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In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 20, Number 1, Winter 2013

In Solidarity, winter 2013 cover. OPSEU member holding a flag

Rallying for the '99' 

Laurie Sabourin, In Solidarity

Download In Solidarity Winter 2013

OPSEU does what  OPSEU does best, campaigns and rallies for a better Ontario.

On January 26, 2013 members from across the province came for an early-morning rally outside Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to send a strong message to delegates entering the Liberal Leadership Convention. They want a compassionate and prosperous Ontario from the Liberal Party members and the leadership candidates who were vying for the top spot to replace Dalton McGuinty.

Members voiced their concerns demanding the government restore equality by investing in services that support Ontario families, fairly taxing profitable corporations and protecting the democratic rights of everyone. Despite the Liberals' slogan of "Forward Together," most OPSEU members are more worried about going backward. Wages and working conditions are under attack. Many members are facing the very real fear of job loss in 2013 due to major cuts and privatization of public services while banks and corporations are being allowed to reap record profits at the public expense. OPSEU President Smokey Thomas said, "It's time for a Premier who stands up for the 99 per cent!"

Throughout the day, the OFL and the teachers' unions filled the streets with up to 30,000 concerned citizens demanding change from their government. What started out as one lane on Carlton blocked off turned into the complete block from Yonge Street to College Street filled with protesters. Twitter and Facebook was flooded with comments and pictures of the event.

insol_winter2013_final_page_03_image_0001.jpg Meanwhile the Ontario Liberal government maintained corporate tax cuts that continue to bleed $15 billion from the province every year. Last fall, McGuinty's Liberals, with the backing of Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives, passed Bill 115 which gives the government the power to impose contracts on teachers and school support staff — without bothering to negotiate in good faith. And the Conservatives are no better. They've already made it clear that if they win the next election, they'll declare war on unionized workers and force public sector workers to compete for their own jobs against private sector companies. The Liberals and Conservatives have established a precedent that threatens the rights of every worker in Ontario.

The 2012 Ontario Budget slashed funding and threatened thousands of jobs that are essential to the delivery of vital public services that support every community.

It's pretty clear that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are working for the common good of all Ontarians. They may be working for corporate CEOs and other members of the top one per cent, but they're not working for working people.

While the face of the Liberal leader has changed, the political agenda has not. After the third ballot, Kathleen Wynne was elected to lead the party into the next election. She needs to hear the voices of the poor and the middle class. OPSEU is a prominent voice of the 99 per cent and will continue to make them a priority in the fight for social justice.

OPSEU and community members from across the province are demanding new priorities for Ontario that put people ahead of corporate profit. Put people, not profit, first and make Ontario prosperous again.


Unions: Still relevant?

Glen Archer, In Solidarity

insol_winter2013_final_page_06_image_0001.jpg How many times have you heard someone say "Unions were a good thing a hundred years ago!" or "Unions were okay in their day!"? It seems now, more than ever, unions are relevant, and their day has come again.

The gulf between unions and big business has never been so wide, it seems, and it appears that government is driving a bigger wedge between the two. Several events over the last few years in the U.S. have highlighted this government involvement. Sadly, many of these actions and ideologies are trickling north.

Within the last two years, Wisconsin workers galvanized into action with the rollout of the infamous "2011 Wisconsin Act 10" also called "the budget repair bill." To summarize, we saw the budget shortfalls of that State being "repaired" by shifting the fiscal burden onto their public service workers. Layoffs of workers, clawbacks of wages and benefits, and the recalculating of pension contributions of municipal and public service workers were a big part of the repair strategy. Sound familiar?

A strange irony to the Wisconsin case lies in the fact that collective bargaining for public service workers was enshrined into Wisconsin law in 1959. Even more interesting is the fact that Wisconsin was the first state to honour collective bargaining. What is scary is if such a historically pro-union state can do a complete about face in regards to their core values, how does this bode for the rest of the United States and, subsequently, Canada?

It doesn't end here. In addition, we have recently witnessed the state of Michigan enact their so-called "Right to work" legislation. This is not to be confused with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment". No, what this little gem does is directly attack unions by allowing anyone in the workforce to enjoy the full benefit of what the unions have achieved – wages, benefits, job security, etc., without having the inconvenience of actually having to pay for the benefits of union membership by joining and paying dues.

