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In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Fall 2011

In Solidarity Fall 2011

OPSEU Activists play their part in Ontario elections

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Emily Visser, OPSEU Communications

Ontario’s recent elections have demonstrated that our province is mobilizing for change. OPSEU members have been part of it from day one.

Hundreds of members, Executive Board Members and staff actively campaigned for a better Ontario during the month leading up to October 6. We worked days, evenings and weekends distributing leaflets, going door to door and running phone banks. We created print materials, radio spots and newspaper ads, and held countless conversations about election issues with friends and family.

As an organization, OPSEU actively supported candidates in targeted ridings across the province, from Cindy Forster in Welland to Andrea Horwath in Hamilton Centre, from France Gelinas in Nickel Belt to Gilles Bisson in Timmins-James Bay, from Cheri DiNovo in Parkdale-High Park to Michael Prue in Beaches-East York. We can celebrate with pride the successful election of 15 candidates supported by OPSEU.

There is an exceptional commitment involved in running for public office. Five long-time OPSEU members – David Lundy, David Parkhill, Karen Gventer and Paul Johnstone, along with retired Executive Board Member Doris Middleton – can be congratulated on their campaigns.

On October 7 we woke up to a greatly different Ontario legislature. Liberals lost 19 seats overnight and went from a majority to a minority government. Conservatives lost their predicted majority, and Andrea Horwath led the NDP to a level of support in this province that it has not seen since 1990. This outcome bodes well for the future of public services in this province.

Andrea Horwath made impressive gains for the provincial NDP in these elections. The solidarity that brought progressive forces together during the recent celebrations of Jack Layton’s life and contribution to Canada grew into a groundswell of support for the NDP both federally and provincially. Through Horwath’s strong leadership, seven more NDP seats were won in this province. That means a larger number of powerful allies for good jobs and public services.

OPSEU has a long history of defending public services, fighting back against the perils of corporate tax cuts and demanding respect for working people. As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads across North America, we are seeing our union’s key issues becoming part of a growing tide of public awareness and protest. This is how change happens, and we can be proud of the role we have as mobilizers.

OPSEU is stronger than ever. As public support grows, we will continue to lobby, mobilize and negotiate for a better province.

As Smokey Thomas said, “OPSEU’s members are what make us strong. We have voted. Now let’s see what we can accomplish with this new kind of Ontario.”

College support staff: Fighting for future generations

Karrie Ouchas, In Solidarity

Think back to the days when you attended college. Other than your fellow students and the teachers, your interactions with support staff were likely limited. Yet, every day a warm lunch was ready for you, IT folks were available when the computers stopped working the way they should and the building was always clean and well maintained. The classroom equipment appeared when needed, there was always someone available to help you with your loan application, class scheduling or to help students with special needs. These people are the unsung heroes of the colleges. These people are the backbone of the post-secondary education system.

More than 8,000 College of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) support staff went on strike for 18 days in September 2011. The strike ended with the ratification of a new contract with a resounding 87 per cent in favour of the tentative deal, successfully fending off concessions that would have further eroded job security.

“The last strike we had was in 1979. A lot of that strike had the same underlying issues that we face today; the lack of respect for the work we do in the colleges today,” said Rod Bemister, OPSEU Bargaining Chair. The strike was about maintaining the current working conditions, fighting off the numerous concessions the employer wanted and eliminating a two-tier system.

Over the past three decades, colleges have increased the number of part-time support staff hired. This allows colleges to pay lower wages and to avoid paying benefits. The number of good full-time jobs is being reduced and the work is undervalued. In this round of bargaining, the employer wanted many concessions and claw backs that directly threatened job security. The employer also wanted different contract language/terms for new hires, creating a two-tier system.

Another obstacle faced by the bargaining team was the changes made to the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act that highly favour college employers. Some of the employer-friendly amendments included:

  • The ability to decrease the bargaining cycle
  • The ability to force a contract vote within 15 days before the expiry of the Collective Agreement
  • The ability to have support staff cross the picket line and go to work; and
  • The ability to impose terms and conditions of work after the expiry date of the contract

This was the first time support staff bargained under the changes to this legislation; CAAT Academic bargained under these legislative changes in 2010. The employer forced a contract vote, which resulted in a poor offer being accepted with support of only 51 per cent of the voting members.

“We believe, generally, that the students and parents were supportive once they understood the reasons for the strike,” says Bemister. “The message to the students who were impacted is that we stood up and fight for our jobs, which are good jobs, and rejecting conditions that threaten those jobs. This fight must go beyond just college support staff but to every workplace across the province. The reason for that is simple. When we allow conditions which take away from the conditions of work we currently have, the prospect of graduating and attaining a good job when they complete their education becomes diminished.”

Why I became involved: We needed change

Nigel Edwards, Local 565

What did I just do? Oh no! Did I just become an anarchist? An elitist of my peers? Employer enemy number one? Am I now marked to receive no future promotions? What did I get myself into?

These questions (and myths) and more charged through my mind like a raging bull when I said “yes” and accepted the nomination to become a union steward at my local’s spring elections meeting.

The last round of bargaining for our new collective agreement was difficult. The mumblings amongst my colleagues around the water cooler made this clear. Having spent many years in the private sector and self-employed, I was curious about how the union operated. When I began asking questions and digging for answers, I realized that the communication between union, employer and the members could be improved. We needed change.

