OPSEU In Solidarity banner

In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Spring/Summer 2010

In Solidarity Spring/Summer 2010

Ontario 2020: Focus on the future

Download this issue

Emily Visser, OPSEU Communications

The first conference of its kind, Ontario 2020 brought together over 250 participants from government, business, unions and the community. Initiated by President Smokey Thomas, this was an exciting opportunity to plan and strategize about the kind of Ontario we want to see ten years into the future.

Ontario 2020 provided an important forum for sharing ideas about healthcare, education, community services and the economy. Policy makers and elected officials, local community groups and labour organizations all had an opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

The Process

While the Conference itself was held on March 4th and 5th, the process began months before-hand. A Steering Committee was put in place, which included such influential members as Francis Lankin, CEO of United Way Toronto; Dwight Duncan, Minister of Finance and Chair of Management Board of Cabinet; Keiko Nakamura, Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Community Housing; as well as OPSEU’s own Smokey Thomas. This provided a wide-ranging representation of interests and input.

Vector Polling specialist Marc Zwelling worked with a dedicated team to put together a series of interest-based forums. Four lively pre-Conference events resulted in a series of recommendations based on the input of invited participants. This provided the initial direction for the Conference debates and helped to generate a series of ‘Scenarios’.

The Scenarios

Printed up as booklets and distributed to all participants in advance of the Conference, a total of sixteen different scenarios were showcased. The scenarios contained fascinating insights and possible directions to where Ontario might be heading in 2020.

Conference attendees participated in sessions on the economy, health care, communities and education. The sixteen scenarios were used as a jumping-off point for two days of intense Conference decision-making workshops. As ideas were brought forward during these workshops, they were immediately inputted into computers. At the end of each session, participants used hand-held voting machines to decide whether or not they agreed with the proposals. Polling results were shared on the big screens, providing instant feedback on areas of common opinion. Reports were available at the end of the Conference as giveaways.

The Speakers

The Ontario 2020 Conference featured topical presentations by high-profile speakers.

One highlight was the lecture by Thomas Homer-Dixon, global visionary and author of the acclaimed The Upside of Down, who argued that decentralized systems would provide long-term policy solutions that would be key to good decision making.

Peggy Nash, NDP Party President, gave a well-received, animated talk about the importance of work, drawing from her considerable insights into the needs of different community groups.

Justin Trudeau’s talk provided an opportunity to address the important issues of the environment and the needs of young people. He was generous with his time, and many attendees were able to have their photo taken with him.

Special Events

The keynote dinner speaker was Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and Chair of the U.N. Human Rights Committee. With her extensive work for human rights, ethical globalization, and more recently as Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, Mary’s rousing call to action on the behalf of our sisters and brothers in the Global South received a standing ovation.

Breakfast with Ontario’s Political Leaders offered attendees an opportunity to bring their issues directly to the attention of elected Members of Provincial Parliament. Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transportation, Wayne Arthurs, MPP and Parliamentary Assistant to the Finance Minister, NDP leader Andrea Horwath and MPP Peter Tabuns were among the guests who came to this packed event.

Moving forward

As the process of putting together the Ontario 2020 Conference began, it seemed that there were many differences of perspective and opinion to negotiate, and a wide variety of interests to address.

The collaborative discussions and presentations, polling exercises and special events put together for this Conference brought out the commonalities of our needs. While we cannot say that we have definitive answers or solutions, we are moving forward with a sense of renewed solidarity which transcends sectors and politics.

The Ontario 2020 Conference truly provided an opportunity to plan together for Ontario’s future.

One day longer, One day stronger

Laurie Sabourin, In Solidarity

On Monday March 22, 2010, OPSEU joined t he Ontario Federation of Labour, Canadian Labour Congress, and other affiliated unions for the Bridging the Gap solidarity rally in Sudbury to demonstrate their support for the miners and smelter workers on strike at mining giant Vale Inco.

More than 3,000 Steelworkers in Sudbury, Port Colborne and Voisey’s Bay, NL, are in the tenth month of a strike over their fundamental rights. The company is demanding huge rollbacks in pensions, nickel bonus, and seniority rights from the members of the United Steelworkers union. For the first time in the history of the United Steelworkers union at Inco, the company is using scabs.

Side by side, union members along with family, friends and supporters, marched from the new Steelworkers hall, through the downtown core, and finally reaching the Sudbury Arena. Chants of “One Day Longer, One Day Stronger” echoed through the underpass as union flags from across the country and across the world flew in support.

International union leaders, from Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland attended, m any whom have experience in their own country the strong-arm anti-union tactics of Vale, one of the most profitable multinational corporations in the world. Beside them stood Canadian labour leaders, including Ken Georgetti, Sid Ryan,
Leo Gerard, Ken Neumann, Wayne Fraser, John Fera, and Wayne Rae.

OPSEU was well represented, led by President Smokey (Warren) Thomas and five Executive Board Members, along with hundreds of OPSEU members.

Felicia Fahey, president of OPSEU Local 681, along with her two children, walked in solidarity to the Sudbury Arena.

“I have brought my children here today to teach them the true meaning of union and solidarity. I try to use everyday situations to teach my girls about life,” she said. “I tell them how important this rally is to the men and women who are on strike. I have told them the history of how unions continue fighting for better health and safety protections, equity in the workplace and benefits for all of us and our families.”

Government officials, including Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, Ontario and Federal NDP leaders Andrea Horwath and Jack Layton spoke to the crowd. Layton led a chant, “Vale you picked the wrong town, you picked the wrong union,” which energized the crowd. This is currently the longest strike in the history of the company.

(Editor’s note: Since the time of writing, a tentative agreement has been reached to end the strike.)

The most important document of your life

Eric Morin, Local 635 – Past Chair of  CERC

Have you ever stopped to think how important your collective agreement (CA) is in your life and that of your family? Have you ever wondered if belonging to a union that negotiates your collective agreement has any real benefit to you and your loved ones? Just take a minute to stop and think about everything your collective agreement provides and how that impacts you personally. Better yet, speak with people in your workplace about how various provisions of their collective agreement make their life better.

Regardless of where you work, if you have a collective agreement, your overall economic well being is likely better that someone who does not have the benefit of collective bargaining. Here are a few examples of how people have benefited from having a collective agreement.

Meet Betty and Sandra

Betty is a clerk at a mental health facility. She recently had her first child and was able to take advantage of the parental leave provisions of her collective agreement. Because of her CA, she had her Employment Insurance Benefit topped up to 87 per cent of her regular salary. She was also able to continue her health benefits while on leave for a small monthly payment. This is important to Betty because her husband Jim is a construction labourer and has no health benefits. Maintaining benefits proved to be important as her baby had some complications at birth the required expensive medication.  

Betty’s friend Sandra is also a clerk except she works in a law office. When she was on parental leave she did not get any top up of her salary. Because Sandra’s employer does not provide health benefits, she didn’t even have a choice about maintaining them. Because of financial implications she had to return to work from her parental leave sooner than planned.

Meet Jim and Bob

Jim is a plumber in a large correctional facility. Eighteen months ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer because he had a PSA test that was covered under his employee health insurance, which forms part of his CA. Jim had to have surgery immediately to remove his prostate. This is difficult surgery that requires months of convalescence. Fortunately, Jim had good short and long-term sick leave provision in his CA that provided sufficient wage replacement so his family could get by financially until he returned to work last month. During his time away from work, Jim did not lose any seniority, his health benefits continued and the employer continued to make pension contributions on his behalf.