What's easy to see is that "Right to Work" legislation will bring big money to big business. If big businesses have their way, non dues-paying non-union workers will eventually outnumber the dues paying members of the existing unions and will cause unions to dwindle. It would certainly then be a lot easier for employers to begin a scale-back of wages and benefits for example when only a handful of unionized employees remain.

Even sadder is the fact that these campaigns were initiated, sanctioned, or at least condoned by big business. Either way the biggest winners are these same big business players.

Can we draw a similar comparison in Ontario? Should unionized workers be leery of the future of unions in Ontario? I believe so.

We are currently dealing with a provincial government whose policies over the last several years have included tax cuts for big business and attacks on the public service.

Dalton McGuinty has proposed, among other things, zero per cent wage increases for all public servants, a rollback of pension entitlements, two-tiered wage grids, increased privatization and selling off crown assets, and layoff and jobsite closures.

Most recently, the Liberals foisted Bill 115 upon Ontario's teachers which, while promising a "students first" agenda, really allows unprecedented powers to be held by the employer while at the same time severely handicapping the collective bargaining process.

So how did the Ontario Liberals end up on this heinous path? When the entire world was facing what has been labelled "The Great Recession," brought on by the "sub-prime crisis" and other pressures, the Liberal response was to approach a big business guru, Don Drummond, to see what he had to say about the current state of things in Ontario. His 2011 "Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services" took some rather large swipes at the public service.

Some of the recommendations made by Drummond would see tremendous cuts in the services provided by OPSEU members. Drummond believes, as do a large number of profit-seeking business folk, that the private sector can do a better job delivering services than the public service can. Apparently Drummond does more looking to the future than he does to the past or he would recognize the folly of privatization.

One such example of privatization gone sour lies in the privatization of the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) in Pentanguishene, Ontario's first privately-operated correctional centre. This move was such a disaster that the contractor, Management and Training Corporation Canada (ironically headquartered in Centerville, Utah), did not manage to renew its five-year term. Such was the poor state of affairs of private, for-profit corporations in the corrections sector that the provincial government has not looked at a repeat performance since the CNCC was brought back as a publicly-run facility in 2006.

However, some of Drummond's privatization ideas have come to fruition. A company called Active Outdoors based in Nashville, Tennessee is now in charge of Ontario's Outdoor Card system. Similarly, Australia's Transfield Services is in charge of northern Ontario road maintenance after securing a twelve-year, $160 million contract in June 2012. Word has it that services like our health card system is one of the things slated to head south. Ironically, though, since some of the major improvements implemented in health card security were implemented to combat fraudulent use of these cards, especially in border cities, by Americans with either fraudulently obtained or counterfeited cards. Now, instead of ensuring our Ontario health card system is administered by the public servants of our province, we are looking at handing over the whole deal to the USA. A bit like putting the fox in charge of the hen house, no?

So why is it that big business is pulling all the strings? A definite part of the equation is the fact that the media works in favour of big business. Big business owns it. They mold, shape and sell it. They control it, and the public buys it in some form or another.

Sadly, the same public glorifies the CEOs and business tycoons with television shows like "Shark Tank" and "Dragons Den" where some of the country's wealthiest people play puppet master to average Canadians looking to make their mark and get ahead.

Headlining these shows are people like Kevin O'Leary, one of Canada's most vocal representatives of big money. O'Leary has a reported personal wealth of around $300 million, and he uses his show to air his hatred for unions. According to him, expressed in the infamous interview of Occupy Wall Street supporter Chris Hedges that aired on the "Lang and O'Leary Exchange" in September 2011, he would make unions illegal and would jail union members. He further stated that he believed unions were "borne out of evil."

Thankfully, this verbal attack on organized labour did not go unchallenged. Both the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and our own Ontario Public Service Employees Union filed complaints with the CBC over O'Leary's comments. Although many people see O'Leary's showboating as entertaining, it is unfortunately resonating with the overburdened and under-represented working classes. These same people should consider what the working class would look like if the likes of Kevin O'Leary ran things. If O'Leary had his way, the workforce in Canada today would look like something out of a Charles Dickens novel. The under privileged would be shuttered away in workhouses as the wealthiest in society reaped the rewards from their labour.

Another big piece of this puzzle lies in the proliferation of big business either running or at least steering the government. We've endured the Harris Conservatives and all their big business buddies. We have weathered the Hudak storm so far with their rebranded Harris-like approach. Two terms of the current Liberals under McGuinty may be coming to an inglorious end with the current disarray of the party. McGuinty's stepping down and effectively shutting the government down by proroguing parliament has done nothing to calm the seas of labour unrest.