I said “yes” to becoming a steward because I wanted the ability to uphold our collective agreement, represent the shared grievances of my co-workers, and work towards ensuring justice, fairness and integrity are maintained in my workplace. I wanted to be a liaison between the Local Executive Committee (LEC) and my colleagues, informing them about union activities, and to help improve morale about being members of a union. At our past LEC retreat I was impressed with the hard work and dedication of our past and newly-elected members. They are a diverse group of talented individuals wanting the same thing: Change! The retreat left me with a strong sense of union solidarity. Change was going to happen.

There is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Let us build upon our past, and work toward future successes for a better today and tomorrow. I am ready.

International spotlight: India. A plethora of injustice

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

Now that my kids are old enough to spare me a bit of quiet time, I’ve made a point of chipping away at my “must read” list which is years old. One title that I attacked this summer was A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This 700-page tome follows four individuals in India who, during mid-1970s government crises, come together and function as a supportive unit. The story is rife with injustice: poverty, overcrowding, over-zealous military and police actions. I got to thinking that conditions in present-day India must be quite different than those experienced during the last days of Indira Ghandi.

However, I’m quite wrong. Although we don’t hear much regarding India in the news, various human rights sites register instances of human rights violations right up to the present. I went searching, and the amount of information I found was astounding. The US State Department keeps tabs on nations around the world, and their records of human rights injustices around the world were so lengthy that I could never report in one article all that goes on. I didn’t even get to look into other countries—I stopped at India.

India has a population of approximately 1.2 billion people, and there are several concerns. Unlawful killings, disappearances, torture in jails, and a backlogged justice system make me glad I’m living in Canada.

In 2010, US State Department gathered the following information:

  • There were numerous reports that the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
  • The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported that security personnel abducted and killed a shop owner. The victim’s wife stated that her husband"s body was returned with 15 bullet holes, but the body was clad in combat dress that was free of any bullet holes which suggested tampering with the body.
  • In May 2009 the bodies of two women were found in a stream in Kashmir. Family members had to file a petition to reinstate an inquiry into the killings of the two women. Local residents and examining doctors alleged that Indian Security Forces gang-raped and killed the two.
  • On April 11, according to a report in India Today, a 28-year old person awaiting trial died after spending a week in prison on charges of being a Maoist. He had complained that his ribcage ached and was transported to a hospital, where he died a few hours later having succumbed to internal injuries.
  • Also contained in this report are stories of police throughout the country failing to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in hundreds of unresolved and unreported disappearances. Police and government officials typically deny these claims.
  • Prison conditions in India are reported to not meet international standards. Prisons are severely overcrowded, sanitation and other environmental conditions often do not meet international standards, and food and medical care are inadequate. The State"s sixty-four prisons were designed to detain 40,000 prisoners but reportedly housed approximately 90,000 prisoners during the year. India Today also indicated that the average capacity of each of the jails is 500 to 800 inmates, but each contained approximately 2,400 to 3,000 inmates. According to the report, the overcrowding caused extremely inhuman conditions in most facilities, which reportedly caused high rates of disease and the deaths of an average of 300 inmates per year in the various state prisons.

Phew. That’s quite a plethora of injustice to digest. As I mentioned earlier, this several-page document contained information on many countries around the world. I do not want to look like I’m picking on India—it’s just that I found their plight most interesting in contrast to my summer reading. In the end, I’m glad I’m living in Canada, yet I’m not so naïve to believe that our various social systems aren’t being challenged by corruption, funding cuts and staffing squeezes. I’ve been prodded to pay closer attention to our public services and who controls them.

Remember this while on Facebook and Twitter


As an employee, you have some obligations to your employer that don’t always end when you leave the workplace. At the same time, it’s in your interest to keep your life outside of work your own as much as possible.

Here are some things to remember when you post to your favourite social media site even when you’re in the privacy of your own home, on your own time and using your own account.

Don’t badmouth your employer or colleagues. The B.C. Labour Relations Board recently found that the walled garden of Facebook is not private. Everything you post on Facebook or Twitter is considered public, even if it’s just between friends, and you may be subject to discipline for comments that appear to affect your ability to do your job (e.g. “I can’t work with that idiot, so-and-so” or “I’m so bored/tired/sleepy/frustrated with work”). Don’t even joke about it; the Internet is the place irony goes to die. The same is true for Twitter and any other social networking site.

Avoid being Facebook friends with your boss. You should also avoid friending your supervisor or manager on Facebook. You’re not friends; you’re in a power relationship. It’s not really necessary, or advisable, to expose the details of your private life to your boss. If using Facebook is important in your work team, set up a work account.

Don’t identify your employer on your personal Facebook page, or Twitter page or blog. This is another strategy to avoid blurring the line between your personal life and your work. It will give you some protection against potential claims you are exploiting your employer for your own gain.

You can blow the whistle on unethical behaviour, but not on Facebook or Twitter (or any other website). Public criticism of your employer is risky business. You have a duty of loyalty under the law.

If you have a concern about something that’s going on at work, talk to a union rep about how best to resolve it. If you’re bothered about the way your employer is handling something, don’t vent online.
Don’t release information about your employer that isn’t already public. If it’s not your job to make public announcements, don’t make them. You can get into trouble for revealing proprietary information.

Your work computer is your employer’s property. Don’t assume that what you do on that computer (or mobile device) is private, even if you’re using a non-work account. It’s company equipment and they can monitor your computer use. At CBC, their contract says workers can expect respect for their personal privacy and a workspace free of surveillance, unless management has a legitimate reason to monitor you.

