OPSEU In Solidarity banner

In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 19, Number 2, Summer 2012

In Solidarity, summer 2012 issue. People raising their hands at event

Download In Solidarity Summer 2012

Pots and pans heard around the world

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

Students are rising up against the increases which will ultimately make post-secondary education unobtainable to many. The movement has been growing rapidly. Starting with a small group of students from Université Laval, the protest has been gaining support of other faculties and universities.

On February 13, 2012, a student boycott began when Social Sciences students at the Université Laval went on strike in protest of a proposal by the Quebec Cabinet to raise annual tuition fees 75 per cent over five years. For over 20 years, university fees were frozen at $540 per year making Quebec post-secondary education the most affordable in the country. In 1994, fees tripled to $1,668 per year. These fees remained stagnant for the next 13 years until 2007 when tuition was raised again. Currently the rate for tuition fees in Quebec is $2,168.

 By March 22, 166,068 students were boycotting in Quebec, and 300,000 people participated in a march in downtown Montreal.

The National Assembly of Quebec passed an emergency law, Bill 78, on May 18. The law:

Declares “illegal” any picket or “form of gathering” within 50 metres of any educational building or grounds; and

Declares it illegal for any demonstration of more than 50 people to occur at any location in Quebec unless submitted to and approved by the Quebec Police.

Any infraction of the law requires offenders to pay fines for each day of noncompliance. These fines are $1,000-$5,000 for individuals, $7,000-$35,000 for student or union leaders, and $25,000-$125,000 for student or labour organizations. Fines are to be doubled for any subsequent infractions.

Bill 78 has been criticized by many, including the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Quebec Human Rights Commission, Professor Lucie Lemonde of Université de Montréal’s law department and Louis Masson, head of the Bar of Quebec. It is described as being “the worst law on record since the War Measures Act” and infringing on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian certain freedoms such as freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. When this bill was passed, it was as though the National Assembly of Quebec felt they were above the Charter.

Bill 78 is quite simply an example of government disregarding deeply ingrained beliefs that are valued in our society.

In response to Bill 78, Quebec protestors have gained even more support, provincially, nationally and internationally. On May 22, a massive march took place that was called the largest civil disobedience act in Canadian history. It involved nearly 25 per cent of the population of Montreal as between 300,000 and 400,000 people took to the streets with pots, pans, lids and utensils. This type of protest, called “Casserole” or “Pots and Pans,” uses household instruments to create noise. People can participate from their homes or in marches and be heard. Because of this, the Casserole Protest is accessible for anyone to participate in. Every night since this massive protest, Canadians, not just students, have been banging pots at 8 p.m. in protest. This Montreal protest is rapidly moving across the country and the world.

The Casserole Movement (Cacerolazo in Spanish) began as a method of protest in Chile in 1971 when protesting in groups was illegal. Chileans were engaged in a political protest for 17 years. 


Letter to the Editor

Re: What I learned from Occupy Toronto, Spring 2012

Imagine me affecting an Australian accent and saying: “You think you’re a curmudgeon? I’m a curmudgeon!”

I’ve been teaching at Seneca College since 1969 and have been a member of OPSEU since the CAAT (Academic) Division was formed.

I am increasingly skeptical about young people. I don’t understand them. I worry about our future.

Who are the people who distress me? They’re the folks between the ages of 30 and 60 who have been tied in knots by neo-liberalism, who feel angst at the prospect of politics, who just want to do a good job and retreat to their private homes and their private lives—wishing all the bad things would just go away or at least stop intruding on their quiet time.

I’m 66 and I’ve been an OPSEU activist of sorts for close to 40 years (my old friend Wayne Roberts described me as a “union militant” in his book Don’t Call Me Servant—I kinda liked that).

But here’s my point. I wasn’t upset with OPSEU for supporting the Occupy Movement. I wasn’t upset in the past when we supported Nelson Mandela (when he was still officially a “terrorist,” and not yet a Honourary Citizen of Canada). And I won’t be upset if and when we support the “students” and others in Quebec. Indeed, when I participated in the OPSEU/CAUT Symposium on Quality Education & Academic Freedom last week, I was encouraged to see at least a few red ribbons that signified support for Quebec students.

I was also proud to learn that we sent people to help out in Wisconsin, even though that campaign didn’t work out especially well.

I don’t know how many of our members are closet Conservatives, aspirant managers and otherwise toxic elements in our union. I just want to assure you that I am not alone. A dwindling but steadfast number of us still remember the likes of Charlie Darrow and Sean O’Flynn—to say nothing of my good friend Frank Eastham. We are still around and we are already ahead of you in thinking that OPSEU has an important role to play beyond “bread-and-butter” unionism. Convincing the “kids” to get involved in the union and to take a stand for social justice isn’t easy. Especially in the colleges where as many as 70 per cent (or more?) of the teachers are “contingent” faculty and therefore timid, vulnerable and easily manipulated. Building (or rebuilding) a union from the ground up will be a chore.

I will therefore look forward to the time when we can build a common front with environmentalists, feminists, the unorganized and unemployed. Until then, I will observe and retain the right to criticize all these middle-aged youngsters who, in questioning the youthful protesters (and calling them “communists,” for pity’s sake), are giving us all a bad name and sinking their own future as well.

In solidarity,

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560



Boycotts hurt local communities

Karrie Ouchas, In Solidarity

The purpose of a boycott is to collectively refuse to offer patronage to a particular manufacturer of goods or services to protest something or to force action. In the early years, when the labour movement or other types of active organizations boycotted a company or product, it was effective. Today, the effects of a boycott are lost on multi-million dollar organizations with offices and plants around the globe.

In the early days of the labour movement, manufacturers and service providers operated on a smaller scale and were tied closely to the community they were operating in. Their primary customers were within that local community. If a large populace of that community were involved in a boycott, the manufacturer or service provider would certainly be financially impacted. The point of the boycott would be driven home, forcing them to take action to prevent damaging their business.