With this, there is a chance the province of Ontario may be thrust into another election in the not too distant future. We can only hope that Ontarians make a sensible choice and elect a sensible government which recognizes the need for a healthy business environment blended with a sensitive eye to the social needs of the province. Andrea Horvath and the New Democratic Party of Ontario may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if they hold the reins of power we might just see a better blend between business and society.

Thankfully, because of unions, we don't live in O'Leary's kind of world. Because of the efforts of those like us and the sacrifices made by those before us we no longer have workhouses. We have weekends and holidays and we have decent pay, benefits and working conditions. OPSEU represents the heart and soul of the middle class in Ontario, and as a union, we are every bit as relevant today as unions have ever been in this province.

The positives of "Mega-Mart"?

Part 1 of a four-part series

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

insol_winter2013_final_page_07_image_0001.jpg I know you may think I'm nuts, but I firmly believe there are some benefits of shopping in big box stores which we simply can't deny. The successes of the "Mega-Marts" in our communities are the only testimony needed to say that they are on to something. I know there are many reasons people are against the Mega-Mart's across our nation, but there must be something that keeps people coming back. They are doing business after all. Well, I can tell you after a long examination of this issue that there are very clear benefits to taking your business to the big box store.

The first obvious benefit is employment. Big box stores create jobs. From the first day that a new "Mega-Mart" is announced, the community buzzes about the economic advantages. The first people on site are the contractors who create the physical structure. Many of these are union jobs — concrete formers, electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. The next step is bringing in the product. Products are often shipped from overseas, which means jobs in shipping and transportation. Product then moves across borders, giving work to the good men and women employed at the Canada Border Services Agency. Finally, the stores hire local workers who will receive the merchandise, process, stock, and sell it.

A secondary benefit to the "Mega-Mart" is the availability of options to the people in the community. While previously the consumers may have only had one or two small retailers available to them, they can now go into a store and be presented with a multitude of options. They can choose between not only twelve different brands but between several different quantities of their favorite products. They can shop for domestically or internationally made products. Shoppers can compare price versus quantity and warranties versus guarantees. There are several store employees available to ensure that there is stock on hand and that the customer leaves with a bag full of purchases! Perhaps customers can even pick up one or two things they didn't even know they wanted.

The final benefit passed on to the consumer is cost effectiveness of mass purchasing. Those "Mega-Marts" buy in such large quantity they are able to offer step discounts on the brands people love. Why should people shop anywhere else? Shoppers can go to one place to buy fruit, meat, dairy, medication, furniture, appliances and hardware. One stop shopping, can it get any better? Those stores also offer such perks as loyalty programs, price and ad matching. They want your business after all, so they will give you the best price possible.

Interestingly enough there is still a huge movement against big box stores. Can't people see the obvious benefits? By just looking at the surface, Mega-Mart shopping seems the way to go.
But is it really? I plan to dig a little deeper.

An occasional mistake


A worker who was being paid by the week approached his employer and held up his last paycheck. "This is two hundred dollars less than we agreed on," he said.

"I know," the employer said. "But last week I overpaid you two hundred dollars, and you never complained."

"Well, I don't mind an occasional mistake," the worker answered, "but when it gets to be a habit, I feel I have to call it to your attention."

Both ends of the spectrum 


Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact and it's the plague of our 24/7 age.

For those on the opposite end of the spectrum, you may suffer from Cainophobia (the fear of anything new), Sophophobia (the fear of learning anything new), or Hellenologophobia (the fear of confusing, highly technical terminology).

However, if you suffer from Sesquipedalophobia (the fear of long words) you should just skip this article altogether.


Letters to the Editor 

I have been reading In Solidarity since 1983, when I was first elected steward at the Sheridan College Brampton Campus. I retired in 2008 after serving in many offices in my local and in the province, including editor of the Local 244 newsletter.

Bravo! I wish to compliment you and the Editorial Committee on your outstanding Fall 2012 edition. This was the most educational issue I can remember reading and enjoying. The issues discussed in this edition are relevant to union members in today's workplace as well as the retiree members of OPSEU. The decreased focus on OPSEU politics is appreciated.

Our great union is a shining example of social unionism and articles such as "Here Comes The Bride" helps readers to become more aware of the injustices suffered by women in Yemen and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa under Sharia law.