Jim has a neighbour Bob who is also a plumber but is self-employed. Bob has been very successful working on his own. He often kids Jim about making more money than him and as a result his wife is a stay-at-home mom. Bob has worked hard at ensuring his business is a success. However, around the same time Jim became ill, Bob had a mild heart attack and the prognosis was not good. Consequently he had to undergo triple-bypass surgery which meant he could not work for at least a year. Because Bob was self-employed he did not have any wage replacement available to him. In order to get through a year without work, Bob had to dip into his retirement savings and his wife had to get a job. Because Bob had no supplementary health insurance he had to pay for expensive post-operative medication out of his pocket which put the family under more financial stress. When he did return to work, Bob realized any retirement plans had to be postponed until he could recover his losses from his year off work.

You can see unionized workers can enjoy many advantages because of their collective agreement and their ability to bargain collectively. As a union member, you can influence the outcome of bargaining through your input in demand setting and promoting solidarity with your bargaining team. The workplace issues that can be addressed in collective bargaining are only limited your imagination and collective will. Collective Agreements can address things like conflict resolution (grievance procedure), job security, termination entitlements, seniority, protection from bullying and harassment, hours of work and scheduling, health and safety, and working conditions, to name a few. Leave provisions from parental to educational leave, from family leave to time-off for jury duty and, of course, vacation and sick leave. All of these items can be negotiated. Without a union or a CA you would only be entitled to the minimum standard provided in the Employment Standards Act.

Of course the area of critical importance in your collective agreement is its financial impact. Your salary, overtime pay, income protection and benefits also form part of your collective agreement.

As you can see, your collective agreement is arguably the most importance economic document in your life. It provides you clarity, predictability and security in critical areas of your life. It plays a key role in determining what kind of house you can afford or car you can buy. It also can ensure that most medical needs for you and your family are met. Your collective agreement is your life’s economic blueprint.

Your right to collective bargaining is something you should embrace and be very proud of. Any right is only good if you exercise it. So what are you waiting for? Get involved in collective bargaining for your next contract today!

Digital Death Wills

Tim King, In Solidarity

It is one of the scariest things to plan for… death. When preparing for this inevitable life event, there is a lot to think about. Estate, affairs, spouse, children, dependants, taxes and income, distribution of estate and property, trusts and account settlements, feelings and needs of the family…and the list goes on. You may have even thought about a Power of Attorney in the event you are unable to speak for yourself or become incapacitated.

You may have gone to a lawyer to maintain a copy of your will; set up a system with your financial institution to take care of it or you may have just bought a safe for your home to store these important papers.


Have you given any thought about your “Digital Death Will?” Most people have not.

While you want your affairs in order when you pass away, your name to stay clean and assets protected, it leaves a whole other world open, ripe for the taking. With more and more people connected to the internet, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, various Instant Messengers and numerous other social networking methods, the need for privacy and security measures has increased. Years ago, the Internet-user population was a younger crowd, but has now enveloped everyone from children to seniors. It is one of the cheapest and simplest ways to contact and communicate with family and friends.

What happens to a person’s online identity when they pass away? What happens to their Facebook accounts? What happens to their Twitter accounts? Who will look after their cyber affairs when they are gone? It is not up to the companies to take care of it; it is the user’s responsibility. It doesn’t take long for friends, family and identity thieves to continue looking at profiles for information. Your posted photos stay online forever; your thoughts, games, scores, diary, etc. are never closed.

Remember how you have been always warned about writing down your user names and passwords and what a bad idea it is? That is the way things used to be. You now have to think about the security and safety of not only your physical affairs – but your digital affairs too.

It is strongly suggested that the person you trust to take care of your affairs (Power of Attorney or Executor) also be the person to close your digital/cyber accounts. This means breaking the rule of not writing down login and password information and keeping a list of the respective companies with the will. If your will is safe – so will your login and account information.

Your “digital/cyber will” should include all your active online accounts, not just social networking sites. Check with your lawyer to add a clause in the will with instructions and identifying person(s) who you wish to follow through with the closing process. One format could be:

I, _______________ authorize _________________ and / or _____________________ to close the following accounts:

Facebook www.facebook.com

Username: Superstar54

Password: Orion33

eBay   www.ebay.ca

Username: Skyward

Password: Northstar44

It is not only the elderly or the sick that need to think about wills or digital wills. Accidents happen and you want to be prepared for any situation. Even though your words and photos, name, date of birth and all other personal information may be okay for family, you don’t want to chance losing it to the wrong people. It is best to close the accounts for your own, your estate and your family’s protection.  It is up to us to be prepared and take care of our own identity.

Unclaimed money could be yours

Laurie Sabourin, In Solidarity

Are you like many Canadians, living pay cheque to pay cheque? You might be penny pinching for the last time. You are most likely not going to win the lottery, but you could have money just waiting to be collected at the Bank of Canada.

At the beginning of last year, $351 million of unclaimed money was waiting for its rightful owners. This unclaimed money, in the form of Canadian-dollar deposits and negotiable instruments issued by Canadian banks in Canada, has been abandoned. These include deposit accounts, bank drafts, certified cheques, money orders and traveller’s cheques.

After ten years of inactivity, these unclaimed balances are given to the custody of the Bank of Canada for safekeeping.

The first thing you need to do is check with the Bank of Canada. This is available to the public without charge. Check on their website – http://www.bank-banque-canada.ca/en/ucb/index.html , by mail or by fax.

If you find you are the rightful owner, an heir to an estate or the person in your organization responsible for finances, you need documents proving your identity and connecting you with the account. You have from 40 to 100 years to claim it depending on the amount. The oldest unclaimed money dates back to 1900.

Even OPSEU has three unclaimed money accounts waiting to be retrieved, and a search of the word “Union” brought 261 hits at this site.

Women in the Workforce: Still A Long Way from Equality

Elizabeth Ha, Local 154

Some people see the issue of economic equality for women as outdated and out of tune, especially with the new world of opportunity that has opened up with higher education for women and a more equal division of work between women and men. Yet, after many years of progress through the 1970s and 1980s, since the mid-1990s the gender wage gap in Canada has remained stuck at one of the highest levels in the advanced industrial world.

In 2005, the most recent year for which we have figures, women working full-time for the full year earned an average of $39,200, or 70.5 per cent as much as comparable men who earned an average of $55,700. In the mid 1990s, the same women earned 72 per cent as much as men. The pay gap is even greater for university-educated women, who earned just 68 per cent as much as men in 2005, down from 75 per cent a decade ago. The gender pay gap in Canada is the fifth greatest in the advanced industrial countries and even bigger than in the US.

Strikingly, the pay gap has grown rather than narrowed even as women have become more highly educated than men, and even as most women have decided to have fewer children later in life. Half of women aged 25 to 44 now have a post secondary qualification, compared to 40 per cent of men, and the education gap is even bigger among young people. Women are participating in the paid labour force at higher levels than ever before, and very few women now drop out of paid work for extended periods of time. But, the pay gap persists and grows.