Today, manufacturers of goods and services are substantially larger and have offices and plants all over the world. They’ve gone global. Boycotting a product or service in one country to protest the working conditions in another country only affects the country where the boycott takes place. And because we are now dealing with corporations making millions of dollars, there is little or no financial impact. The point of the boycott is lost and may actually have a negative effect on the communities we are boycotting.

Take, for example, Coca-Cola. Agreed, human rights tragedies occurring in Colombia are horrible and shameful and Coca-Cola should be held accountable for allowing these deplorable conditions to exist. However, how does boycotting in Ontario, Canada impact Colombia? If it has any effect, it is on those workers in local bottling plants here in this country. It is unlikely the impact would trickle to the plants in Colombia. It is business as usual for them.

Any impact though, is tempered with the fact that Coca-Cola is a multi-billion dollar global corporation. A small faction of organizations boycotting their product would have no real financial impact or consequences.

Boycotting global companies in today’s world is an exercise in futility. We cannot hold front-line workers working at plants or offices within our communities responsible for travesties that occur half a world away.

Instead, we should focus our energies in lobbying governments to hold companies accountable if they want to do business in this country. While a boycott may be a symbolic gesture (affecting Canadian workers more than anyone), shedding public light on dirty dealings abroad could have a much more beneficial impact. 


Bill 160 makes changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act

Terri Aversa, OPSEU Health and Safety Officer

Bill 160 was passed in response to the recommendations of the “Expert Advisory Panel on Health and Safety” (Dean Report) that followed the tragic fall of five workers from a scaffold on Christmas Eve, 2009. The Bill (most of it effective April 2012) includes a few items that affect workplace health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees, but the primary role of the Bill was to set the legal framework for implementing the remainder of the 45 recommendations of the Dean Report. Workplace representatives and committees need to be aware of these Bill 160 changes:

  • Recommendations to the Employer: As of April 1, 2012, either co-chair of a joint health and safety committee may submit a recommendation to the employer when the committee has been unable to come to a consensus on a recommendation (Section 9, Sub. 19.1). This should allow for health and safety concerns to be addressed in a timelier manner.
  • Mandatory training for Health and Safety Representatives provided by the employer to effectively exercise their powers and duties (Section 8, Sub. 5.1). Effective date not yet announced at time of printing.  
  • Reprisals: Now effective, an Inspector, on consent of a worker, may refer an allegation of reprisal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board provided the matter has not been dealt with by grievance arbitration (Section 50, Sub. 2.1). This provision is aimed to ensure that vulnerable (often non-unionized) workers have access to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and that the Office of the Worker Advisor (OWA) provides assistance to those workers. We do not expect the process to change much for unionized workers who have access to a grievance procedure under their collective agreement. 
  • New Health and Safety Poster to be posted in all workplaces: Under existing provisions of the OHSA, the Ministry of Labour has developed a new health and safety poster that is mandatory to be posted in all workplaces (Section 25.2 i).

Other Bill 160 changes affect how the province deals with health and safety. It moves prevention activities from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to the Ministry of Labour, creates the appointment of a new Prevention Council run by a new Chief Prevention Officer, provides help for non-union workers and small employers, and enhances the advisory role for the Ministry of Labour.

These changes have begun with the selection of George Gritziotis as Ontario’s new Chief Prevention Officer. The Prevention Council is currently being chosen. We continue to work towards getting the rest of the Expert Panel’s recommendations adopted to improve workplace health and safety in Ontario.    


Legal loopholes have children working in the fields

Child Labour – second of a three-part series

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

When I studied History Of The Family at the University of Guelph in the 1980s, I was mortified to learn about the working conditions of women and children in the factories in industrialized England.  Long days, poor conditions, maimings, starvation, beatings, death—I thought all of this was ancient history.  When my kids act up, I regale them with tales of poor waifs who had to work in order to stay alive.  Are these stories of child labour ancient history? If they do exist, are child labour issues found only in a land far away? You’d be surprised.

According to Human Rights Watch (www.humanrightswatch.org), modern-day Texas and rural agricultural areas of the U.S. are home to hundreds of thousands of children (under the age of 18) working in agriculture. Apparently, legal loopholes allow children to work in the fields much younger, for much longer, and in worse conditions than are covered under standard labour laws in other areas of employment.

Typically, eleven and twelve-year-old children work the same hours adults would—often ten hours a day, and at peak harvest time seven days a week. Those who are enrolled in school work weekends and after school; however, migrant workers’ lives are disrupted as they leave school before the end of the year in order to get to their new workplace, and they often return home a few weeks or months into the following school year.

Once these children are in their jobs, what are the risks? The risks are those that many of us never dreamed of experiencing:

  • horribly long hours
  • working in extreme temperatures
  • working with dangerous tools and machinery
  • lifting of heavy items
  • pesticide exposure
  • sexual abuse

According to Human Rights Watch, more than half of all children who died from work-related injuries in 2010 worked in crop production.

So where’s the U.S. government in all of this? The United States Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs child labour in the United States, gives no minimum age for children working on small farms with a parent’s permission. Once children are twelve, they may get parental consent to work on any farm. This act also sets no legal limits on the hours children can work in agriculture outside of school.

Is all of the risk worth it to these children?  Do their families get ahead by having their children work?  It’s not very likely as these child farm workers usually make less than minimum wage and are subject to abuses such as being short-changed hours worked and having to pay for their own equipment.  Even worse off are those working in the fruit and vegetable harvest that are paid by the container or piece of fruit.

Things were looking up in 2009/2010, according to Human Rights Watch.  Child labour laws were to be more thoroughly enforced, yet statistics show a drop, not an increase, in agricultural inspections.

What can be done? In the end, the double-standard in child labour laws for agricultural workers needs to be eradicated. What can we as Canadians do?  We can become informed.  We can read about abusive treatment of agriculture workers. We can spread the word.  We can enquire about the treatment of workers at farms near our homes.  We can pay attention to the fruit, vegetables, and food we consume to make sure that those processing it are paid a decent wage and are treated humanely. 


