Thomas proud of the past, bullish on the future
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas used the annual Presidential Address to look back with pride on the union’s recent accomplishments – and to look to the coming year with confidence.
“We made history, and then we made history,” he noted in speaking of massive organizing campaigns in the colleges sector. “The drive to organize part-time support staff was the biggest campaign in Canadian history. But the one that followed – to organize part-time faculty – was even bigger.
“The government and the law firms have thrown everything they had at us,” he continued. “But they’ve run out of excuses and challenges. We’re confident the ballot boxes for the part-time support workers will be opened so the votes can be counted.”
Thomas also spoke at length about the We Own It campaign against privatization – a campaign that was set in motion at Convention 2016.
“This is an amazing campaign,” said Thomas. “This thing has taken on a life of its own. And that was our goal from the beginning: that it become a people’s movement, supported by the union, with our materials, our social media – everything we’ve got. Our campaigns are second to none. Union leaders tell me that all the time.”
The President also discussed initiatives the union had launched to be more inclusive as an organization. He asserted that the faces of OPSEU staff must reflect the faces of society and the members the union serves.
“We are a progressive union,” he noted. “Years ago, we established the Social Mapping Committee and the Joint Racialized Workers Committee. They’ve done fantastic work to make our organization more accessible and inclusive, and to create a level playing field within the organization, with everything from networking days to internal job fairs.
“We also put in a place an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Program with the help of an expert in the field, Keith Jeffers. We need to be able to walk in other people’s shoes and to understand the issues, cultures that other people have. And we’re making real progress.”
Looking ahead, Thomas said he saw challenges and opportunities. For example, speaking about LCBO workers, he was encouraged by news that the Premier was leaning towards creating a Liquor and Cannabis Control Board. On the other hand, the LCBO’s attitude at the bargaining table has been “nasty,” expressing his “100 per cent” support for LBED workers – and his confidence that their employer will back down in the face of their determination.
On that note, Thomas recognized the members of Local 316 who are currently on strike – and 54 of whom were present. To a standing ovation from delegates, the President called them up on stage.
Local 316 members provide care to people with developmental disabilities.
“These people didn’t choose to care for the vulnerable because they wanted to get rich,” Thomas said. “They did it because they love it. This employer is disgusting – but I couldn’t be prouder of these workers. They have the full backing of 135,000 OPSEU members.”
President Thomas with Region 3 RVP Sara Labelle, staff representative Richard Bradley, Local 316 president Leslie Coles, and Local 316 chief steward Courtney Huycke.
Delegates dig deep for Local 316
Convention had the pleasure of hearing from the striking members of Local 316, Community Living Campbellford/Brighton. They have been on strike since March 22, after workers voted down the final offer from the employer.
In a show of solidarity to our members of Local 316, and understanding the hardship that strikes can bring both emotionally and financially, members began donating funds to the cause and the needs of the local, with the total amount coming to an astounding $34,824.
The bargaining team vowed to stay strong, and OPSEU delegates showed that they will have the backs of their follow union members.
Almeida acclaimed First VP/Treasurer; Thomas faces off with Magner
During the nominations process, Region 2 Regional Vice-President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida was nominated and acclaimed First Vice-President/Treasurer for another two-year term..
Incumbent Warren (Smokey) Thomas was nominated for re-election to a sixth consecutive term as President of OPSEU.
Myles Magner, Regional Vice-President for Region 5, was also nominated to run for the position of President.
Elections for the presidency will be held on Friday morning, as will the ranking of the Regional
Executive Board Members: 20
Committee members: 54
International activists inspire Convention delegates
A pair of We Own It activists from opposite sides of the globe inspired Convention delegates Thursday with examples of successes they’ve enjoyed in fighting to preserve their public services.
“The right-wing ideas behind privatization are global – and our solidarity to needs to be global, too,” Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It – UK (WOI-UK), told delegates. “I’ve come to realize that people don’t believe in privatization. They want public ownership.”
Gerard Hayes, leader of Australia’s Health Science Union (HSU), sounded a similar theme.
“We’ve undertaken the privatization fight and picked up on the We Own It theme,” said Hayes, who spoke at OPSEU’s 2016 Convention. When Hayes learned that OPSEU had launched its own We Own It campaign last year, the HSU quickly followed suit with its own mobilization drive.
In Cat Hobbs, delegates were listening to the pioneer of the We Own It movement. “In 2012, in my bedroom, with a laptop, I started We Own It.” The flash point was her anger that the private company that operated train service in Bristol only ran the train service every 90 minutes. She led the campaign to have the city council pay the company to introduce a more frequent service.
From that early victory, Hobbs and a handful of other activists turned their attention to larger public assets the government proposed to sell off, including one of the country’s most beloved public institutions, the 500-year-old Royal Mail. Despite its profitability and excellent service, the government sold off the final third of the mail system in 2013.
Her warning to delegates? Don’t let your guard down. Privateers circle public service like vultures, waiting to swoop in for the kill. “There are more than 400 think tanks in 80 countries around the world dedicated to privatizing public services.”
Unlike OPSEU, the group operates with a handful of organizers and scarce resources. By contrast, Hobbs paid tribute to OPSEU for its commitment to WOI in funding, mobilizers, and public messaging.
“We just don’t have the people on the ground like you folks do,” she admitted.
Hayes told delegates that WOI in Australia has played a leading role in having the state government pull back on plans to privatize as many as five hospitals in the Sydney metropolitan area. Governments use what is termed “contestability tests” to determine whether a public asset is kept “in-house,” or whether the private sector can demonstrate it can deliver the same service for less.
