when we are all in the same boat and paddling in the same direction” said Garnet
On June 20, the bus joined OPSEU Local 702 for a demonstration at the Best Western in downtown Kenora. The workers assembled to support their bargaining team as they engaged in difficult contract talks with their employer, Firefly.
Firefly is an organization that provides physical, emotional, and developmental and community services to children, youths and adults in the Kenora region. Unfortunately, developmental services workers are among the lowest paid in the province, and the hardworking folks from Local 702 are no exception.
In a show of solidarity, we parked the bus right in front of the Best Western, and set up our tent and popcorn machine in full view of the hotel’s conference rooms. National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) James Clancy was on hand and spoke with several workers on the line. Judging by the number of honks they received from passing cars, the local community supported their efforts in fighting for a fair contract.
The following day, the bus stopped at Anicinabe Park on the Lake of the Woods for Little Big Fest. The event was organized by Grand Council Treaty 3 as a celebration of aboriginal culture on National Aboriginal Day. There was food and music, and a number of aboriginal folks and other local residents came down to enjoy the festivities.
At the event, we had the opportunity to speak with Leon Jourdain, a former two-term Grand Chief for Grand Council Treaty 3, and long-time chief of the Lac La Croix First Nation. Leon spoke of the adversity facing aboriginal peoples in Canada, and their struggle to fight injustice and inequality.
“I have witnessed and lived inequality” said Leon “the identity and spirit of my people is wounded very badly. Their collective grief is beyond words. What they grieve for is the loss of their nation.”
Leon emphasized that far too many aboriginal communities in Canada live in abject poverty and this situation is destroying their future.
“Our children are committing suicide at a fast rate because of the hopelessness, because there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The hopelessness, the death…is that equality?”
“The whole system needs to be changed. Young people are dying, destroying their lives. The government is denying us an economy, creating social collapse. They want us to forget the meaning of our treaties.”
After eight great days in Region 7, and seven weeks on the road, the Ontario leg of the Fairness Express tour came to its conclusion. Mary Cory, executive board member for Region 7, said “the NUPGE Fairness Express bus was a once in a lifetime experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.”
“It was a great opportunity to speak to community members about the issues that working families are facing every day. It was important for individuals to have someone to listen to their stories and provide some education as to what can be done to make things better. I would do it again at the drop of a hat.”
Starting June 26, the big green bus will begin its seven week tour through Manitoba. The Manitoba leg of the tour will be spearheaded by the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU).
Saying Farewell to the Fairness Express
Our seven weeks in Ontario were incredibly inspiring and rewarding. We visited a few dozen cities and towns and had thousands of conversations with Ontarians about income inequality. In every location we encountered amazing people and heard incredible stories. However, we also saw firsthand just how many people in this province are struggling – far too many for a province with so much wealth.
From north to south, we heard stories of disappointment and hardship. People spoke of disappearing jobs, declining communities and damaging government policy. But, many also spoke of the need for change. They can see that the system is rigged, and they want to do something about it.
The message we brought to Ontario’s communities was one of hope and solidarity. We want Canadians to see that a movement is forming.
Change is one on one conversations. It is awareness and it is inspiration. It is Canadians coming together to stand up for what is just and what is fair.
To learn more about the campaign click here http://alltogethernow.nupge.ca
To read the bus blog click here http://alltogethernow.nupge.ca/fairness-express
Meet the Activists
Over the course of seven weeks, and nearly 14,000 kilometres, the Fairness Express was joined by 35 OPSEU activists from all seven regions. Inspired by the tour’s message of tax fairness, good jobs, public services and labour rights, these folks sacrificed their time and energy to get out into the community and listen to impact income inequality is having on Ontarians, and motivate people to work for change.
The activists involved brought an optimism and enthusiasm that was infectious, creating a strong sense of fellowship and unity amongst everyone that participated in the campaign. They are a fantastic group of people.
Len Elliot is an executive board member for Region 1 and a health and safety inspector for the Ministry of Labour in London. He has been an OPSEU member for more than 9 years.
Lisa Fewster is president of Local 166 and works at Community Living in London. She is first vice-president of the London Area Council and is an executive for the local labour council. Lisa has been a dedicated labour activist for 14 years.
Jennifer Ganley is secretary for Local 148 and has worked at Community Living in Chatham-Kent for 26 years. She has been active in the union since 2007. Her favourite colour is green.
Julie McGuffin is a member from Local 102 and a resident of London.
Drew Finucane is treasurer for Local 219 and a residential counselor and instructor for the visually impaired at the W. Ross MacDonald School in Brantford. He has been an OPSEU member for 10 years, and active as a steward for 2 years.
Karen Gventer is president of Local 276 and the education representative for Sector 17 (Community Health Care Professionals). She is also the harassment and discrimination advisor for Region 2. Karen has been an OPSEU member since 2001 and an activist since 2004. She has been a dedicated activist for social justice causes her entire life. She is currently running as the NDP candidate for Owen Sound in the upcoming Ontario elections.
AnnaMarie Hampton-Alcock is a registered practical nurse at Lee Manor in Owen Sound (Local 299). She is active as a steward in her workplace and has been an OPSEU member and activist for 12 years. AnnaMarie is strong union advocate and passionate about raising awareness for growing income inequality in Canada.