Cyber-libel: Protecting yourself in an online world

Eric O’Brien, OPSEU Legal Counsel

Over the last few years, the internet has offered exciting new ways for unions to inform and mobilize members. But the internet also raises new challenges. Many sites allow for a high volume of virtually instant and very informal communications with members and the public. It can be difficult for locals and members to plan communications that can keep up with the pace and style of internet postings. It is not surprising that one of regular questions that OPSEU communications staff and legal counsel are asked is “do you think that this is libellous?”

“Cyber-libel” is an updated term for an old idea. Libel law has existed is some form for thousands of years. Unlike many areas of law, libel law does not protect property or persons, but instead is focused on protecting reputations. The legal definition of a libellous statement has three consistent elements: a statement in writing, that is published to a third person, and that would lower the reputation of an identified person or organization. When these same elements were applied to internet communications, the term cyber-libel was coined.

Libel is a form of defamation, and is enforced by means of a lawsuit in the courts. In the union context, libel claims can arise from union websites, blogs, or social media webpages. As one common example, if a member’s postings accused a person of harassment or bullying (i.e. likely to lower that person’s reputation), then a lawsuit could be filed by the affected person, whether he or she were a manager, employee or member of the public. The defendant in the lawsuit could be the author of the posting, as well as the individual member(s) who act as “publisher” and even the union itself.

It is much less certain that employers may directly pursue defamation actions against employees. The Supreme Court has determined that arbitrators, rather than the courts, have jurisdiction over matters arising under a collective agreement. 1 Consequently, employers may be required to issue discipline in response to libellous statements of employees rather than pursue libel lawsuits. On the same basis, employees who feel that they are victims of libel by employers are likely required to pursue a grievance rather than a lawsuit in defamation.

Authors and publishers of libellous statements can find themselves involved in complicated and uncertain lawsuits, and may be ordered to pay damages. The amount of damages would be based on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the libellous statement, the extent of the publication, and the conduct and motive of the author. In the realm of cyber-libel, where statements can be impulsive or exaggerated, and are instantly transmitted to a potentially wide and permanent audience, there are obvious and serious consequences that can result from careless communications. 2

But the legal picture is not uniformly bleak. Not all libellous statements give rise to a legal action, or are subject to damage awards. There are defences that may permit a publisher to make statements that otherwise could attract liability. For example, the defence of “truth” allows the publication of libellous statements if they can be proven as true. The defence of “qualified privilege” permits otherwise libellous communications among those who share an interest in the statements provided that they are not acting dishonestly or with malice. And in 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada established a new defence, the “responsible communication on a matter of public interest” that protects media outlets that diligently report on significant issues. 3 This defence could extend to online or union publications in future.

Even the briefest review of libel law illustrates how complex and unpredictable these issues can be. The key conclusion is that anyone who is concerned about liability for libel should consult with union staff and counsel who are experienced in this area of the law. (And as with doctors, it is not good news to learn that your case is “interesting.”)

There are also a few practical steps that can be taken to limit exposure for libel:

  • Union websites that permit member postings should be password protected and limited to members only. This will help ensure that the audience is properly limited (as an added bonus it keeps confidential information away from employers).
  • Postings should be reviewed and approved by an administrator prior to posting. Administrators should think about the concepts of libel, and should ask for advice if in doubt.
  • Postings should focus to the greatest extent possible on “union issues” and should avoid allegations that are personal. Unions should be diligent in checking facts.
  • Complaints about internet postings should be considered carefully. Sometimes a quick apology or retraction will prevent future headaches.
  • Members should be wary of quick fixes. If a statement seems libellous, it is not a solution to add “allegedly” or to include a disclaimer that the opinions expressed are not the union’s. Libel law also applies to jokes – even funny ones.

Once union publishers think about the principles of libel law, and take reasonable steps to limit their exposure, it is important to remember that libel claims are extremely rare. Hopefully, an understanding of libel law will serve to support rather than intimidate union authors and publishers. It is critically important that unions and other progressive voices are not silenced by threats of legal action. Effective use of the internet, even with the risk of cyber-libel, is just too good an opportunity to miss. 

1 Weber v. Ontario Hydro, [1995] 2 SCR 929

2 Barrick Gold v Lopehandia, 2004 CanLII 12938 (ON CA); compare with Baglow v. Smith, 2011 ONSC 5131 (CanLII)

3 Grant v. Torstar Corp., [2009] 3 SCR 640; Quan v. Cusson, [2009] 3 SCR 712


A day in the life of Non-Full-Time Faculty

Pat O’Connor, Local 125

We are referred to as adjunct or associate faculty. These are palatable labels for the wasteland of insecurity and uncertainty in which we exist, living from paycheque to unemployment cheque.

We pray and often beg to get partial-load hours (7-12) in order to receive a decent, livable, hourly wage with some benefits for our families. Could someone please tell us how an enlightened, educational institution can justify paying us half the salary when we teach six hours as opposed to seven, or thirteen hours as opposed to twelve? Some deans at some colleges have made it their mission to ensure that no partial-load hours are assigned in order to keep their budgets for adjunct faculty down. We wonder: do deans receive bonuses or salary increases on the backs of part-time and sessional faculty?

Associate faculty are often verbally praised for our contribution to the colleges, but the institution’s actions prove otherwise. We are told that, although we are amply qualified to teach our subjects on a part-time basis, we aren’t qualified to teach the same subjects on a full- time basis. In what world do years of experience not qualify an individual for the very position that he/she already holds?

We are told to make ourselves at home in our communal offices but to keep a box handy because we must clear out at the end of each contract. We do accumulate seniority (very slowly), but seniority is often ignored when teaching assignments are doled out. If we have a partial-load contract, we are members of the bargaining unit and can file a grievance when seniority is ignored. However, filing a grievance could ensure that one won’t be invited back.

Many of us signed union cards years ago in hopes that the OPSEU could negotiate wage parity with the partial-load position for part-time and sessional teaching loads. However, the colleges are doing everything within their considerable power to ensure that we don’t organize. This is a blatant attempt to keep this pool of under-paid teachers around for as long as the institution can successfully exploit its most vulnerable group of workers.