To date, the test has kept one of the hospitals in public hands and, Hayes said in an interview afterwards, the Minister of Health announced Wednesday that a second hospital will be maintained as a public service. Hayes is “very hopeful” the remaining three hospital will be kept public.
Despite HSU’s successes, Hayes said the privatization threat never entirely disappears. “We’ve got a government that’s prepared to put every public department to the contestability test. It never stops.”
Beyond the Beehive: Ronnie Spector spellbinds Convention
The lights dimmed. An expectant hush fell over hall. Then Baby, I love you began to play.
“Brothers and sisters,” announced President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, “I give you the Rose of Spanish Harlem.”
A woman appeared. Sunglasses obscured her eyes, and abundant hair obscured her face. But nothing could obscure that unmistakable voice: Ronnie Spector, one-time lead singer for the Ronettes, a group that had a string of hits in the early 1960s, including the chart-topper Be My Baby and the Grammy-winning Walking in the Rain.
Born Veronica Bennett in Spanish Harlem, New York City, in 1943, Ronnie was the daughter of a Black-Cherokee mother and an Irish father. As a young girl, she enjoyed standing on the coffee table to perform for family. Music would became her great love, her passion, and her path to success – and much personal turmoil.
As a teenager, she joined up with sister Estelle and cousin Nedra to form the Ronettes. Their first break came with a gig at the famed Apollo Theatre. When the lead singer froze, Ronnie jumped in and belted out their number. They were a smash.
They came to the attention of producer Phil Spector. Spector became Ronnie’s producer – and love interest. Thus began an emotional rollercoaster that would take her to heaven and hell.
The Ronettes enjoyed huge success on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, their opening act was the Rolling Stones, and they became friends with the Beatles.
After marriage, an insanely possessive and controlling Spector prevented Ronnie from leaving home. Six years later she divorced him, but not before losing her friends – and her career. And she had become an alcoholic.
Spector continued to harass her personally and professionally. He refused to license her music and prevented the Ronettes from entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ronnie took Spector to court. Fifteen years of litigation later, the Ronettes won a $2.8-million settlement as well as back royalties for dozens of predominantly Black singers.
Ronnie remarried in 1982 and had two children. The Ronettes were finally inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.
Ronnie created Beyond the Beehive, a stage show that enjoyed huge success in New York and London. And today, 1,700 lucky delegates were also given a peek at life under the beehive.
In her parting words, Ronnie proclaimed, “You can go through hell and still survive – remember that when you hear my story.”
OPSEU President Thomas thanked her for telling it.
“Your life is a testament to success and survival,” he said. “Many of us can relate to that.”
Resolutions and Constitutional Amendments
A1 with 93 per cent support – A resolution to approve receipt of the 2016 Financial Statements and that the President and First Vice-President/Treasurer be authorized to sign the financial statements on behalf of the Executive Board.
A2 with 91.8 per cent support – A resolution for the Convention to endorse the actions of the Executive Board from the closing of last convention until the closing of this Convention.
A3 with 92 per cent support – A resolution to appoint PricewaterhouseCoopers as auditors of OPSEU for the fiscal year January 1, 2017 through to December 31, 2017 and the Executive Board fix the Auditors’ remuneration.
EB2 with 67.4 per cent support – A resolution that OPSEU continue its “We Own It” campaign for another year, that funds for the campaign be drawn from the Strikeback Fund, that the five per cent of OPSEU revenues that would normally be directed to the Strike Fund in 2017 be directed instead to the Strikeback Fund.
L3 with 97 per cent support – A resolution that:
- The Union hold the government accountable for not paying youth the pay that it mandates other employers by law to Non-Crown employees.
- Employ youth under the Summer Employment Opportunities and other programs consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
- Advise the bargaining team to bring the compensation standards for youth under the Summer Employment Opportunities and other programs to that of Non-Crown employees under the Employment Standards Act.
- Send correspondence to the Globe & Mail to reconsider awarding the Ontario Public Service the designation of being one of “Canada’s Top Employers for Young People” in light of the government’s hypocritical practice of setting lower employment standards for itself as it pertains to young workers.
- For the Union to intensely lobby the government by any means necessary to reverse this morally questionable employment practice as it pertains to youth.
EB18 with 95 per cent support – A resolution to recognize that OPSEU, and the National Union NUPGE, opposes the P3 model of infrastructure investment, recognizing that its members have a direct interest in ensuring that pension funds are responsibly invested, and launching the “We Own It” campaign to combat the privatization of public services and assets.
Horwath: ‘Count on the NDP to back you’
The Leader of Ontario's New Democrats, Andrea Horwath, addressed over 1,700 OPSEU members on Day One of Convention.
Horwath delivered a compelling speech that highlighted the challenges ahead for the labour movement and commended OPSEU’s We Own it campaign as a powerful movement against the privatization of our public services.
With the Ontario Liberals selling off Hydro One and expanding wine and beer sales in grocery stores, Andrea warned delegates, Ontario is at a tipping point – and we need to do something about it.
“We Own It is exactly what we need: public ownership at the heart of government for the people by the people,” said Horwath.
With a provincial election just over a year away, Andrea warned the delegation that the Ontario Liberals and PC Leader Patrick Brown’s newly branded “small-c” conservatives would almost certainly mean more cuts to public service, more public-private partnerships and the continued sell-off of Ontario assets.
Horwath went on to say if the NDP is elected, it will return Ontario Hydro to being 100 per cent publically owned, restore hospital funding, and reinvest in Ontario’s public services.
“We need to stick together, and you can count on the NDP to back you up when you need it,” said Horwath.