One key reason for the gender wage gap is that women without high levels of education (or whose credentials are unrecognized in Canada) are much more likely than men to be employed in very low-paid, unsecure, part-time and temporary jobs, especially in private sector sales and service jobs. More than one in five women aged 25 to 54, the peak earnings years, make less than $12 per hour, almost double the proportion of men. Working women, especially recent immigrant women of colour, have suffered most from the failure of governments to maintain adequate minimum wages and employment standards to protect low paid and precarious workers.

When it comes to better-paid jobs, women are still largely excluded from blue collar jobs, especially in the skilled trades. But a large and growing layer of women have indeed moved into professional and skilled technical jobs, in education, health care and other community and public services. These women are still paid less than comparable men, and are significantly under-represented in very well-paid jobs. More than three in four of the earners making at least $89,000 per year (the top five per cent of the Canadian workforce) are men, and men are still three times more likely than women to be senior managers.

Public services employ 29 per cent of all women compared to 17 per cent of men (and the gap is even greater if we take account of the community social services sector.) Women have, accordingly, borne most of the impacts of privatization and contracting-out to the private sector, where wages are lower and wage gaps are much greater. Pay equity laws can make a difference, but attempts to equalize wages between male and female-dominated job classifications have generally stalled.

Media influences and Unions

Riley Dawe, In Solidarity

As the Billy Joel song, “The Entertainer” says, if a song isn’t cut down to 3:05 then it is no good for the radio. This same sentiment is true for stories in the media.

At times, journalists and reporters are in difficult positions, having to report on issues that require big picture problems and short deadlines.

Who loses out at the end of the day?

Unions seem to be the losers and are negatively impacted by these two issues. The media blamed the unions with the closed GM plants in Windsor and Oshawa; during the Toronto Municipal strike, known as the “garbage strike,” the media put blame on the union; and the OPSEU’s CAAT-A division, standing up for their collective bargaining rights, again blame is put on the union. All of these illustrate the negative publicity that unions across Canada recently were subjected to for their solidarity, bargaining in good faith, and negotiating better working conditions for their members.

There is limited number of owners in the news industry and they seem to be more interested in profits rather than real world, real news issues.

Do you remember when there were labour reporters that worked for local newspapers and were dedicated to the labour movement? They have disappeared like the dinosaurs, and the result is today’s continuous attack on unions.

We are in the midst of economic hardship and there is still the need for bigger profit margins. Staffing levels are spread thin on the ever increasing news stories, from the globalization and natural disasters plaguing the world, to the daily news issues within Canada, Ontario and our local communities. The news stories never stop, but what is reported is limited to what the reporter, editor and/or news corporations want us to read or hear.

Where do you draw the line? The recession still lingers and further layoffs at some of the most trusted news companies such as City TV and CBC continue. When is the public going to ask for the news to be completely accurate?

With new technology rapidly emerging, it is difficult  to figure out how to capture larger audiences; to do so means that corporations must spend money. Today’s world has information overload written all over it. The internet is still young in its evolution, not to mention the emerging options broadcast media has to try and capture additional audiences. News media must continue to embrace new technologies, specifically utilizing mobile devices such as laptops, iPhones, iPods, and Blackberrys, to capture them.

At the end of the day, unions are not getting the credit they deserve for banding together to achieve better workplaces . Activists must start looking forward to innovative advances by using Twitter, Facebook and creating their own podcasts to tell their news.

OPSEU, among other unions, supports initiatives such as Labourstart.org and Rabble.ca. Rabble is a not-for-profit organization built on the efforts of progressive journalists, writers, artists and activists across the country. Labourstart is an online news service which collects union news stories from mainstream, trade union, and alternative news sources.   

Rather than waiting for the mainstream media to favourably report on unions, trade unions must stand together and use the emerging technologies to let the world know the real story.

Downside of Sitting on Our Backsides.Risks of sitting too long

Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, trips to the gym, lunch hour walks – the value of exercise is understood by both individuals and organizations. What may not be as well known are the health risks of sitting for long periods at a time—regardless of how much you exercise.

How working in a sitting position can affect your health

Those who must spend long periods in a seated position on the job such as taxi drivers, call centre professionals and office workers, are at risk for injury and a variety of adverse health effects.

The most common injuries occur in the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, affecting the neck and lower back regions. Prolonged sitting:

  • reduces body movement making muscles more likely to pull, cramp or strain when stretched suddenly,
  • causes fatigue in the back and neck muscles by slowing the blood supply and puts high tension on the spine, especially in the low back or neck, and
  • causes a steady compression on the spinal discs that hinders their nutrition and can contribute to their premature degeneration.

Sedentary employees may also face a gradual deterioration in health if they do not exercise or do not lead an otherwise physically active life. The most common health problems that these employees experience are disorders in blood circulation and injuries affecting their ability to move. Deep Veinous Thrombosis (DVT), where a clot forms in a large vein after prolonged sitting (sometimes called “Traveller’s Thrombosis” because it is sometimes observed after a long flight), is also a risk.

Employees, who for years spend most of their working time seated, may experience other, less specific adverse health effects. Decreased fitness, reduced heart and lung efficiency, and digestive problems are common. Recent research has identified too much sitting as an important part of the physical activity and health equation, and suggests we should focus on the harm caused by daily inactivity such as prolonged sitting.

Data collected in a 1990's Australian study on the prevalence of diabetes and its risk factors was further analyzed by a team led by associate professor David Dunstan to determine whether people's television viewing time was related to their metabolic health. Results showed that people who watched television for long periods of time (more than four hours a day), were at risk of:

  • higher blood levels of sugar and fats,
  • larger waistlines, and
  • higher risk of metabolic syndrome regardless of how much moderate to vigorous exercise they had.

In addition, people who interrupted their sitting time more often just by standing or with light activities such as housework, shopping, and moving about the office had healthier blood sugar and fat levels, and smaller waistlines than those whose sitting time was not broken up.

What does this mean for workers?

Injuries resulting from sitting for long periods are a serious occupational health and safety problem and are expected to become more common with the continuing trend toward work in a sitting position. An important step is to recognize that prolonged sitting can be a health risk, and that efforts must be made to design jobs that help people reduce and break up their sitting time.

How can you design a job that requires prolonged sitting?

The main objective of a job design for a seated employee is to reduce the amount of time the person spends “just” sitting. Frequent changes in the sitting position are not enough to protect against blood pooling in the legs or to prevent other injuries.

Five minutes of a more vigorous activity, such as walking for every 40 to 50 minutes of sitting, can provide protection. These breaks are also beneficial because they give the heart, lungs and muscles some exercise to help counterbalance the effects of sitting for prolonged periods in a relatively fixed position. Where practical, jobs should incorporate “activity breaks” such as work-related tasks away from the desk or simple exercises which employees can carry out at the workstation or worksite.

Another important aspect of job design is consulting with and getting feedback from employees. No matter how good the workplace and the job designs, there are always aspects of the job that can and must be tailored to the individual.

The bottom line: stand up, move around and get off your backside as frequently as you possibly can. But understand that physical activity is just one part of the equation for preventing the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. Other important factors include chair selection, workstation design and training.

A step closer to ending Workplace Violence and Harassment

Brendan Kilcline, OPSEU Health and Safety (MDT)

After many years of lobbying and activism by union health and safety activists, the issue of violence in the workplace has finally made its way into Ontario law. Bill 168 – An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters (2009) , passed Third (final) reading on December 9, 2009 and was given Royal Assent on December 15, 2009. It c a me into force on June 15, 2010.