Regardless of the passage of the Ontario Pay Equity Act in 1988, women in Ontario today continue face employment barriers and suffer economic injustice, as clearly outlined in the articles "Fair Pay is Fair Play" and "Economic Equality Through the Eyes of Our Youth". Publicizing this issue and bargaining for improvements continues to be as important today as it was during the period I served on the PWC and the provincial and local CAAT (A) Employment Equity committees. It takes the same amount of food to fill our stomachs, whether we are men or women, young or old, regardless of race, colour or creed.

I am a mature woman of mixed blood, Aboriginal and European and self-identify as Métis. I particularly enjoyed reading the article entitled "Aboriginal vs. Indigenous".

Although retired from paid employment, I continue to do volunteer work in my community as do many other seniors. In general, seniors in our society suffer many losses, including loss of respect because they are no longer in the paid workforce. This was aptly noted in the article "Doomsday Stories are Simply Wrong". I strongly agree with the concluding paragraph: "Acknowledging seniors' contributions would help make ours a more age-inclusive society that does not pit one generation against the other. It would also be a more accurate reflection of how most of us engage with each other in our everyday lives."

As an artist I love the article about the evolution of crayon colours, entitled "Whatever Happened to Plain Old Purple?". Also, workers today need to be cognizant of the changes in the way WSIB does business and vigilant regarding the increasing cuts to worker benefits as pointed out in "Is WSIB Breaking The Law?"

I could continue to cite relevant examples contained in this publication. However in summary, I would like to say thank you and keep up the good work.

Bobbi Wagner, Retired, Local 244

Yikes! You guys almost gave me a heart attack.

I've been an OPSEU member since dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the organization was called CSAO Inc.

In fact, I was even co-chair (with Jim Clancy) of Sean O'Flynn's presidential re-election campaign in 1982.

So, when I opened the current issue of In Solidarity and saw a rather faded photo of Sean under the heading "An OPSEU Moment" (of memoriam?), I thought it was his obituary!

Maybe these little vignettes could be designed a little differently. After all, the dark blue (admittedly not black) border was a bit of a heart-stopper.

Howard A. Doughty, Steward, King Campus Seneca College, Local 560

Are Canadians causing child slavery?

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

insol_winter2013_final_page_11_image_0001.jpg Recently, an e-mail came my way with the subject line "Are Canadians Causing Child Slavery?" It suggested that we as Canadians were "perpetuating the problem." It encouraged me to examine my consumer choices to help end child slavery.

With two children of my own, I was intrigued. A link sent me to a petition site urging me to sign insisting Prime Minister Harper do something about child labour. The e-mail used the logo of a reputable organization, and it urged me to lend financial support. Did I send cash to the organization? Nope—it looked somewhat sketchy, and the e-mail provided no proof of where donated funds were going. Yet, how could I dismiss this claim? How could I as a Canadian brush off claims of perpetuating child slavery? This one questionably spam e-mail piqued my interest enough to delve into the practice of trafficking in Canada, and I found the unsavoury underbelly.

As a facts-based person, I did quite a bit of searching. A site called dosomething.com listed several facts surrounding human trafficking. According to this site, there are 27 million slaves worldwide with many entering prostitution, pornography, or debt bondage situations. Sadly half of those 27 million are under the age of 18. These human slaves are prone to victimization, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV, STDs or permanent reproductive damage. Sadly, according to this organization, there is only one shelter in the U.S. to deal with these people, and the shelter can aid only 7-9 people at a time.

Another site, UN.GIFT (United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking) quoted 2.5 million moved into trafficking worldwide each year with most between the ages of 18-24. In addition, 1.2 million children each year are sold into service. (International Labour Organization Forced Labor Fact Sheet, 2007).

Oprah has thrown her name into the ring. Quoting UNICEF, her site states that human trafficking is a $9.5 billion dollar industry enslaving two million children—the "second largest crime in the world."

Here at home, according to the RCMP (2005), 600-800 humans come to Canada each year for the purpose of trafficking, and 1,500-2,000 come through Canada to the U.S. Apparently Vancouver is the port of concern. This is really creepy to those of us who would like to think anything of this sort doesn't happen in our back yards. This certainly doesn't mirror Canada's heroic role in the Underground Railroad in the late 1800s. It's like an Underground Railroad gone bad…really bad.