Aboriginal Circle: Promoting culture and traditions

Darlene Kaboni, Aboriginal Circle Member

The Aboriginal Circle is a group of OPSEU First Nation, Métis and Inuit members in good standing, who work to protect, preserve and promote the culture, traditions and language of our diverse Indigenous communities within OPSEU. The Aboriginal Circle also supports and assists our members within their workplaces in dealing with, educating and/or lobbying for Aboriginal issues. I am very proud to be a part of the Circle as a First Nations person and member of OPSEU.

The Aboriginal Circle had a productive two-day meeting at Ohsweken (Six Nations) October 13-14, 2011. It was the first meeting I attended as a First Nations member of the Circle for Region 6. I was very pleased with the advancements the Circle has accomplished within OPSEU.

The meetings were held in a traditional “circle” setup beginning with smudge and traditional teaching. The Circle has been supportive of campaigns such as Leonard Peltier and the Water Walk. OPSEU financially supports the annual Shannon’s Dream campaign. A letter of support from the Circle will be sent to the OPSEU Social Justice Fund for the Live and Let Live Campaign for their work helping those with HIV/AIDS. First Nations women are amongst the highest infected with this disease.

Two other campaigns being discussed in the Circle are the Walk4Justice Campaign (for missing and murdered Aboriginal women) and the Kichenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation’s Native Land Rights Now campaign.

After a presentation to the OPSEU Board, the Board unanimously approved an increase in funding to allow the Circle to meet its mandate of four meetings per year. We will also form a sub-committee comprised of the Circle Chair, Vice Chair, two OPSEU Board members and one Equity Staff member. This sub-committee will review and make recommendations to the Board by March 1, 2011 on how the Circle may fully perform its duties within the union, increase Aboriginal participation and be more visible. The sub-committee will also put forth a request from the Circle to have representation on the Convention floor from every Region. This will give voice to the Aboriginal Circle and gain the equivalent status of other Provincial Committees, such as the Provincial Human Rights Committee and the Provincial Women’s Committee.

Four members of the Circle attended the Provincial Women’s Conference on November 4-6, 2011 in Toronto. In addition to being a facilitator, Pauline Saulnier, Circle Chair, also did the blessing at the beginning and end of the conference.

Purchasing promotional items to increase the Circle’s visibility at OPSEU events was discussed, as well as updating the Circle’s website page to reflect the Circle’s Mission, Terms of Reference and news around the various Regions represented in the Circle. The creation of a Facebook page with links to Twitter are also being planned to allow our members a place to have discussion and keep up-to-date on news and events.

Future Aboriginal Circle meetings have been planned for January, April, June, and October in 2012. The October meeting will be hosted in Region 6 in Sudbury. I’d like to encourage OPSEU First Nation, Métis and Inuit members to contact the Aboriginal Circle if they have inquires or events they’d like to share.

Equity education essential for organization evolution

Mavis Vet, Local 232

Almost 40 leading OPSEU activists and staff attended OPSEU’s 10th Annual Joint Leadership Meeting in Toronto on September 10, 2011. This year’s theme was “Sustaining OPSEU’s Future: Strategies and Solutions for Accountability.”

The meeting, hosted by the Equity Chairs, focused on four objectives:

  • to assess our current and future position on equity as individuals and as an organization
  • to practice effective approaches to complex human rights issues
  • to increase our awareness about the key leadership roles involved in advancing equity in OPSEU; and
  • to identify benchmarks or desired results of an equity implementation plan

Participants also reviewed findings from the Membership System Review (MSR), or Phase I of Social Mapping. Released in March 2011, the MSR report included 45 recommendations to build a stronger union.

Phase II will focus on specific groups: aboriginal peoples, Francophones, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and transsexual peoples, workers with disabilities, racialized workers, women and young wokers.

A task force will review the results of the exercise. They will research, prioritize and provide cost analysis needed to implement its recommendations. The resulting report will then be forwarded to the Executive Board.

Guest speakers included Eddy Almeida (OPSEU 1st Vice-President/Treasurer), Tim McCaskell (Toronto activist, educator, writer) and Shaheen Azmi (Ontario Human Rights Commission).

Participants came away from the meeting with a better understanding of how important equity issues are in our roles as activists and how to ensure OPSEU continues to be the forerunner in adopting policies that are inclusive and treat all people with respect and dignity.

Women’s World 2011

Dora Robinson,
Chair of Provincial Women’s Committee

In Summer 2011, the seven sisters of the Provincial Women’s Committee were given an unparalleled opportunity to participate in a global women’s solidarity event with participants from 92 countries. Can you imagine this?

Women of all generations, faiths, races, and cultures gathered at the Women’s Worlds 2011 Conference in Ottawa-Gatineau in early July. The conference was held between the two beautiful campuses of the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.

“Inclusions, Exclusions, Seclusion: Living in a globalized world” was the theme and it achieved the largest international gathering of women to ever take place in Canada. Simply electric!

The gathering brought together women from the North and South, East and West, academic and grassroots, both resourced and marginalized, to have an exchange of powerful ideas and give impetus to the kind of change that women want to see all over the world. Frankly, it was magnificent.

We started every day with a group plenary session for the nearly 2,000 participants.

Day One: Women Breaking Cycles had women speaking of the systemic forces that support cycles of oppression against women and the courageous ways in which women worldwide are breaking these cycles.