Lorraine Skitch is president of Local 221 and auditor for Region 2. She is co-chair of the Western Region Probation and Parole ERC and the Support Staff Working Group. Lorraine is also a member of the Probation and Parole MERC Workload Sub-committee and vice-chair of the Region 2 Hardship Committee. She has been an active OPSEU member for 26 years.
Ryan Walker is chief steward for Local 249 and former chair of the Provincial Young Workers Committee. He is a delegate to the Hamilton District Labour Council and a dedicated developmental services worker. Ryan was raised in the labour movement and has been an active OPSEU member for 9 years.
Angela Bick Rossley is a member from Local 303 and a paramedic for Simcoe County. She is Chair of both the Provincial Women’s Committee and Social Justice Fund. Angela has been an OPSEU member for 8 years and has been active within the union for 3 years.
Bianca Braithwaite-Davis is chief steward for Local 330 and an educational assistant at Region Park Public School in Orillia. She is secretary for the Orillia Labour Council and chief financial officer for the NDP in the North Simcoe Riding. Bianca has been an OPSEU member for 9 years and has been active within the union for 2 years.
Sean Platt is an executive board member for Region 3 and is a correctional officer at Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay. He has been an OPSEU member for 10 years and a dedicated activist for 9 years.
Hervé Cavanagh is president of Local 466 and chair of the Rideau/Ottawa Area Council. He is also responsible for education and communication for the Hospital Professionals Division, and Chair of the Lanark District Labour Council. Hervé is a physiotherapist at the Pert and Smiths Falls District Hospitals and has been a dedicated labour activist for 14 years.
Chris Cormier is an executive board member and regional vice-president for Region 4. He is also a Student Support Counsellor at Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf in Belleville, and has been a passionate labour activist for 14 years.
Barb De Roche is president of Local 443 and chair of the Hospital Support Division. She is also Chair of the Kingston/Ottawa Area Council. Barb is a Surgical Booking Clerk for Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston, and has been a committed labour activist for 14 years.
John Hanson is president of Local 416 and a member of the Ottawa District Labour Council. He is a married father of two and a Stationary Engineer at Algonquin College in Ottawa. John has been a dedicated OPSEU activist for 7 years.
Dave Lundy is an executive board member from Region 4. Along with Chris, Dave is well-loved by members of the region for his strong leadership and commitment.
Ben Treidlinger is president of Local 449 and a member of the Ottawa Area Council. He is also Sargeant at Arms for the Renfrew and District Labour Council. Ben is an ODSP Caseworker for the Ministry of Community and Social Services and has been a dedicated labour activist for 30 years.
Chrisy Tremblay is president of Local 454 and Region 4 representative for the Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC). She is also chair of the Ottawa Area Council and president of the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society. Chrisy is a Family Support Worker at the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society.
Morgen Veres is president of Local 487, chair of the Community Health Care Professional Division and a member of the Rainbow Alliance. Morgen is also a health inspector and has been an OPSEU activist for 3 years.
Don Collymore is a member from Local 5110 and a member of the LBED anti-privatization committee. He is a full-time Customer Service Representative for the LCBO and has been a dedicated activist for 2 years.
Kinglsey Kwok is president of local 575 and a member of the hospital professional’s division executive. He is a respiratory therapist at Scarborough Hospital and is a member of the greater Toronto area council. Kingsley is chair of the Scarborough Health Coalition and has been a labour activist for 11 years.
Myles Magner is an executive board member and regional vice-president for Region 5.
Deborah McGuiness is an LBED member from Local 5110.
Ellie Murphy is an LBED member from Local 5110.
Vera Tsotsos is president of local 581 and works as support staff at Scarborough Hospital. She has been an OPSEU member for 19 years and an OPSEU activist for 13 years.
Catherine Csuzdi is the secretary/treasurer for Local 608 and an alternate for the Region 6 Youth Committee. She is a Learning Systems Technologist at Nipissing University and she has been a dedicated OPSEU activist for the past 4 years.
Felicia Fahey is an executive board member for Region 6 and a proud member of the Liquor Board Employees Division. Felicia has been a fierce labour activist for many years.
Janine Johnson is a retired member from Region 6 and the chair of the Retirees Committee and an extremely well respected unionist.
Glen Archer is an executive board member from Region 7 and a correctional officer at the Kenora Jail.
Mary Cory is an executive board member from Region 7 and vice-president of Local 714. She is executive board liaison to the Provincial Women’s Committee and the Social Justice Committee, as well as member of the Regional Women’s Committee’s “Sisters in Seven”, which concentrates on community outreach in Region 7. Mary is a Case Presenting Officer for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and has been an OPSEU member for 22 years.
Halcea Dobson is secretary/treasurer for Local 719 and vice-president of the Kenora Labour Council. She a correctional officer from Kenora Jail and has been an OPSEU member for 7 years.
Elaine Kerr is a CAAT Support member and works with the Employment Assessment Centre at Confederation College. She is the Region 7 representative for the Provincial Women’s Committee and a member of the Regional Women’s Committee’s “Sisters in Seven”, which concentrates on community outreach in Region 7.
James Nowe is president of Local 719 and a correctional officer at the Kenora Jail. He has been an OPSEU member and dedicated activist for 10 years.
Carl Thibodeau is an executive board member and regional vice-president for Region 7.