OPSEU and other unions lobbied for improvements to the Bill as it passed through the legislature. Business interests lobbied against the amendments, believing they were too onerous, and that preventing workplace violence and harassment should be based on voluntary and unenforceable codes of conduct and guidelines.

In November 2009, OPSEU president Smokey Thomas attended the legislature Standing Committee on Social Policy and requested, as did many other labour leaders, that the definition of violence in the Act be amended to included threats of violence (which often precedes actual violence). It is sometimes said that it is not the force of arguments, but rather the force behind those arguments, that wins. Standing behind President Thomas were thousands of OPSEU members from all over the province who for the past three years had been writing and lobbying to end violence in their workplaces, and we won! The definition in the bill was amended to include threats of violence and not just actual physical violence.

The amendments to the Act:

  • Require employers to carry out an assessment of the risks of workplace violence. They must advise the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative of the results of the assessment and provide a copy of the assessment.
  • Require employers to develop a framework that would include written policies and programs to help prevent workplace violence and harassment. The policies need to be posted in a conspicuous location in the workplace. Employers will be required to review the policies “as often as is necessary,” but at least annually.
  • Require employers to take reasonable precautions to protect an employee from domestic violence, which enters the workplace. As a result of recommendations by an inquest into the 2005 murder of Windsor RN Lori Dupont by a co-worker, domestic violence is now recognized as a workplace hazard.
  • As an extension of the right to refuse, workers can remove themselves from harmful situations if they have reason to believe that they are at risk of imminent danger due to workplace violence.
  • Require employers to provide a way for workers to summon immediate assistance when workplace violence occurs or is likely to occur.
  • Require employers to provide a way for workers to report incidents of workplace violence and harassment to the employer or supervisor.
  • Require employers to inform workers about the process by which the employer will investigate and address incidents or complaints of workplace violence and set out how they will deal with harassment complaints.

Employers will have six months from the date the Act comes into force to have all the prescribed measures in place.

In order to ensure compliance with the new law, employers should be conducting their hazard assessments now if they haven’t already done so. For these assessments to be of any value, the employer should fully consult and engage the Joint Health & Safety Committee (or Health & Safety Representative) and front-line workers. If not, insert yourself into the process! Now is the time for workers to get involved and ask supervisors what measures are planned, or in place to meet the new requirements of the Act.

Review the policies and procedures as they are developed and ensure they will work for you in your workplace. An off-the-shelf set of policies and procedures probably will not be workable or effective in your particular circumstances. An effective, complete workplace violence program must be developed to address the specific hazards in your workplace. If you can’t get answers or if you are not satisfied with the ones you get, contact your OPSEU Steward or Health & Safety Representative.

Unfortunately, experience has shown that many employers make minimal efforts to comply with health and safety legislation, and some ignore the law for as long as they can get away with it. Sadly, this results in a reactive approach once a tragedy occurs, a tragedy that is often entirely preventable. It is one victory to finally have these protections for workers in the law, but making them real in the workplace often requires a fight at the local level.

The real victory will be when all OPSEU workplaces have effective workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures firmly in place.

Mental Illness in the Workplace: A Shared Responsibility

Laurie Sabourin, In Solidarity

In the first part of this series, we looked at how OPSEU is leading the way to ensure the well being of their members by addressing and preventing mental health issues in the workplace. This part will concentrate on the rights and responsibilities of employers, employees and unions when accommodating a worker with a mental illness.

At some point in their lifetime, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression, most often during their prime working years. If this happens, an accommodation may be required for the employee to feel a sense of confidence and create a positive working environment.

Unions and employers are beginning to recognize the true cost of mental illness in the workplace. In 1998, Health Canada conservatively estimated that the economic burden of mental health problems was $14.4 billion a year. More recent calculations by Health Canada found that stress caused by conflict in work or family costs Canadian businesses an estimated $3.5 billion each year in absenteeism. It put the cost of mental health problems, where stress is sometimes a factor, at $35 billion a year. The cost is high for all involved.

In Ontario, about three-quarters of all human rights complaints come from the workplace. To start reducing this number, all three participants must be educated of its shared responsibilities and be proactive in creating fair and equitable workplaces where human rights are respected; striking a balance in the social, physical, spiritual and mental aspects of the lives of all involved.

The Supreme Court of Canada states the search for accommodation is a multi-party inquiry; not only are the employer and the union responsible, the employee must assist with the accommodation process. ( Central Okanagan School District No. 23 v. Renaud, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 970).

Primary burden on employer

First, the employer has the primary responsibility. They have the ultimate control over the workforce and must accommodate to the point of undue hardship.

All requests must be taken seriously, and an atmosphere in which employees are comfortable asking for an accommodation must be available.

They should respond to the request in a timely manner and respect the confidentiality of the information provided to them. Employers must engage in joint problem solving, and the accommodation must be concrete and specific, putting the conditions in writing. An ongoing review mechanism should be set up.

All levels of management must be aware of their obligation to prevent an employee from being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace because of their mental illness.

Union’s active role

The second participant is the union. Activists must familiarize themselves with current human rights legislation regarding the duty to accommodate and their employer’s accommodation policy. As discussed earlier, unions have a legal obligation to actively participate in the accommodation process and in doing so, need to be objective and non-judgemental. They share the responsibility to develop, implement and support the employee’s accommodation. Supporting the accommodation request may not be consistent with the collective agreement; however, the Supreme Court of Canada said human rights legislation trumps collective agreements. ( Ontario Human Rights Commission and O'Malley v. Simpsons-Sears Ltd., [1985] 2 S.C.R. 536) . Therefore, the union must agree to variations for reasonable accommodations.

At times, an employee may not recognize the need for an accommodation. For example, the union steward may see a dramatic change in the employee’s behaviour that suggests an accommodation may be needed. If the steward suspects the worker might have difficulty at work, related to a mental illness, they should approach the employee about the possible need for an accommodation. The union rep may often have a better relationship with their member than the employer does, in order to have the difficult conversation around a mental illness and the need for an accommodation .

Union reps may see members continue to struggle with mental illness and potentially require accommodation in order to continue working or to return to work after a medical leave. When member’s rights are violated, filing a grievance may be necessary but depending upon the member’s mental health at the time, the member may need extra help with their case or it may need to be put off temporarily.

Tensions can arise when workers seeking accommodation are not required to perform certain parts of a job or are able to avoid less desirable shifts and co-workers have to pick up the slack. Union members need to communicate that accommodation is not preferential treatment. Workers have been accommodating co-workers long before human rights codes made it a legal requirement. Often allowances were made for someone who had a bad back or family problems and we expected our colleagues to do the same for us. In two landmark decisions the Supreme Court of Canada has defined accommodations to be the norm in workplaces; equality and accommodation must be integral parts of all workplace rules and practices: British Columbia (Public Service Employee Relations Commission) v. British Columbia Government Service Employees' Union [1999] 3 S.C.R. 3, [1999] SCC 48 and British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles) v. British Columbia (Council of Human Rights), [1999] 3 S.C.R. 868

Eradication of stigma

The final participant is the employee, who must first recognize and identify the need for an accommodation. However, with the stigma attached to mental illness plaguing our workplaces, an employee is unlikely to disclose their accommodation needs to their employer or union steward. Because of this, the stigma of mental illness has to be eradicated. It manifests itself in incorrect, negative stereotypes and discriminating behaviour. The answer to reducing this stigma is an educated, positive, encouraging and welcoming workplace.