Day Two: Women Breaking Ceilings looked at dismantling the ceilings of economic oppression and the ceilings that serve to reinforce women’s inequality by limiting opportunities for educational or labour-force advancement. Women learned what tools are needed to shatter those limits and what the consequences are.

Day Three: Women Breaking Barriers examined how women are leading the charge for change in redefining boundaries that are political, geo-political, economic, academic and sexual/gender in ways that encourage and promote women’s equality.

Day Four: Women Breaking Ground focused on the quest to alter HERSTORY once and for all and how women around the world are affecting change, challenging and changing the rules and seizing opportunities.

Every afternoon each of us chose from a menu of over 320 different workshops and focus sessions on an incredible array of topics. It was mind-boggling. And the experience was different for each of us.

The first workshop I attended was entitled, “Women’s Human Security – The Way Forward.” I was drawn to it because the course description asked the following question: What would security look like if women mattered? Would our thinking change if we took account of burdens borne by women in our current system of militarized state security? I had not thought of these things before. In a matter of an hour and a half, four teachers/writers/researchers drew a picture of the issue of human security, asking who is secure, who is not secure and whose interests are served. We also explored the reasons for developing a specifically feminist perspective on human security. It was an incredible class. I am a changed person.
The week did not stop at plenaries and workshops. Thousands of us participated in a Solidarity March in support of the 582 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada that concluded on Parliament Hill. There were art exhibits, plays, music and dance woven throughout the five days along with a book fair and a bazaar.

One of the highlights of the week was the enormous peace and resonance I found with the Women of the Americas Open Space Circle, along with Mary Cory, Region 7 EBM and PWC Liaison. Held over the supper hour for three days running, we met to share and reflect the wisdom that we hold for our times and to be in the quiet reflection of one another’s company in an open and welcoming circle.

It was a fitting end to each day, a time to decompress and to find a place of stillness within one’s self.

In another three years there will be another Women’s Worlds gathering. The venue will not be known until the end of this year. I have great hopes that the women of the Provincial Women’s Committee will become regular participants and will encourage other OPSEU sisters to attend this thought-provoking global convergence to advance women"s equality. More information on the conference can be found on their website: www.womensworlds.ca.

An OPSEU Moment

Charles Darrow

Known as one of the four horsemen, Charles Darrow (along with Jim Tait, Ron Haggett and Vic Williams) was instrumental in turning the Civil Service Association of Ontario (CSAO) into the Ontario Public Service Union (OPSEU). They shared a common vision. Brother Darrow was elected as CSAO President in 1975 when the association was transformed into OPSEU, a member-run union, controlled by elected members.

Members knew him as Charlie, Chuck, Chas and even The Puck. No matter what he was called, he was a blue-collar worker whose activism began prior to 1960, as President of the United Steel Workers in Kirkland Lake.

At brother Darrow’s funeral, Jim Tait said, “Charlie was never anything else other than a working man. Sometimes we working people are referred to as common people. But Charlie proved to all who had faith in him that the common man can rise to uncommon heights”.

His portrait now hangs in the front entranceway of OPSEU Head Office in Toronto as a tribute to his extraordinary contributions to the union he loved.


Proposition: “Secret ballots allow for honest voting”

‘A means to protect the right to vote’

Throughout history, wherever voting has been practiced, many different forms of “casting a ballot” have been used. Prior to the 1850s in America, “viva voce” (with voice) was common. Another popular form was to “vote with your feet,”…all those in favour stand over here those against stand over there.

Back then, voting rarely employed a ballot, even in Canada or Britain. The term “ballot” comes from the Italian “ballotto” (little ball), which meant using something like a small ball or pebble. It wasn’t until 1874 that Canadian Federal elections required a secret ballot. What we now know today as the secret ballot came to us from Australia circa 1850 and eventually took hold here and in Britain, and later the U.S.

Prior to the use of secret ballots undue influence and intimidation was commonplace on those casting a ballot. Whether it was economic in origin (fear of losing ones livelihood) or outright intimidation and bullying, a public display of voting placed many people in a vulnerable position.

Aside from the Australian connection, secret ballots may indeed owe its conception to a political and social reform movement begun in Britain between 1838 and 1848. Chartism (a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom) promoted issues such as secret ballot and equal size electoral districts. Some scholars believe that Chartism was the first mass working class labour movement in the world.

Now, how does that apply today to our union? Convention 2011 was to be my last official function with the union I had belonged to and served for so many years. At Convention, I tried to circulate as much as possible in my Region, say hello and goodbye and thank everyone I could for their years of friendship and support. As I drifted from table to table, a conversation with one delegate remains stuck in my mind.

I was asked by this individual why they were being “pressured” to vote for a certain candidate. I told this delegate I didn’t know anything about being pressured, but to vote for the person they thought was best for the job. This delegate said, “I can’t…everyone will see who I vote for when I raise my hand.”

At that point I realized that this delegate, who was new to OPSEU’s election process, was confused between how the union votes to pass motions on the floor of Convention (show of hands) with how we select our leadership (secret ballot). When I explained to this delegate that no one would know how they voted, relief washed over their face and that delegate happily voted their own conscience.

Even in the politics of our union today, undue pressure and bullying exist. The secret ballot neutralizes this.

The secret ballot is not a right in and of itself, but a means to protect the right to vote!

Peter Wall, past EBM, Region 6

‘Leadership comes with a price tag’

I am smart enough to understand that the point of secret balloting is to “protect” the democratic process from corruption. The concept is simple. A secret ballot allows the voter to cast his/her vote without being pressured from outside influences; without fear of intimidation (or worse) from others who do not share the same views.