We love teaching and want to make it our life’s work. Many of us have spent thousands of dollars pursuing degrees to qualify ourselves for full-time teaching positions when they become available which are few and far between, while at the same time earning low wages,

Please don’t view us as being bitter; we are just realistic about our situation and need to be heard, understood, and cared about by the various colleges in which we work. 


Workers of Colour Caucus at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival 2012

The Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) invite all members to participate at this year’s Toronto Caribbean Festival to be held on August 4, 2012. The Toronto Caribbean Carnival Festival is Toronto’s largest celebration of Caribbean Culture.

This year, the WOCC float will be a part of Louis Saldenah’s presentation of “Fantasy in Jewels.”

WOCC is once again in the Xpat’s Section, Mozambique Tourmaline. The costume consists of Fuchsia, Lilac/Lavender, with Silver & Bronze accents. Music will be provided by Region 3’s own Vince Gobind aka “inVINCEable int’l”.

The WOCC will also be participating in the Kiddies Carnival on July 21, Vaughan’s CariVaughn on August 11, and Barrie’s Caribfest on August 18.

Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis and limited; however, all members must register and pay by June 30, 2012 to participate. For more information and registration, please contact Vince Gobind at 1-416-561-7972 or at invinceable.intl@gmail.com.

OPSEU’s success at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival 2011!

The WOCC would also like to express its appreciation to everyone who participated and made the 2011 Toronto Carnival season a successful one!

The WOCC covered three regions in three weeks, Regions 5, 2 and 3. Not only was OPSEU represented in Toronto’s Carnival Grand Parade on July 30th, but also, for the first time, OPSEU and the WOCC’s flags flew high at the children’s parade on July 16th as the young masqueraders revelled down Jane Street. As well, Hamilton’s Mardi Gras saw OPSEU’s colours for the first time on August 6th, as did Barrie’s Caribfest on August 13th.

We would like to express our gratitude and heartfelt thanks to Winston, Sandra and all of the XPATS people who worked tirelessly to produce such a beautiful costume for the Workers Of Colour Caucus (and of course…for their patience). Also we would like to thank and congratulate Louis Saldenah Mas-k Club for a great day on the Lakeshore and for placing second in the “Band of the Year” category last year.

We would also like to thank all the Locals, Committees and Regions for their donations towards the costumes. Especially Local 311, Local 348, Local 106, Local 571, Region 3 and Region 5 for their generous contributions.

WOCC would like to thank OPSEU for the use of the OPSEU truck at the Junior Carnival, Hamilton’s Mardi Gras and Barrie’s Caribfest. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the Equity Unit for its support and to Monty Mohammed, who volunteered to drive the truck at each of these events and for ensuring that OPSEU and the WOCC’s flags were flying high.

Last, but definitely not least, we would like to thank the masqueraders, everyone who was in a costume at the parade this year….THANK YOU. We had four out of seven regions represented at the Toronto Carnival. We would like to send a special thanks to Sara Labelle, EBM from Region 3, Krista Miracle and Rod Bemister, EBMs from Region 5, Sandi Blancher, EBM from Region 1, Edie Strachan, Vice-Chair of the Provincial Women’s Committee and of course Eddy Almeida, EBM from Region 2 and the 1st Vice-President/Treasurer of our great union, for taking the time out of their busy schedule to participate in the parade. 


Food and water: a human right?

Heather Hoddinott, Provincial Women’s Committee

World Water Day was observed on March 22, 2012. This year’s theme was Food and Water Security.

Last November, your Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC) hosted its biennial Women’s Conference. We decided the focus of our event would be food and water as human rights.

Food and water are absolutely fundamental to our survival and well-being. This is why we decided it was so important to discuss our collective choices of food and water sources, and how it impacts us, our children, our animals and our planet.

The efforts led across the world for safe access to food and water is one that deserves our attention. It is largely being led by amazingly strong and brave women around the world. The PWC aimed to plant some important seeds in the hopes that food and water activists would sprout and bloom long afterwards.

It really is quite remarkable that I, in Northern Ontario, can purchase “fresh” tomatoes in February, and yet, in the same world and in stark contrast, a woman in parts of Africa or Asia travels an average six kilometres a day for safe water to provide for her family.

If that is not enough to make your stomach turn, the Harper government was one of only two members in the United Nations that voted against United Nations Human Rights Council efforts to recognize access to water as a human right.

It could be that Harper is more concerned to turning much of our fresh water into a commodity rather than ensuring a viable and healthy environment for future generations to come.

Consider that while $11 billion is spent purchasing ice cream in Europe, it would only cost $9 billion, plus annual costs, for installation of water supplies and sanitation globally, to provide water for the entire world. 1

If you are one who never considered these facts, you are not alone.

Our primary goal for the conference was to politely nudge our considerate appetites and knead them into making wiser and healthier choices when selecting food products for ourselves, our families, and our sisters and brothers around the globe.

Participants at the conference learned about the importance of local sustainability and supporting local food networks. You certainly don’t have to give up on ice cream to make a positive difference. In fact, if every family in the United States of America were to eat one locally produced meal a week it would result in a reduction of over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. 2

By choosing local, you would support your local economy, your local farmers and a healthier food source. When purchased locally, food does not require additional use of oil for transportation. For instance, potatoes grown in Eastern Ontario get shipped to Southern Ontario for packaging and then reshipped to Eastern Ontario for consumption.

Local farmers tend to run smaller farms, unlike their industrial farming counterparts. Michael Pollen, author of many books supporting organic and local food, speaks about the term “organic” from a major farming complex versus a local farm. In an interview with Organic Gardening, Pollen says, “They’re organic by the letter, not organic in spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they were getting ripped off.”

With growing consumer concerns about the location of its food origins, foodies alike began to question modern farming techniques, from its use of pesticides, insecticides to its lab-created seeds.