The employee must consider all proposals that effectively address their need. Once the accommodation request is identified it is expected to be reasonable. They must cooperate during the process and provide supporting documentation from a health care provider to assist with an effective accommodation. It is the worker’s responsibility to provide the information to help assess the accommodation request. Employers are not automatically entitled to know a diagnosis or an employer’s illness or disability, but the employee must provide the employer with enough information to properly accommodate them.

Human and financial cost

A major principle of accommodation is upholding the dignity of the employee being accommodated; therefore, the responsibility is to strive for inclusiveness where barriers are removed and the equal participation of all three parties is possible.      Most accommodations are not expensive. The Ontario Human Rights Commission found that over two-thirds of job accommodations cost less than $500; many cost nothing at all. In 2002 it was estimated for those who get access to treatment, the employer could save between $5,000 to $10,000 per employee per year in the cost of prescription drugs, sick leave and average wage replacement.

The attitude towards employees experiencing mental health issues can be the defining difference between a workplace that is perceived to be committed to the mental health of its employees and one that is not. Understanding the financial and human costs of workplace health is essential to helping the employer, employees and the union work together to improve the overall working environment. Flexibility, communication and cooperation amongst all parties are the keys to its success.

Occupational asthma


More than 330 substances are known or suspected to cause or worsen asthma. Much of the evidence used to identify these substances comes from workers exposed in the workplace.

Workers in a range of occupations may be exposed to ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde, diisocyanates, diesel exhaust or any of the other chemical culprits identified in a report from the Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Institute.

Lab workers, bakers, woodworkers, plumbers, farmers, auto painters, hairdressers, health care workers and those in industries that produce metals, plastics, electronics, rubber and textiles are just a few examples of those at risk.

Asthma-causing substances are also commonly found in cleaning products used in most workplaces and homes.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that kills upwards of 500 Canadians annually. Tell-tale symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, coughing and wheezing.

According to the Canadian Lung Association, 25 per cent of working adults with asthma have symptoms that are triggered or made worse by exposure at work. Three million Canadians suffer with this disease. The Canadian Lung Association also report up to 15 per cent of new asthma cases are caused by workplace exposures.

It is in the workplace then where efforts are needed to eliminate these substances or eliminate worker exposure to them. Asthma-Related Chemicals in Massachusetts can be used by workers, their representatives, joint health and safety committee members and others seeking to identify potential asthma-causing substances in the workplace or when considering the purchase or use of certain chemicals, products or processes.

OPSEU Education: Building Local Capacity

Riley Dawe, In Solidarity

OPSEU’s membership continues to grow, and the need for training and assessment within the locals has never been more important. OPSEU has an excellent initiative called Building Local Capacity and what better way to fill these gaps! Whether it is new locals starting out or an established local, this program is designed for everyone.

Building Local Capacity is a complete program that helps the local reflect and discuss where the local is and how to take it to the next level. The course will help assess what union courses your stewards have taken and develop steward education to improve knowledge and comfort with respect to understanding Stewards Training, Grievance Handling, Newsletters, WSIB and Health and Safety. It will also help find where the skill sets are within your local.

For a new local this can show members how OPSEU works and outline the roles and responsibilities of each executive position within the local. The materials are informative, especially for the new steward. The leaflet, “Building Local Capacity for Shop Stewards” explains what a union steward does and what they need to know, what a grievance is and the four steps to deal with it.

For the experienced local, this educational opportunity allows members to reflect on what is happening within the local. With the daily running of the local it may be difficult to juggle what needs to be done, let alone take time to reflect on what the local needs to achieve. This course will help the local determine the direction it wants to pursue.

Does your membership want to be kept up-to-date on issues through a local newsletter, website, or Facebook page? Contract negotiations may be approaching; does your local want a demand set survey sent to its members? After re-assessing what your local needs, another way to communicate may be found. Through brainstorming at a Building Local Capacity meeting, answers to these questions will be answered. This is an excellent opportunity to discover how your local can be enhanced.

Every local has its own challenges. Now, more than ever, it is important to sort out your unique issues to reflect, assess and access the possibilities in these tough economic times.

Labour protections are not just paper promises

Cassandra Foglia

Unions have made a substantial impact on the workforce over the last century, but are they still relevant in today's work place?

If we look at the facts of where we were, and how far we have come it is clear to see that employees are much better off with unions. We can take this one step further, and clearly state that even non-unionized workers are better off because of unions.   They have benefited from higher pay standards that unionized workers receive in a particular industry and as a result all wages go up. It is safe to say that unions have set norms and established practices that have become more generalized throughout the economy, thereby improving pay and working conditions for the entire workforce.

Unions have played a prominent role in the enactment of a broad range of labour laws and regulations covering areas such as overtime pay, minimum wage and workers compensation that were unheard of before the unionization of workers. Life outside of work has also been affected by unions through negotiated benefit packages, including adequate health insurance to protect workers and their families, a secure retirement pension, as well as sufficient and flexible paid leave. Before unions, working conditions were 12 -14 hours a day without breaks, child labour was employed, accidents were commonplace and wages were low. As history has shown, there is strength in numbers and if workers stick together they will be heard.

Unions have pushed for better labour relations, collective agreements and have played an important role in enforcing workplace regulations. Unions have been a voice for workers identifying needed laws and regulations and have been influential in getting these laws enacted. They have provided information to members about workers’ rights and available programs. Because unionized workers are more informed, they are more likely to benefit from social insurance programs such as unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation. Unions also play an important role ensuring that labour protections are not just paper promises in the workplace. Unions have been crucial in this aspect. They give workers the relevant information about their rights and the necessary procedures, provide resources to make a claim and negotiate solutions to disputes on behalf of workers.

It is clear that workers enjoy advantages as a result of union organization and collective bargaining. They receive higher wages, better benefits, effective enforcement of labour legislation and are knowledgeable regarding workers’ rights. Collective bargaining also fuels innovations in wages, benefits, and work practices that affect all workers regardless of whether or not they belong to a union. However, unions play a much bigger role in workers lives by giving them a stronger voice in the community and in politics. A strong union is essential to a thriving democracy, which makes unions very relevant in today's society.

Cassandra Foglia, daughter of Teresa Foglia, Local 736, wrote this winning essay for the James Watson Memorial Scholarship Award.


Failure to accommodate child-care needs discriminatory

Mikael Swayze/CUPE

In a recent ruling by an arbitrator decided that a negotiated change to the shift structure was discriminatory on the grounds of family status. It interfered with a father’s child care arrangements set out in his separation agreement with his estranged wife.

The grievors were four fathers employed by Power Stream (a power distribution authority in Vaughan, Ontario). These linemen were all represented by IBEW Local 636. Prior to 2008, their contract permitted each worker to choose between five days of eight hours or four days of 10 hours.
The grievors were in the minority of workers who had chosen the five-day option. Two grievors were married, one was divorced with teenage children, and one was separated with young children and had a custody agreement. In each case, the fathers played an important role in the lives of their children and had chosen the five-day shift for that reason.
In 2008 bargaining, the employer insisted that the union choose one shift structure. In the end, this was reluctantly agreed to and incorporated in the agreement. The new shift, from 6:30 am to 5 pm, began in September 2008.