When we elect someone to office, or when there is a certification vote or a ratification vote, I agree with secret ballots.

Where I feel secret balloting does NOT work is behind the closed doors of boardrooms. Elected leaders should not be allowed to cast secret ballots when they are making decisions affecting policy or spending. They have a responsibility and accountability to those who elected them.

Voters have a right to know their elected leader is fulfilling election promises and doing the job they were elected to do. Voters chose them because they felt they had similar values and beliefs, similar ethics and ideals and similar thoughts on important issues with the elected candidate.

Each elected leader with the right to vote should be accountable to the members who put them in power. The members should have the right to question their vote if it seems out of line. Without knowing how their elected official voted, the members they serve are kept in the dark. Are their elected representatives acting in good faith for the greater good or is he/she bowing to peer pressure or voting a certain way for political/personal gain?

Leadership comes with a price tag. By knowing how their elected members voted on issues throughout their term, members can make an informed decision on how to vote when elections are held again for new leadership. Who kept their promises? Who acted for the betterment of the whole group? Those elected leaders who cannot be transparent or who are not willing to be accountable for their voting power should rethink their political aspirations and allow others to step forward who are willing to do the job.

The only reason one would not agree to an open ballot for decisions on policy and spending is purely for political reasons; for fear of not being re-elected, for fear that divided/changing loyalties may be exposed or to avoid transparency because one has something to hide.

Karrie Ouchas, In Solidarity Committee Member

Have your say!

Do you agree with the Point or Counterpoint or have your own opinion regarding this topic?
In each edition of In Solidarity, we strive to have a controversial statement debated by OPSEU members. Now we would like to know your opinion.
The next edition will have your say. Send your comments to the editor, Laurie Sabourin at: opseu.insolidarity@gmail.com


OPSEU: Helping you with your claim

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

In the last two editions of In Solidarity, we examined how to report workplace accidents and how to file WSIB claims. In addition, we looked into what to do if a claim for WSIB insurance is denied. In this final instalment, we will cover how OPSEU claims and benefits officers can help you with WSIB issues.

Where do I go for help with my claim?
Benefits counsellors in the Membership Benefits Unit of OPSEU may be able to help by reviewing your file; however, there is no guarantee that OPSEU will be able to sway the final decision of your WSIB claim.

What’s my first step?
The first thing you must do is obtain your WSIB file (WSIB Fact Sheet 2- Appealing a WSIB Decision). From there, make sure to check the time limits for an appeal outlined in the letter from your case manager. You must give notice that you intend to appeal by the deadline given, or the WSIB may refuse to consider your appeal.

What do I do next?
Once your file arrives, forward the file and objection form to the Member Benefits Unit at OPSEU Head Office. Your regional office can send your file via internal mail; the “contact us” button at www.opseu.org will supply you with the address of your regional OPSEU office. Or, you can call (416) 443-8888 or 1(800) 268-7376. If you’d like to mail your file directly, the address is 100 Lesmill Road, Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8.

Then what happens?
A benefits counsellor will then review your file and will determine whether your appeal has merit based on evidence in the file. These counsellors can also help you with further evidence that could help your case.

Additional information
The available WSIB information doesn’t mention this, but it is your duty as an injured worker to help correct your circumstances while awaiting benefit entitlement. This means you must try to take whatever measures you can to help reduce the effects of the workplace accident, hence, helping you get back to work as early as possible.
Also, you, your union, your employer, and your doctor or medical team need to work together to outline a return to work plan with accommodations. If your accommodations aren’t working out, you are to contact your local representatives or an OPSEU staff member for help. If you are having trouble completing your duties, your physician can provide specific restrictions and can ask your employer to accommodate them.

One final note
If for any reason you feel your employer has discriminated against you on the basis of your disability or any issues with your return to work accommodations, your next step is to file a grievance within the time limits prescribed in your collective agreement. Contact one of your local stewards, your local president or an OPSEU staff representative for assistance.

International Youth Day
Youth wanted

Kaylan Bartholomew, Provincial Young Workers Committee

OPSEU’s International Youth Day (IYD) is an annual educational event hosted by the Provincial Young Workers Committee (PYC) as a forum for young OPSEU members to come together, learn, share ideas and network. The event is held in August over two days to coincide with events held within Canada and around the globe celebrating and bringing together youth.

Each year the PYC chooses a theme to base the year’s event around. In the past themes have ranged from education to poverty. Regardless of the topic chosen, the PYC looks at its connection to youth and young workers in particular. Committee members work closely with staff to plan the educational materials and program for both days.

The first day starts with the committee introducing themselves and briefly explaining why, as young workers, they decided to become more involved and active within OPSEU. Then the group introduces this year’s topic through a large group discussion. The evening is capped off with a social event hosted by PYC members. This allows members to network and meet each other from across the province.

Day two involves guest speakers with first-hand knowledge around the theme. As well, participants are asked to split into groups to discuss the theme and come up with plans of action they can take back to their local and community. This year’s participants also presented a resolution at convention in regards to poverty and the way OPSEU can help.

Young workers are also introduced to OPSEU, and the local and provincial roles are explained. A brief history and overview of the organization is explained; the benefits of a union, as well as how to access help and assistance from OPSEU.