The topic of genetically modified organisms (GMO) is a controversial one. Participants learned about what exactly a GMO is, and what its implications can be. We borrowed the example of the genetically modified tomato. Researchers from DNA Plant Technology wondered how to get tomatoes to withstand frost, a real wet blanket to the profits of Big Agriculture. So, the DNA of the Arctic Flounder was studied and the gene responsible for the fish’s ability to live in its icy environment was isolated. Then, it was placed into the cell of a bacteria (E Coli to be exact) as bacteria and viruses are known for invading other cells. It was then injected into the flesh of the tomato which marked the beginning of creating new crops (crops that could yield 100 per cent), the guiding principle behind GMO processes. This meant a tomato could live through cold conditions, increase profits and make it to your dinner table in mid-February.

In some countries, like the UK, government regulations stipulate that products that come from GMO sources must be labelled, giving consumers the option to choose GMO or non-GMO. Canada, however, one of the world’s largest producers of GMO crops, is not tabling GMO-labelling legislation anytime soon.

“The Canadian Federation of Agriculture says the industry faces huge losses if mandatory labelling is implemented. The fear is that consumers will see the labels as a warning and avoid these foods, and that food processors will reformulate their products to avoid genetically-modified foods rather than place labels. It also says labels will increase the price of foods produced and processed in Canada.”  3 

Instead of waiting for governments to enact legislation’s that favour our well-being, we hoped that our conference would provide the necessary tools required to promote food and water advocacy in our membership.

Talk to your family about creating meals comprised of local ingredients. Get involved in community gardening initiatives. If one does not exist in your area, speak with your PWC representative to try and start one!

Changing the world can be as simple as changing the way you eat. The PWC hopes that you will join us in our effort to raise our forks to healthy food and our glasses to clean water for all. 

For additional resources please visit the PWC page on the OPSEU website at http://opseu.org/committees/pwc/2011-womens-conference-call.htm .


1 http://www.financingwaterforall.org/fileadmin/Financing_water_for_all/Reports/FullTextCover_MDG.pdf

2 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Author Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L Hopp 2007

3 http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/genetics_modification 


Taking action on workplace stress

Terri Aversa, OPSEU Health and Safety Officer

Is workplace stress an issue in your workplace? Do you experience issues such as excessive workload, chronic understaffing, lack of recognition, lack of support, lack of rewards, and little control over your work? Are workplace bullying, violence, and harassment part of your environment? If you said yes, you are like millions of other workers in Canada who suffer huge health burdens from these not-so-obvious or recognized workplace factors, termed “psychosocial hazards.”

OPSEU is one of at least ten unions, together with Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, that participate on a committee that is developing an online resource kit and tools for workers to take action on workplace stress. The committee, called the “Mental Injury Tool Group (MIT),” believes hazards at work that cause or contribute to mental distress for workers need to be identified and addressed just like other health and safety hazards. MIT also criticizes the current main approach that focuses on accommodating individuals and improving workers’ coping abilities through wellness initiatives and Employee Assistance Programs. While these are absolutely important activities (and need to occur), the prevention of workplace factors that cause or contribute to the conditions is not being recognized or addressed. Employers need to understand that organizational factors may play a role in affecting a worker’s mental state. Work can cause or contribute to workers’ stress and, as such, employers can and should take steps to remove or minimize the factors at work causing the harm.

The implications of workplace stress are wide-ranging. There are economic, moral, and legal reasons to intervene and deal with these workplace factors. Not only are the lost-time costs and other costs to the system detrimental, but the adverse health effects can range from undiagnosed to diagnosed mental health conditions that affect workers’ health and the quality of their lives. It can also cause a wide range of stress-induced or aggravated physical health disease such as musculoskeletal disorders and cardiovascular diseases. Emerging decisions in seven types of law (labour relations, occupational health and safety, compensation, human rights, employment standards, employment contract, and tort) all increasingly point to employers being obligated to provide psychologically safe workplaces for employees. This emerging trend in law coincides with the development of a Canadian standard, “Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” to be released in the fall 2012. The standard was created through a consultation process led by the Canadian Standards Association. It will be a voluntary standard that gives employers a systems approach to provide psychologically safe workplaces. The standard represents a rising awareness in Canada that mental well-being is just as important to a safe and healthy workplace as physical well-being.

Canada is steps behind Europe on this issue. The idea that mental health and safety is important is NOT new to Europe. In Europe, government authorities actively recognize and legally require the prevention of psychosocial hazards. Inspectors are trained to identify and write orders regarding psychosocial hazards and the topic is part of regular enforcement strategies in health and safety inspection. Although this awareness has not yet overtaken Canadian jurisdictions, the recent developments are a help. Raising awareness of these hazards in the health and safety and compensation systems, and in society as a whole, is also part of MIT’s goals. The resource kit (to be released in October 2012) is an effort to arm workers with information on how to take action, raise system awareness of these hazards, emphasizing the importance of preventing the hazards and compensating the resulting negative health outcomes.

Now is the time for workplace health and safety committees and representatives to take action. With the release of “Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” and the increasing focus on the issue of psychosocial hazards, workers need to be vocal and act in the workplace to prevent psychosocial hazards. Workers and unions need to be loud in convincing employers that preventing these hazards is part of their existing health and safety responsibilities. Finally, workers and unions need to ensure that Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and other system stakeholders take these hazards seriously and treat them the same as any other health and safety hazard—in enforcement, in compensation, and in prevention strategy. 


An OPSEU Moment

Ethel Birkett-LaValley

Ethel Birkett-LaValley was active in OPSEU and the Ontario labour movement for more than 30 years. She has been a leader in community and human rights issues.

Ethel joined OPSEU as an information counsellor in Algonquin Park in 1974, and later became an Enforcement Officer in charge of park wardens.  She became president of OPSEU Local 306 in 1978, representing Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) employees in the Whitney area.

In her tenure at OPSEU, she chaired the MNR ERC team where she was successful in negotiating the conversion of 2,300 unclassified employees to classified status. She was elected Executive Board Member for Region 3 in 1980, and became Regional Vice-President Region 3 in 1990. Ethel also served on the NUPGE executive board as an OPSEU representative.