The arbitrator said a parent has an obligation to maintain the health, safety and security of their children; to spend time with their children, to guide them, and to teach them skills; and to try to ensure their children have a happy childhood.
However, most parents must work and may have to make difficult choices to reconcile their conflicting obligations.

The arbitrator found that no discrimination for the three men who are were still married or divorced with older children, as there were no substantial interference in the discharge of their parental duties.

However, the arbitrator came to a different conclusion for the fourth worker, the one with young children. He found that the new schedule did disrupt the custody agreement.

Some would say that this is too restrictive a reading of the human rights code protection. Others would say it is too broad.

What is clear is that employers and unions are going to need to consider family arrangements in negotiating contracts and dealing with individual accommodations of workers’ needs. Otherwise, risk a grievance!

Mikael Swayze is a staff representative with CUPE 3902 and CALM Secretary-Treasurer.

Shop local and boost the economy

Felicia Fahey, In Solidarity

Some provinces boast great landscapes, ocean views, mountain peaks, fresh lobster, stampedes, or historic buildings. In Ontario, we have the most to brag about, our ever popular Ontario wine industry. Now more than ever we have a reason to “buy Ontario,” the quality of the wines being produced in Ontario is fabulous, award-winning and right here at home.

A few things you may not know about the industry that so many of us take for granted: Did you know that buying Ontario wine helps boost the province’s economy? In 2009 the value-added impact of the wine region contributed $575 million into our economy. The wine industry employs 6,000 people and boasts more than a million visitors a year to its wineries. In terms of comparison, for every bottle of imported wine you buy the province profits approximately 67 cents. When you buy and enjoy Ontario wine it adds $11.50 to our economy. Ontarians should be proud of their wine country. Ontario produces some of the best wine in the world and draws renowned wine-makers from around the world to train and learn here on our diverse soil.

The province has more than 13.1 million vines planted in our soil and produces 60,000 tons of wine annually. The region has been growing and developing over the last 200 years, with the first commercial winery opening in 1866 on Pelee Island.

Ontario produces more than 60 varieties of wine ranging from Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc. The climate and growing conditions of Ontario are similar to that of the Burgundy region of France both being situated between the 41 and 44 degree of latitude.

Ontario also has one of the highest quality wine guarantees in the world. Their Vintners Quality Alliance or VQA wines guarantee that 100 per cent of the wine has been grown here in Ontario and has been tested to ensure integrity and authenticity.

Wine sales are not the only boost to the economy. Part of the profit comes directly from the tourism that occurs as a result of our world famous wines. There are numerous experiences to enjoy in the Ontario wine region including wine festivals; local farmers markets where you can purchase local fare; sampling fine cuisine available at some of the wineries’ restaurants (famous for their food and wine pairings); you can go on eco tours and learn the dynamics of winemaking; ice wine adventures are popular in the winter, as well as, the many different wine tours available directly through each winery.

The next time you decide to purchase a wine, take time to think about buying imported wines, and how much you would help Ontario by buying local.

Did you know…

…that last year the LCBO challenged 2,428,506 people and refused service to more than 148,886 people due to age, intoxication or second purchases. What other retailer in the world would turn away that much business, all in the name of social responsibility?


Finding your inner Geek

Tim King, In Solidarity

Gadgets. Can you live with them? Can you live without them? What kind of gadgets, widgets or thing-a-ma-bobbers do you need? Are they mechanical? Is it a simple multi-tool? How about electronic toys or even office warfare gadgets? Does it clean the house like a “Roomba” or does it not do anything but look cool? Whatever “it” is, it tickles your fancy, and pleases the inner “geek monster” inside all of us. If it is shiny, moves, makes noise, makes a job easier or sits nice and pretty – we are trapped and enthralled. Here are some things to remember, think about and maybe even help you FEED that little “geek monster.”

Last year, I signed up for a Blackberry. It has e-mail, a calendar, a contact book, a camera, music and a mobile phone. Then for Christmas, I bought an Apple iTouch as a gift for someone. I almost went into a tailspin knowing that this little thing can do almost everything that the Blackberry could do…and more! Plays music better, has a nicer library, free Wi-Fi internet, faster menus, downloadable Apps, games, even a cooler-looking clock. One draw-back: no phone. But it has all of these other gadgets and THINGS that are really catchy and addicting.

That is one example of an electronic gadget I have. But gadgets are not limited to just electronics of course. The kitchen is another good “gadget” place. How about an apple peeler? It is basically a lathe-like device for fruit. A mandolin slicer for vegetables, a food processor, a blender, a Magic Bullet pulsing blender – where will it go? Manual gadgets to make the job easier. One recently-hyped gadget had a concept that sounded so good people had to get one (and most were disappointed after): the “Slap Chop.” A gadget that could (or should) cut faster then a regular knife and at the same time you could “slap chop” all your troubles away. I like cooking. A little skill with a knife (basically – don’t cut yourself) can go a long way.

For those of you who are inclined towards automotive work, what happened to the good ‘ole days of a plain wrench and a screwdriver? Gone! The gadget patrol hit them too! Now, the gadget to remove a bolt has teeth that bites into the head of a screw or bolt, or many little pins that forms around the head gripping for more torque power. Then there are sensors, meter readers, gauges, ODB II readers, better ODB II readers, and on and on. Instead of a folded map in your car there is a GPS unit on the dash. Instead of a plain radio, there is a satellite radio now sitting beside your GPS. Where do you put the reversing camera screen? Beside the satellite radio? Keyless entry, temperature display on rear-view mirror, TVs built into the dash or headrests; these are all gadgets and toys for us “big kids.”

The latest gadget to keep an eye open for is not a workstation computer, not a laptop or Personal Digital Assistant. It is the tablet. They have been out in different forms before – but have not been popular until the marketing campaign for the new Apple iPad, released last January. Since then, a number of companies including Nokia, Google, Apple, Mac, Microsoft, Toshiba and Archos have released their own versions. Each has their own specs to suit your needs…and it is just another gadget to play with or to improve what you already have. If you have an iPhone, iPod or Blackberry, you already have internet and many other features, but these new gadgets may do it better! They may be the next “bread slicer” gadget in your modern arsenal of web media, organization and leisure recreation.

Here are a few sites to look up some gadgets and gizmos.






DISCLAIMER: We cannot be held responsible for feeding your inner “geek monster” to the point where it’s loose and chasing your cat.

If you have a gadget story, technical device or suggestions about something technical, we are looking to hear from you. Please forward suggestions to tim.king@opseu736.org

A yottabyte?


THE U.S. National Security Agency is building a $2-billion storage facility in Utah that will house and analyze all forms of electronic communication—a potential “yottabyte” of data.

So how big is a yottabyte? There are a thousand gigabytes in a terabyte, a thousand terabytes in a petabyte, a thousand petabytes in an exabyte, a thousand exabytes in a zettabyte, and a thousand zettabytes in a yottabyte. In other words, a yottabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000 gigabytes.

In terms of measuring data on current human scales, a yottabyte is nearly infinite.

To be fair, the yottabyte figure is just one estimate generated by a Pentagon think tank. The facility could end up only holding mere hundreds of petabytes.
The data storage facility on its own will burn through as much electricity as the whole of Salt Lake City.