Feedback from participants has been positive. “It’s really fantastic that us young workers can gather at IYD to discuss current issues that we face,” says Ange Thompson of Local151. “Young workers are the future of OSPEU, so it’s important we have events like this to get us out and involved.” Most young workers have attended IYD more than once and we’ve had many members tell us they are looking forward to next year’s event.

Next year’s event is planned for August 9-10, 2012. As of yet, the theme has not been determined. The committee would like to encourage all members to think about the young workers within their locals and encourage them to get involved and attend.

Registration forms will be available by Convention 2012. If you have any questions about IYD or any other young worker-related issues please do not hesitate to contact a member of the PYC. All members’ contact information can be found on OPSEU’s website under the Member Equity heading.

Stand Up for Public Services and Tax Fairness

Your work is under attack.

The last recession left Ontario with a big budget deficit. Now, Premier Dalton McGuinty wants to pay it off with deep, painful cuts to public services.
The cuts he’s planning will hurt. Some government ministries could be slashed by 33 per cent.

The agencies government pays for are on the chopping block, too. From the smallest women’s shelter to the biggest hospital, no public service – or job – is safe.

Public services depend on the taxes we all pay. But as he cuts services for people, McGuinty is cutting taxes for corporations. His corporate income tax cuts will slash $2.4 billion a year from services and jobs. Meanwhile, people like Canada’s top 100 CEOs – who made over $6.6 million a year in 2009 – can access loopholes that let them pay lower rates of tax than the rest of us. It’s not fair. And it’s not good for Ontario.

Make your voice heard

It’s time communities talked about McGuinty’s cuts – and what we could do instead. Your union is joining with the Public Services Foundation of Canada to hold community hearings and town hall forums across Ontario in early 2012.

We want to hear from frontline workers, service users, community groups, and experts on public services and tax fairness. Most of all, we want to hear from you.

Attend hearings and town hall forums on Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness in these communities!



Town Hall Forums

January 5



January 9



January 10



January 11



January 16



January 17



January 18



January 19



January 23

Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay

January 30



February 1



February 7

Owen Sound

Owen Sound

February 9



February 14

Sault Ste. Marie

Sault Ste. Marie


To find out more about the Commission on Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness, visit www.standupontario.org . If your community is not listed here, you can still get involved by making a written submission or by joining the conversation online. Check the web for details.

To learn about the Public Services Foundation of Canada, visit www.publicservicesfoundation.ca .

OPSEU’s Newsletter and Website Awards: CAAT CLEANS UP

Laurie Sabourin, In Solidarity

Every fall OPSEU holds the annual Editors Weekend at the Delta Chelsea in Toronto. Members from across the province gather together to participate in newsletter and website courses and celebrate the best newsletters and websites from the past year.

Locals are encouraged to send a member to the educational who works on local communications, whether it be a newsletter or a local website. Courses range from writing and designing to technical workshops. Participants can attend courses from how to write articles, take the perfect picture , and design newsletters and websites.

Saturday night showcases the award winners from the past year. Each local submits its best newsletter, articles, website, photograph and/or illustration. Categories are based on the size of the local. A/B category consists of locals up to 500 members. Category C is locals with more than 500.

Judging the design category this year was Debbie Wilson, a graphic designer and judging the writing category was Rosemarie Bahr, editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media.

This year’s award winners are:


Category A/B – FYI, Local 667
Category C – Unfettered, Local 558

Category A/B – Out Of Line, Local 125
Category C – Unfettered, Local 558

Category A/B – Entête, Local 470
Category C – (tie): Unfettered, Local 558 &
The Educator, Local 110

Category A/B – Comm. and Activities Newsletter Local 608
Category C – Local Lines, Local 415

Category A/B – Local 232 News, Local 232
Category C – The Educator, Local 110

Category A/B – Scoops, Local 656
Category C – No Winner

Category A/B – No winner
Category C – The Examiner, Local 240

Category A/B – The Vocal Local, Local 556
Category C – Local Lines, Local 415


Category A/B – No Winner
Category C – Unfettered, Local 558

Category A/B – No Winner
Category C – Local Lines, Local 415
Hon. Mention – Unfettered, Local 558

Category A/B – opseu556.org, Local 556
Hon. Mention – opseulocal345.org, Local 345
Category C – opseu558.org, Local 558

Category A/B – Northern Booze News, Local 681
Category C – Local Lines, Local 415

Category A/B – The Vocal Local, L.556
Hon. Mention: Entête, Local 470
Category C – (TIE): Local Lines, Local 415 &
Unfettered, Local 558

New In Solidarity team elected

Every two years, the members attending the OPSEU Editors Weekend elect the In Solidarity Committee for a two-year term.

This year was an election year, and the new members of the team are: Laurie Sabourin, Editor, Local 368; Karrie Ouchas, Local 340; Felicia Fahey, Local 681; Lisa Bicum, Local 125 and Nancy Hart-Day, Local 234.

The team is responsible for the publication of In Solidarity and planning Editors’ Weekend.

One-quarter of Canada’s workforce 55+ by 2021

Crawford Kilian/The Tyee/CALM

CANADA’S WORKFORCE will barely grow over the next 20 years, according to a Statistics Canada report. And it will be a much older, more diverse workforce.

Using a number of population-projection scenarios, StatsCan foresees labour-force growth by 2016 to fall to under one per cent per year. By comparison, growth was around four per cent in the early 1970s as the baby boomers began to enter the labour market.

As the growth of the labour force loses momentum, the population of seniors aged 65 and over is projected to grow increasingly rapidly as a result of population aging and the entry of the baby boomers into this age range.