Ethel was also dedicated to her local community, serving as councillor, reeve and mayor of Airy Township for 24 years, and a vice-president of the Association Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).

Ethel was also an outspoken critic of the Harris government’s treatment of Native people, taking the lead in support of the Dudley George family after the Ipperwash shooting. She became the first Aboriginal Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Ethel was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labour in 1995, a position she held until her retirement in 2005. She was responsible for the Aboriginal Persons Committee, a member of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, the OFL Solidarity and Pride Committee and the OFL Women’s Committee. 


Duty to inquire comes first in accommodating mental health

Karrie Ouchas, In Solidarity

In a previous edition of In Solidarity (“Breaking free of the mental illness stigma,” Fall/Winter 2009), I made a confession. I suffer from mental illness. More specifically and accurately, I suffer from a mental health disorder. This disorder is no different than any other invisible disability, such as diabetes. You wouldn’t know I suffered from it unless I told you. It’s controlled by taking regular medication and by being under a doctor’s care.

The reaction to the article was largely positive. I received many e-mails and messages thanking me for my courage and for sharing my story. Many shared their stories with me. I was told that it gave strength to others suffering in silence, to know that they weren’t alone. I was flattered and humbled. To me, the reaction was proof-positive that I had made the right decision by publishing a personal perspective of living with mental illness.

It’s unfortunate to report that I had another episode in early 2011. In part, it was because of an undiagnosed condition and wrong medications. The episode did not happen at work. As a matter of fact, it was late on a Friday afternoon and I was at home.

Gossip quickly spread throughout my workplace, as did misinformation, misunderstanding and fear. I was prevented from attending work and I was placed under investigation. That original article, which took great courage and strength to write and publish, was raised during the investigation. My grievance arbitration is current and ongoing so I can’t comment much, but you get the picture.

Here’s what I can tell you. I truly believe my employer’s reactions to me and their subsequent inappropriate actions are a result of ignorance. Many organizations do not know how to address people who suffer with mental illness.

It’s time to break through the stigma and misinformation and talk about it.

You are protected

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) provides for equal rights and opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. The Code recognizes the dignity and worth of every person in Ontario.

In Ontario, the law protects you from discrimination and harassment because of mental health disabilities or addictions. This includes past, present and perceived conditions.1

Stop the fear and eliminate the taboo

Mental illness is a taboo subject in our society and our workplaces. People with mental health disabilities and addictions may be exposed to stereotypes based on irrational fear, leading to experiences of stigma. Employees may find themselves isolated and marginalized in the workplace.2

It’s an archaic thought that people with mental illness are prone to violence and/or should automatically be committed to a psychiatric hospital. Though there are genuine cases where hospitalization is necessary, most people with mental illness can conduct normal and productive lives with medication and proper support.

People with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than any other group of people in society. As a matter of fact, people who are mentally ill are four times more likely to be victims of violence, not the perpetrator.

Violence may become a factor with people who have severe and untreated mental illnesses. Often they only become violent when they feel threatened.

Risk factors for violence include a history of violence, substance abuse problems, the socioeconomic environment, gender and youth.

Duty to inquire

Sometimes the disability is obvious and employers are well aware of their duty to accommodate. Mental health issues (including addiction) are a little more difficult to determine unless an employee voluntarily discloses there is a problem. Sometimes an employer will not be aware and will note a sudden change in behaviour and performance on the job.

When an employer becomes aware of a possible link between an employee’s inappropriate behaviour or poor job performance and his or her disability or possible disability, the employer has a duty to investigate whether such inappropriate behaviour or poor job performance indeed is disability-related before it takes disciplinary or other action in response to such inappropriate behaviour or poor performance.3

In other words, if an employee’s behaviour or job performance suddenly changes, the employer has an obligation to ask questions and find a suitable accommodation before taking any type of disciplinary action, including preventing the employee from attending the workplace.

An employer can prevent an employee from attending the workplace in specific circumstances. If an employer has reasonable basis for suspecting the mental health or the substance abuse issue impairs an employee’s ability to perform his or her safety-sensitive positions, then he or she can be prevented from attending the workplace. The degree of risk must be determined by the seriousness of the illness and the nature of the employee’s duties.

Duty to accommodate

Some persons with mental health issues or addictions will reach out for help. However, because of the nature of the disability, this is not always possible. The employer is still responsible in their duty of accommodation regardless if the person with the mental health disability or addiction asks for the help. The duty to accommodate is up to the point of undue hardship on the employer (determined by cost and health and safety risks).

The employer is responsible for providing services, policies and processes that allow people with disabilities to fully integrate into all aspects of the workplace. This is called “inclusive design.”

Accommodation is a tri-party responsibility. What this means is that the employer, the affected employee and the union should co-operate, share information and look for solutions together.

Here are some examples of accommodations that may work:

  • Increased flexibility in work hours or work leave
  • Maintaining a support person log and calling a support person when the employee experiences crisis
  • Facilitating an employee’s access to an addictions program and allowing the person time off to attend
  • Getting information about community resources and supports
  • Depending on the circumstances, job restructuring, retraining or assignment to an alternative position

The Canadian Mental Health Association summarizes it best:

People with mental illness are really the vulnerable ones. They not only battle a disease that is invisible, they battle society’s perception of who they are and what they do. Violence is not only a physical threat; it can also be an emotional, intellectual and spiritual attack. The stigma we place on mental illness is an assault on a person’s dignity and an insult to their humanity. 


1, 2 Ontario Human Rights Commission: Human rights and mental health www.ohrc.on.ca/en/issues/mental_health

3 Hamilton Law Association – Mental Illness and Addictions: Workplace Challenges


Involve the ‘Real Experts’ when planning for accessibility

John Rae, Co-Chair of OPSEU's Disability Rights Caucus.

Over one in seven Ontarians are part of the disabled community. Within this group we must be cognizant of the diverse access needs of individuals. 