The source for the data about the storage facility comes from the book, The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency by Matthew M. Aid.

What’s in a name?

Robert Sellner, Local 715

When I arrived at work after the holidays a sign caught my eye. I thought I worked at the Northwestern Regional Cancer Centre (Integrated Cancer Program) pharmacy located in Thunder Bay. The sign, prominently placed, says I now work at the “Freedom 55 Financial Thunder Bay Hockey Celebrity Golf Classic Pharmacy.” Huh?

We have been Named!

“Naming” in this sense is when a building or facility either sells (or for a donation, gives) an individual or corporation the right to “name” it. Naomi Klein, in her book No Logo, examined this trend and called it “branding.” She raised issues with the loss of public space—either as a loss of physical space (e.g. billboards) or a loss of “intellectual” space used by the public (e.g. symbols in arts or the use of names or phrases).

There are examples of “naming” all around us. If you look around any town or city you’ll find buildings and streets named after citizens who were honoured for public service or charity work such as “Vickers Street” or the “Lester B. Pearson Library.” Commercial concerns like the “Air Canada Centre” and the “Rogers Centre” dot every city and town.

The difference between these examples is that the purpose in some is obvious commercial interest. It becomes less clear when public services are involved. The first example I saw was the “Peter Munk Cardiac Care Centre” at the Toronto General Hospital “General” site. People who pass may not know anything of Peter Munk except that he has a cardiac centre named after him.

Isn’t this a form of advertising, spreading knowledge of a product or person to those who we may not have known before? While retail pharmacies are limited to the kind and amount of advertising allowed in or on their building, there is nothing mentioned in the Hospitals Act about it.

Across the hall from “the sign” at NRCC is a jersey from cyclist Lance Armstrong. He recovered from cancer to again become a champion racer. This display provides a message of hope and success to clients during their own battle with cancer. Compare this with “the sign” and guess which I prefer?

Hospitals, like other public services, are trying to find money to make up for chronic underfunding. Our combined foundation took an opportunity to gain funds for equipment and give credit to a worthy corporate sponsor and its event. To me the more serious concern is that public services have to go out and find money. Selling the name of a place is just one way of privatizing what was once public space.

Perhaps I have no reason to be uneasy. Perhaps placing the name of an insurance company program so close to cancer patients bothers only me. In conversation, patients say they don’t really notice the change. The hospital gained needed money and a company gains visibility. All I do know is that no one had better ask me to provide them with a quote on “whole” or “term” life insurance. I don’t get a commission.

Canada’s first Labour Studies school


MCMASTER UNIVERSITY in Hamilton, Ontario, will be the first Canadian university to run a fully-autonomous labour studies school.

McMaster pioneered the development of university labour studies programs in Canada, establishing the first in 1976.

Since then, labour studies programs focusing on issues of work, trade unions, globalization, equity and labour market restructuring have been formed in universities across the country, usually under the umbrella of the social and political sciences departments.

Expanding the scope of the program into its own school at McMaster will offer professors and program administrators more flexibility in determining curriculum, programs and enhanced graduate study opportunities for students.

This move is significant because it comes at a time when Canadian business schools have become common place among post-secondary institutions, said CAW work organization and training director David Robertson.

“Hopefully this ground-breaking work at McMaster will strengthen Canadian labour studies programs elsewhere in the country in the face of these current academic trends,” Robertson said.

McMaster University has maintained a long-standing relationship with the CAW, partnering on a landmark non-degree labour studies certificate that was launched more than 10 years ago. Each year more than 200 students participate in after-hours labour courses focused on everything from politics to the environment, and labour history to the economy.

Think fast


THE SPEED of modern life is 2.3 words per second, or about 100,000 words a day. That is the amount of verbiage bombardment the average person receives during the 12 hours they are typically awake and consuming information, according to a new study.

Through emails, texting, Internet surfing, reading and other media, our brains are being deluged with increasing quantities of information. Although we may not actively read 100,000 words a day, that is the approximate number reaching our eyes and ears. Add images, such as videos and computer games, and we are faced with the equivalent of 34 gigabytes of information each day—enough to overload the typical laptop inside a week.

The study How Much Information? from the University of California, San Diego, estimates the total amount of words consumed in the U.S. has more than doubled from 4,500 trillion in 1980 to 10,845 trillion in 2008. Those estimates do not include people simply talking to one another.

Total information consumption from televisions, computers and other media was estimated at 3.6 zettabytes (3.6 million gigabytes) in 2008.


Silence is the ultimate rejection

Nancy Hart-Day, Local 234

Why a day against homophobia? Are we not loud enough as we scream and shout, “We are here, we are queer,” during every Pride Day celebration, that we need a day to recognize homophobia too? Isn’t celebrating our “gayness” enough to recognize and defeat homophobia? Are there not enough policies and guidelines in place with the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policies to prevent things like homophobia from existing? Have we learned enough from the McKinnon and O’Brien decisions to believe that discrimination and harassment no longer exists in our workplaces and/or the effects it has on a person? Apparently not, as I read the newspaper article, “Gay Ottawa jail guard face ‘poisonous’ workplace: Grievance board upholds complaint against corrections ministry” from the Ottawa Citizen dated February 28, 2010.

As I read Grievance Settlement Board decision #2002-2375 (Ranger vs. the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services), on which the newspaper article is based, I am reminded of the pain and suffering an individual endures by the silence of others not speaking out against any form of discrimination and/or harassment. Silence devalues the worth of a human being and gives value to acceptable practices of intolerance. The need to acknowledge the day for International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) in our workplaces to break the silence is loud and clear. Ironically, the theme for this year’s IDAHO is “Speaking of Silence – homophobia in the sports world.” The code of silence that exists in the sports world also still exists and is prominent in the correctional system as evident in the Ranger decision.

Homophobia is defined by the IDAHO as “All the negative attitudes that may lead to rejection and discrimination, direct and indirect, against gays, lesbians, bisexual, transsexual and transgender, or any person whose appearance or behaviour does not comply not the stereotypes of masculinity or femininity. Often insidious, homophobia manifests itself in multitude of ways. Depending on circumstances, events can move from homophobic mockery to verbal and physical violence.”

In the summer of 2006, the first World Out Games in Montreal resulted in the largest international conference on human rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender (LGBT) community. It was at this conference in 2006 that many speakers spoke about homophobia, and its definition. Speakers at this conference included the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour. In her speech she said, “ Neither the existence of national laws, nor the prevalence of custom can ever justify the abuse, attacks, torture and indeed killings that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons are subjected to because of who they are or are perceived to be. Because of the stigma attached to issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity, violence against LGBT persons is frequently unreported, undocumented and goes ultimately unpunished. Rarely does it provoke public debate and outrage. This shameful silence is the ultimate rejection of the fundamental principle of universality of rights. ”

The fundamental rights of all people are a human rights issue, and the shameful silence is the ultimate rejection of those rights. Break the silence, and recognize and acknowledge the International Day Against Homophobia as a human rights issue for all, including all our brothers and sisters of the LGBT.

Women and pensions


WOMEN ARE at a significant disadvantage to men when it comes to pensions.

Women earn less than men and are often the ones providing unpaid caregiving. Women tend to be concentrated in non-standard, poorly paid jobs with little hope for a decent pension.