Consequently, according to all scenarios, the overall participation rate is projected to decline during the next two decades.

In 2010, the participation rate was 67.0 per cent; by 2031, it is projected to range between 59.7 per cent and 62.6 per cent, which would be the lowest since the late 1970s.
Between 2001 and 2009, the proportion of people in the labour force aged 55 and over rose from 10 per cent to 17 per cent, an increase of seven percentage points in nine years. The first baby boomers reached the age of 55 in 2001.

This increase is projected to continue from 2010 to 2021, when the succeeding cohorts of baby boomers in turn reach 55. By 2021, according to three of the five scenarios, nearly one person in four in the labour force (roughly 24 per cent) could be 55 years of age or over, the highest proportion on record.

Also, by 2031, the ratio of people in the labour force to seniors aged 65 and over not in the labour force, that is mostly retired people, is also projected to decline. In 1981, there were roughly six persons in the labour force for each retiree. By 2031, or 50 years later, this ratio is projected to decline to less than three to one, according to all five scenarios. The ratio is projected to decline in every province.

By 2031, roughly one in every three people in the labour force could be foreign born. Between 1991 and 2006, the percentage of foreign-born people in the labour force rose from 18.5 per cent to 21.2 per cent. If recent immigration levels were to continue, that proportion is projected to reach almost 33 per cent in 2031, according to most scenarios.

For more than 20 years, Canadian immigration has come mainly from Asian countries. Consequently, between 1996 and 2006, the proportion of people in the labour force belonging to a visible minority group rose from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. According to most scenarios, this proportion could more than double to 32 per cent by 2031.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

The steward’s role in bargaining

Bargaining a new contract offers stewards many opportunities to build a stronger organization by teaching members how bargaining really works.

Members often think the outcome of bargaining has little to do with them. Some members have very high and unrealistic expectations they challenge “the union” to meet. Others quietly tell the steward that almost any settlement would be okay because they want to avoid conflict. Still others ask why the union doesn’t hire “a professional negotiator” like some of the high-profile lawyers they see on TV news.

The union has a problem if members don’t understand that, in large part, it’s what the members say and do, not who the union has sitting at the bargaining table , that forms management’s decision about what it will agree to during bargaining.

Stewards must educate members about bargaining so they appreciate what it takes to get the best agreement possible. Then, stewards have a crucial role in involving members in convincing management that they are unified and ready to fight for a fair agreement.

Seriously engage and educate members
While mailed bargaining surveys are considered successful if 20 or 30 per cent of members respond, when stewards hand collect surveys from the members the response can be greater than 90 per cent. The one-to-one approach gives stewards the opportunity to answer questions, engage members in discussions and show management that people are involved.

Teach how bargaining works
Ask members to imagine they are part of the management team setting the employee’s negotiating strategy. Have them think about what management wants out of bargaining. Usually, they’ll come up with a long list of priorities that add up to less for the workers. Then ask the members who have been role-playing as managers the big question: “What determines how much management agrees to in bargaining?” At this point it dawns on most that bargaining is not as much about reasonable arguments as it is membership unity and the pressure they exert on management.

Anticipate and counter management propaganda
Management frequently will communicate with members during bargaining through rumours and “off the record” comments from supervisors, through ‘sincere’ letters and bulletins, or perhaps through statements to the media.

Their goal: lower member’s expectations and convince them that they have no choice but to accept management’s “fair” or “competitive” offer. Sometimes rumours circulate about “sell-outs” and secret deals, or other stories with the potential to divide the members and undermine the union’s bargaining team.

That’s why many unions hold regular briefings to help stewards stay up to date and informed about the progress of bargaining so they can pass on reliable information, get answers to member’s questions, and clear up rumours and misinformation.

Lead and mobilize
It’s not enough to have members who are informed: they also have to demonstrate their determination to win a fair agreement and in some cases strike if necessary. Working with the union’s top leadership, stewards can lead their members in developing and carrying out actions.

These can be simple, like everyone wearing buttons or agreeing not to discuss bargaining with their supervisors. Or they can be more involved, like demonstrating at shareholder or elected officials’ meetings or reaching out and speaking to community allies about how the issues in bargaining affect more than just the union’s members.

Creative actions using new media can be effective. With one loaf of bread representing the pay of an average worker, a Seattle UFCW local made a video for YouTube that shows members piling on over 500 loaves to represent their CEO’s salary. It ended by asking viewers to contact management and tell them to “share the success.”

It takes a lot of one-on-one discussions between stewards and members to get enough participation to make actions successful.

Good stewards talk regularly to every member they represent and keep a chart with phone numbers and other relevant information to make sure they don’t forget anyone. This kind of one-on-one contact and list-keeping also helps stewards recruit active members to help with the mobilization.

Follow through after an agreement is reached
Once there is a new contract, make sure members understand the agreement and the role their actions played in getting it: this will help them vote on whether to ratify it. Become familiar with the new provisions of the agreement and channel the activism you generated during bargaining into enforcing it as well as taking actions to address injustices that might not be winnable through the grievance procedure alone. Not only will this make your members’ work lives better, but you will be ready to fight for an even better agreement in the next round of negotiations.

-Ken Margolies. The writer is on the Labour Extension faculty of Cornwell University.