When planning an event it is important to be aware that while hard of hearing participants may need an assistive hearing device, deaf participants will need sign language interpreters or real time captioning. Persons with mobility disabilities need level entrances, usable bathrooms, accessible parking, as near to the entrance as possible. For overnight meetings, members may need a bedroom with a roll in shower. Persons with partial vision may be most concerned about glary surfaces, detectable strips on stairs or large print materials and menus. While totally blind persons, like myself, will be more concerned about braille or tactile signage on elevators or rooms; materials sent electronically in advance in text or HTML format (no PDF); and accessible menus in restaurants. Providing materials in easy to read plain language will assist all participants.

When planning a union event, it is important to include questions about access on delegate application forms. This gives individuals the opportunity to self-identify their respective needs in advance of the event.

History has shown that simply asking a representative from the facility you are thinking of using will likely end in disaster. Many facilities are too quick to advise you their facility is accessible when in reality, it will not meet all participants' needs. An onsite visit, with someone who has knowledge of access needs of persons with various disabilities will go a long way to ensuring the event is truly inclusive. 

The Disability Rights Caucus was established, in part to provide OPSEU with in-house expertise. Caucus members are always willing to assist in the planning of truly inclusive events.

By involving the “real experts” at an early stage of your event planning, all members are more likely to feel welcome, respected and included, and that's what our “union of choice” should always strive to provide. 


Turn up the Volume 

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that this issue of In Solidarity is Volume 19, Number 2. Extra marks go to those who also noted that the last issue was labelled as Volume 18, Number 3. Yes…something is amiss.

First, let’s explain the “Volume/Number” system. Print publications use this to indicate the number of years the publication has been in existence, and the number of issues printed in a 12-month period. The 12-month period is not usually the calendar year, but 12 months from the month of the first issue of the publication (e.g. June-May).

The trouble for In Solidarity goes all the way back to the first issue, in March 1994 (Volume 1, Number 1). Technically, the Volume period should be from March to February each year. However, the original committee decided the Volume period should be the calendar year (January-December). So, for In Solidarity, Volume 19, Number 2 indicates that this is the 19th year of publication, and the second issue for this year.

In Solidarity stopped publishing the “Volume/Issue” for a while. When it was brought back, we incorrectly assumed the Volume period was March-February.

We are back on track. And come 2013, we will celebrate our 20th year of bringing news to our stewards and activists. 


Heat & Hydration

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

It’s humid and the temperatures are soaring; you’ve been working hard for hours. You feel dizzy, have a pounding headache, and your intense thirst suddenly reminds you that it’s been hours since you’ve paused to drink something. You may be dehydrated, and that can cause severe health problems if left unchecked.

About 60 per cent of your body is made up of water. Water is essential to human life; you need it to keep your body functioning properly and to regulate your body temperature. It flushes out wastes and toxins, helps digestion, lubricates the joints and eyes, and keeps skin healthy. You can’t live without it.

When you don’t drink enough fluids to replace the water that you lose through sweating and everyday activity, you can become dehydrated. When the normal water content of your body is reduced, it upsets your body’s balance of minerals (salts and sugar), which affects the way that it functions. Just a small drop in body fluids will cause a loss of energy in the average person; a 15 per cent drop in body fluids can cause death.

How you can become dehydrated

There are several factors that can contribute to dehydration: environment, amount of physical activity, illnesses or health conditions, and diet.

Working outside in sun, heat, and humidity can cause you to sweat and lose fluids rapidly. Heated indoor air also can also cause loss of fluids. Being in high altitudes, greater than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), may increase the amount you urinate and quicken your breathing, in turn, using up more of your body fluids.

If you do strenuous work or intense exercise that causes you to sweat, you are at increased risk for dehydration. You can also become dehydrated as a result of an illness or a health condition. Fever, vomiting, or diarrhea causes your body to lose additional fluids, as would a condition such as diabetes that causes frequent urination.

Drinking too much alcohol can dehydrate you. As well, drinking sugary soda and coffee to hydrate yourself can actually dehydrate you even more. These drinks usually have caffeine in them which can cause you to urinate more. Also, drinking anything loaded with sugar makes the body work hard to process it, causing further dehydration.

Signs of dehydration

Dehydration can be described as mild, moderate or severe. Watch for the following signs.


  • excessive thirst
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • headache
  • fatigue or drowsiness
  • dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • dark yellow urine
  • urinating only small amounts, infrequently (less than three or four times a day)

Moderate dehydration causes you to lose strength and stamina, and is the main cause of heat exhaustion. You should be able to reverse this level of dehydration yourself by drinking more fluids.

If dehydration is ongoing, it can affect your kidney function and cause kidney stones, liver, joint and muscle damage, cholesterol problems, and constipation.


Untreated mild or moderate dehydration can lead to severe dehydration, which is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Watch for the following symptoms:

  • dry, wrinkled skin that falls slowly into position when pinched up
  • unable to urinate or not urinating for eight hours
  • feeling drowsy, disorientated, and irritated
  • sunken eyes
  • weak pulse
  • rapid heartbeat
  • cool hands and feet
  • seizures
  • blood in your feces or vomit

Mental performance and concentration begin to decrease as you become increasingly dehydrated, affecting the safety of yourself and those around you.

What employers can do to help prevent dehydration

Employers have a duty to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

Educate employees on the causes and to recognize the symptoms of dehydration, and instruct them on how to protect themselves.

Continuously reinforce the messages with ongoing training and visual reminders (posters, for example) to encourage employees to hydrate themselves, and watch for signs of dehydration.

Ensure there is a buddy system in place so workers can monitor one another for signs of dehydration.

Make drinking water readily accessible and encourage your employees to drink often.

Where possible, plan the work so that more strenuous work is done during cooler periods.

Provide shade or shelters as relief from heat and rest areas for outdoor workers.

Have an emergency plan in place that includes procedures for providing affected workers with first aid and medical care. This plan is a necessity especially in extreme environments.

What employees can do to prevent dehydration

The recommended daily intake of fluids can vary depending on the individual and on factors such as age, climate, and physical activity.