Canadian women have made pension gains in recent decades. This is particularly true for women in the public sector.

The number of women in workplace pension plans tripled from 1974 to 2004. During this period, almost all the membership increase in workplace pension plans came from women joining unions.
Women have fought for better pension laws and won part-time worker access to workplace pensions and better pension vesting rights. This includes fairer Canada Pension Plan (CPP) rules for those who stopped work to help raise children.

CPP and Old Age Security benefits are now indexed to inflation, so the value of public pensions hold steady over the course of your working life.

Despite these positive developments, there is still a major gap in pension income between women and men. Between 1991 and 2001, retired women earned 40 per cent less in pension income than retired men. In 2004, 7.3 per cent of retired women lived in poverty, more than double the rate of retired men.

For single elderly women, the results are far worse. A 2004 study found 45.6 per cent of women in these circumstances were living in poverty.

The persistence of a gender gap in pension income is easy to explain.

Most currently retired women faced a labour market that was partially closed to them. As a result, they were unable to establish substantial pension incomes.

Now the majority of working-age women are on the job— 46 per cent of the Canadian labour market. But women still don’t earn equal pay for work of equal value. As a result, they cannot accumulate the same pension income.

Women continue to shoulder the bulk of unpaid caregiving for children and seniors. In 2002, more than two million Canadians provided personal care for seniors—three-quarters were women.

The absence of affordable, publicly funded child care and elder care has put working women in frustrating and stressful circumstances.

Women make up the majority in the low-quality, precarious work sector—work that cannot support a household. Forty per cent of women work in these kinds of jobs, and little or none of their income goes into pension savings.

Today, more than 60 per cent of workers of both genders don’t have access to a workplace pension. Unions have been effective vehicles to fight for women’s equality. There’s no doubt about it, unions make a difference in women’s lives.

The Canadian Labour Congress’s “Retirement Security for Everyone” campaign wants to double CPP benefits, increase public pensions for poor seniors, and introduce a system of pension insurance—helping both women and men increase their pension security to have the dignified retirement they deserve.

Life in a Northern Town

Felicia Fahey, In Solidarity

As a member of the Liquor Board Employees Division I have just gone through an intensive round of bargaining, ending with a great contract. I am from Region 6 in Northern Ontario, and have always had a great pride knowing my community was “Union Strong.”

From a very young age I watched my uncles and neighbours put in long hours at our local mines and often talk union issues around the kitchen table. I have grown up watching them struggle through strikes and can recall my auntie bursting into our home in tears more than once exclaiming, “I just don’t know what we will do!” Raising small children and having to pay bills is tough when you were on strike but everyone knew it was just what had to be done. You never questioned it.

We were raised hearing stories from our grandfathers on what workplaces were like before they fought and won the right to fair and equitable treatment. We were told it was important to never go backwards but rather forwards in the labour movement. Protect what we have fought so hard for and make it count.

As I wrote this article, my community was split. Steelworkers Local 6500 had been walking the picket line for close to 10 months with little hope that the end was near. I drove to work and saw signs posted on entrances to Sudbury welcoming you to “Scabbury,” as replacement workers were brought in from other provinces to work in our mines.

I saw daily news articles where neighbour was pitted against neighbour and our sense of community was slipping away from us.

Recently there was an editorial letter sent in by a striking worker. It summed up how these workers were feeling, I would like to share it with you:

Who is the real bully? I do not support violence. It is Vale Inco who has taken the law into their own hands and judged recent incidents, using their money and power to smear Steelworkers in hopes of gaining community support.

A multi-billion dollar company continues to use security teams to antagonize us, charge individuals with $100,000 lawsuits, and are now using out-of-province replacement workers (scabs).

This would not have occurred in forward thinking provinces of British Columbia and Quebec, which have a law against using replacement or scab labourers. In the 1990s, the esteemed Mike Harris brought in the legislation which made scab labour legal in Ontario. Unfortunately Mr. Bartolucci and his colleagues had the opportunity last fall to bring back the anti-scab law. Instead he chose to support Vale Inco and other large corporations whose only interest is profit, not people or product.

The real villains are not the local Steelworkers. The real villains are the puppeteers in Brazil, who are pulling Mr. Steve Ball’s strings. We Steelworkers are part of this community; we are this community’s mothers, fathers, husbands and wives. We contribute to the local community in countless endeavours; contributing many hours to minor hockey associations, volunteer fire departments, Lions clubs, churches, Big Brothers and Sisters. We are the foster parents of this community, donate time and thousands of dollars to local charities such as Mr. Lougheed’s cancer and hospital campaigns. We work in food banks, soup kitchens, canvas for heart and stroke, diabetes, etc. We are on parent councils, fund-raise for schools, and are volunteers on community action networks, drive for Red Nose, Red Cross, and we give blood.

I ask those of you in the community who wish only ill will to union members: why are you against your neighbour?

Mr. Ball continues to provoke our members with his calculated accusations, full page newspaper ads, continuous press releases about alleged incidents and not caring about the real damage he is doing to the community.

The scar left on Sudbury will take a generation to heal. We have just recovered from the 60s’ “moonwalk” jokes and the 80s’ “Sludgebury” nickname – now we will be known as “Scabbury,” the city without job security.

The USWA Local 6500 members have a long, outstanding tradition of making the City of Greater Sudbury a better place to live and we will continue to support the many organizations in this community and be proud doing so under any circumstances.

Even after this letter was originally published in Northern Life, a Sudbury community newspaper, people took it upon themselves to blog about how selfish these union workers were and how many people would work for what they do.

It may be easy to say you would work in the conditions these men and women work in, but until you are actually that far underground, breathing in dust particles and walking around in the dampness all day long, with dangers possibly around every corner, I doubt you really understand their job or sacrifices.

Instead of fighting each other, why not join together and stand strong? Tell the companies mining our natural resources that they do in fact have to bargain fairly, and we will not be bullied. Take a long look at these workers on the line and know that if companies do not think twice about leaving them out on the line this long they would surely do it to all of us. The labour movement is in trouble if we allow companies to come into our communities and pit neighbour against neighbour, worker against worker and friend against friend. Stand strong and know solidarity is not dead, there are still many activists there who value these workers and know their fight is our fight.

The letter to the editor by Jack Lahnalampi is re-printed with permission.

2010 Editors’ Weekend coming this October

It is coming Oct. 22, 23 and 24: OPSEU’s annual Editors’ Weekend at the Delta Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto.

The three-day session of skills workshops and mingling with other local union editors has produced a lot of strong leaders for the union. Participants in past sessions are now producing newsletters that routinely win national awards for excellence.

Workshops will cover different aspects of writing, improving newsletter design, creating websites, and how to use MS Publisher to create better newsletters

The weekend will also feature an awards dinner where the best of OPSEU newsletters and web pages will be recognized.

The skills that members learn in the Editors’ Weekend have been invaluable in our activities in the last decade. Local editors have taken the lead in strike communication when required, and have taken up the challenge of media relations and mobilizing to safeguard our contracts and our job security.

The weekend is interactive and be prepared to learn, participate and have fun. If you have a newsletter, bring copies and show off your work to the other participants.

Application forms for the Editors’ Weekend and the entry forms for the newsletter and website awards will be available soon on the OPSEU web site at www.opseu.org.