*** This article is reprinted courtesy of Union Communications Services Inc., 1633 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009. To order a subscription, you can call 1-800-321-2545. By agreement between In Solidarity and Union Communications Services, this material may not be reproduced. ***

10 mistakes a steward should never make

International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers, Local 1613

1. Miss your deadline
You know what the contract says, but somehow you forget to file the grievance within the specified time. The grievance, in almost every case, becomes history. Two pieces of advice: Keep a calendar diary with dates marked in red so you won"t miss deadlines; and if you need more time, ask for an extension from management and get it in writing.

2. Never get back to the grievor
This usually happens when the steward determines that the member has no grievance. Rather than be the bearer of bad tidings, the steward disappears. This is irresponsible. If the issue is not grievable under the contract, see if it can be resolved in another manner. If not, tell the member that the issue cannot be written as a grievance, and give him/her the reasons.

3. Bad mouth the union
If you have a problem with the way things are done or with your leadership, discuss the issue(s) in a rational manner. Get off the soapbox and see if the difference can be resolved. There"s plenty of room for discussion and disagreement. But when it spills out on the shop floor or at a meeting when management is present, such disagreements can permanently weaken the union. A house divided against itself will fail.

4. Drop the routine fly ball
You are the steward with responsibilities outlined by the constitution and by-laws. You should not make basic mistakes. Grievances should be written correctly. Information should be shared. You should know your rights. If you are unsure or don"t know the answer, ask.

5. Sit down and shut up at meetings with management
In your role as a steward you are the union advocate. This role is an active one. You are the equal of management. You may ask questions, ask for and get records to process grievances, and even raise your voice at meetings when necessary.

6. Lose control
A major no-no. You or a member may be baited at a grievance meeting so that you will get angry. A steward who argues out of anger and not facts will lose the grievance. Period.

7. Write long grievances
Grievances should be short and sweet. Management is being paid big salaries to supervise. Don"t do the work for them. Your grievances should identify the grievor, outline the problem in a sentence or two, state what article of the contract is being violated, and what remedy you want to make the grievor whole. Save the arguments for the meeting. A good poker player never tips his/her hand.

8. Meet the grievor for the first time at the grievance hearing
If this is the first time you"ve met the member, you are inviting trouble. Big time. You should talk to the grievor face to face when you investigate the grievance and write it.
You should also talk to the grievor prior to the hearing to familiarize him/her with the process. When they walk into the room, they should feel as comfortable as possible. They should know that “yes,” “no,” and “I don"t know” are acceptable answers at a hearing. Describe the room to them, who will be there, and what they will be asked.

9. Wait for the member to come to you with the problem
If you do this, you will never gain the respect of the membership you represent or the management you must deal with. Problems can often be resolved before they explode into grievances. And members may not be as aware of contract violations and grievable issues as you are.

10. Forget to take a breather
This is intense work. Stewards work a full-time job and then take on their union responsibilities. This kind of existence is rewarding but is fraught with burn-out. Take time for yourself and your family. J

Be Prepared – It’s not just for Scouts

Tim King, Local 736

Winter. Each year we complain about it as if it is something new to us. “Too cold”, “too much snow”, “too windy”, “too slippery”, “too icy”, etc. Ontario has about 4-6 months of winter weather, depending on where you live in the province. And you need to be prepared no matter where you live. It can be a matter of life and death for you and your family.

I like being prepared. It goes back to my Scout training. I don’t like to rely on other people who are usually unprepared themselves. I recommend keeping a safety stash of items in the trunk of your car at all times just in case you or someone else is ever in an accident or a roadside emergency.
Some things I have in a duffle-bag are:

  • Emergency escape tool
  • Jumper cables
  • Bungee cords/nylon string
  • Toolbox with car specific tools
  • Change of clothes/blanket
  • First aid kit
  • Food / energy bars
  • Lock de-icer
  • A litre of motor oil and spare oil filter
  • Notebook
  • Matches/lighter
  • Hand-crank radio
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Two knives

The most recent addition to my kit is an auxiliary power converter to plug in any item you may have. A few things not on the list include: a car jack, 2×6 board for the jack to sit on, a spare tire (not the donut tire), flags/flares and a rubber mat.

Now if you are ever stuck on the highway due to highway closures, you have the supplies to help yourself or someone else, pass the time, fix the situation or even save a life.

When it comes to getting ready for the summer season, I change the type of food bars and clothes I pack and generally keep everything else the same. I have used a few things out of this “survival kit” before and it really made a difference.

You never want to play with chance – it’s usually a roll of the dice. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an ace up your sleeve when it happens?

Being CALM has its advantage

By Karrie Ouchas, In Solidarity

Don’t let the acronym fool you. The 400-plus members of the Canadian Association of Labour Media (CALM) are anything but calm. They are staunch labour activists, not unlike yourself, working together to get their stories out. They come from across Canada and elsewhere.

One of the biggest obstacles we face is how to get out labour stories through mainstream media. CALM provides tools for union communicators to get their stories seen. This is particularly true at the grass-roots level.

The organization began in1976 through a group of affiliates of the Canadian Labour Congress. By 1986, CALM was providing full news and graphic services. This includes the sharing of labour stories from across Canada and beyond, and graphics that can be used in union publications for a nominal fee, based on circulation numbers (starting at $110 per year).

An invaluable resource, CALM member benefits include access to hundreds of labour-friendly stories and graphics, networking with other union communicators and a way to share stories and ideas. CALM also provides annual educational opportunities. Courses include body language, writing, design, editing, desktop publishing, photography and web design.

For more information or to become a member of CALM, visit www.calm.ca.

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