Drink plenty of fluids to replace the fluids you are losing, at least a cup every 15 or 20 minutes. The fluid could be water, semi-skimmed milk or fruit juice. Sports drinks designed to replace body fluids and electrolytes may be taken in moderation.

Fluid intake should equal fluid loss. On average, about one litre of water each hour may be required to replace the fluid loss.

Avoid caffeine and sugary drinks, and NEVER consume alcohol (e.g. beer) to hydrate.

Monitor your urine colour; it should be clear to light yellow. If it is darker or concentrated, you may be dehydrated, and you must drink more fluids.

If you or a co-worker begin to show signs or symptoms of dehydration, call for medical help immediately. While you are waiting for help, move to a cool place to rest. If not treated immediately, severe dehydration can lead to complications and even death. 

Source: Health and Safety Report, (Volume 10, Issue 5), Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), 2012. Reproduced with the permission of CCOHS, 2012.


Handling disciplines involving profanity

Steward Update

It’s the rare workplace in which profanity is never heard. From the blurted-out reaction to a spilled cup of steaming coffee to a confrontation between an upset worker and an equally upset supervisor, bad words happen. In those cases in which things escalate to management disciplining a worker, the question for stewards often arises, “What’s next?”

Workers can be fired for insubordination. Profanity, directed at either fellow employees or the boss, is considered just that. It’s not a question of freedom of speech: strong language, whether it’s blasphemous, abusive or just plain dirty, can be construed as insubordination and cost a worker’s job.

But how language is construed depends on how you look at it, and it can be the steward’s job to establish the proper standpoint from which the charge of insubordination should be viewed. What do you do? You investigate and ask questions: of yourself, of the contract, of the worker facing discipline. For example:

  • Is there any specific language in the contract that defines insubordination in this particular workplace?
  • Is guilt clearly established?
  • Are there witnesses?
  • Was this typical, routinely accepted “shop talk” in this workplace, or with this supervisor?
  • What were the circumstances when the strong language started to flow?
  • Was the worker trying to uphold a contractual right such as the right to representation, the right to refuse unsafe work or an illegal order?
  • Is this worker being treated differently than other workers who have been in the same situation?
  • Were there unusually tense circumstances during the incident, either for the worker or the supervisor?
  • Was this worker set up? That is, did someone know the worker had a short fuse and aggravate him on purpose?
  • Is there some bad history between the parties?
  • If discipline has already been meted out, was it excessive?
  • If the worker was terminated, did the infraction rise to a level of justifying that? Most contracts call for progressive discipline, so what the worker said would have to be pretty extreme to be outside the bounds of the progressive system. Remember that many arbitrators will support progressive discipline as an element of just cause, even if the contract does not specifically mention it.

As you look into the case, be aware that because of the historic, legally acknowledged master-servant relationship between employers and workers, profanity that ridicules a supervisor, undermines the authority of management, or weakens the morale of employees and thereby hinders production is likely to be construed as insubordination. The master-servant context is considered insulting and discriminatory by many workers and unionists, but it is, unfortunately, the reality of the workplace.

The best approach is to make sure your members understand the potential consequences of using profanity. Prevention is better than cure.

OK, but what about stewards themselves – are stewards different? Yes, when they’re in their steward role. The general rule here is called “the equality principle.” When a steward is functioning as a representative of the union he or she is no longer in that master-servant relationship, according to the National Labor Relations Board (this principle has been adopted in almost all state public sector laws and in Canadian shop floor jurisprudence). The steward is free, in the words of the Board, to “use some profanity and even defiance must be tolerated during confrontations over contractual rights,” because “the relationship at a grievance meeting is not a master-servant relationship but a relationship between company advocates on one side and union advocates on the other side, engaged as equal opposing parties in litigation.”

 This equality principle provides what is often called “steward immunity.” It means that stewards can speak in a loud voice, gesture, use language that would be considered profane and abusive in another context, even demean a supervisor’s intelligence and threaten lawful protests. But be careful: this immunity is not absolute. Physical violence, threats of physical violence or other actions that would be considered illegal outside the workplace are not only dumb, they’re not protected by law.

After all is said and done, stewards should be very careful in their use of strong language. Don’t lose control. If you use profanity, use it in calculated way, maybe even to make the employer believe you are so offended by what management has unjustly done that you can’t help but get a little out of control. Remember that these confrontations are like theatre, just like negotiations at the bargaining table. And if you feel yourself truly getting out of control, back off and get some help. 

*** 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. ***


The Steward: an Honourable History

As a steward, you have the oldest title in the labour movement. The first unions were small informal groups of workers with little clout and few resources. They had no hired guns to win their battles. They relied on each other and their rank and file leaders, known as stewards.

The steward’s job was vast: sign up new members, police the collective agreement, bargain and face off against supervisors (often without any grievance rights). Stewards even had to go to each member on payday and collect union dues.

The steward was the face and leader of the union where it really matters…in the workplace.

This is equally true today.

Unions with keen energetic stewards are leaders in the labour movement and set the standards for contract improvements. Unions lose the respect of both members and employers when they forget the importance of elected leaders with clout in the workplace.

Union staff cannot do the steward’s job. Members need someone they can turn to daily as the representative of the union. That’s you!

Your position gives you a vital opportunity to improve conditions on the job. Your forebears risked life, limb and livelihood to get their co-workers and families a fair price for their labour.

Your collective agreement, and much of our social and workplace legislation, is a testament to thousands of stewards who sacrificed for us. It’s a solid foundation we can all build on.

An ordinary employee taking on the boss must be careful no to cross the line into insubordination.

A union steward, as an elected union official, has more leeway. When you are wearing your “union hat,” you are not talking to you supervisor as an employee. You are equal to the boss when wearing your union hat. If you have taken union educationals, you are also probably more knowledgeable.

The Steward`s Job in OPSEU:

  • Organizer and communicator
  • Grievance handler
  • A link to collective bargaining
  • A link to the Local Executive
  • A link to the central union
  • A resource for members 

*** This article is taken from the OPSEU Power Tools: A Handbook for OPSEU Stewards, 2011. ***

Download In Solidarity Summer 2012

Related News