Where's Canada in all of this? You'll be happy to note that Canada has not completely turned its back on this travesty. In 2007 BC opened its Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons (OCTIP)—the first province to address this issue. From 2007-2011, OCTIP worked closely with the RCMP and Canada Border Services investigating over 100 cases of human trafficking in Canada. OCTIP worked diligently in providing awareness and services to deal with this issue. For example, in 2011 OCTIP trained first responders to identify and provide services for those suspected to be indentured. Great strides were made in creating linkages between first responders, immigration officers, charities, and housing authorities.

In 2011, OCTIP recorded 30 ongoing investigations. Sadly, the same year, the budget for this visionary service was slashed from millions to $300,000 year.

However, things are looking up. Canada's National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was announced in June 2012 which guarantees $25 million over four years to combat this crime.

The Harper government ensures it is committed to this new plan. Under it, this government will dedicate law enforcement teams, beef up training in identification and response to human trafficking, enhance protection in vulnerable communities, increase support for victims, and strengthen partnerships domestically and internationally to combat human trafficking.

Facts are good, and government promises are good, but action is stronger. What can we do? Human trafficking is a silent and most often invisible crime. We need to keep our ears to the ground regardless of where we live. We need to watch for signs of abuse and fear. We can consult any of the following organizations for information on reporting a crime if we suspect one: Crime Stoppers, OCTIP (BC), or Ministry of Public Safety.

Locally, we can call our MPPs or MPs. We can force the government to live up to its promise of funding. We must act now and act often. This is a hidden crime, and a silent crime, but nothing says we need to be silent.


Now, more than ever…

The benefits of CALM membership

The Canadian Association of Labour Media provides training, news and online services to a network of union activists and editors. We aim to strengthen the labour movement by building media literacy.

Our website

The CALM website is a portal to a range of services for labour communicators who want to engage their membership and the public. It also serves as a point of contact for anyone looking for information about the labour movement and communications.

Members are able to access a customizable home page from which they can: send online newsletters and track statistics such as open rates and click-throughs; easily manage e-mail lists; gather and use photos and visuals from a database; access tutorials and tip sheets for more effective online and media communications; and promote articles, photos and newsletters through social media.

Labour news, visuals, infographics

CALM publishes original and aggregated labour news, opinion, investigations, infographics and visuals that members can download and use in their print or online newsletters.

Yearly CALM awards

The annual CALM awards recognize excellence in union publications and productions in a variety of categories and classes. Entries are judged by independent experts and awarded at the annual CALM conference.

CALM conferences — building skills

CALM holds a yearly conference in the spring, alternating between the west and east of Canada. The conference is an opportunity to meet and network with colleagues from across the country. Seasoned communicators facilitate workshops designed to help members acquire new skills in writing, editing, photography, design, video, web design and development, strategic communications and organizing.

Media training

For those members looking for more specialized training, CALM offers tailored workshops that will help members developing skills in creating media strategies for longer-term campaigns, framing, story-based narrative analysis, understanding the media story-cycle, and building relationships with reporters.

Media strategy consulting

Not sure about the strength of your media strategy for a campaign or issue? Want to improve the chances of getting your event or action covered by a daily or national newspaper or media outlet? We can arrange a session over the phone or Skype to offer constructive feedback and suggestions about your media strategy, framing, messaging, pitches, and other elements of your communications and media work.

For requests or more information, or to schedule a call, please e-mail the CALM editor:

Other services on the way

  • Alternative labour media newswire
  • Labour news bytes
  • Labour podcasts

For more information on how to become a CALM member, visit www.calm.ca

An OPSEU Moment — James Clancy

insol_winter2013_final_page_13_image_0002.jpg James Clancy is the National President of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest unions. The National Union represents workers in both the public and private service sector. He was first elected to NUPGE in 1990. He is also a General Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress and he serves in an international leadership capacity with Public Services International (PSI).

Previously he served as president of OPSEU for six years. He was first elected to OPSEU in 1984 at the age of 34, making him the youngest leader to head a major Canadian union.

Under his leadership, OPSEU led all Canadian unions in collective bargaining results. At the same time the union established the capacity to build strong community support around key public policy issues, including workers' rights to co-manage their pension plans.

Clancy has provided the Canadian labour movement with a unique and bold style of leadership. He is a social activist – a unionist committed to maintaining and strengthening quality public services for all Canadians. He was the first Canadian union activist to build a strong alliance between front-line workers and their clients (the poor and the dispossessed) to take on government policies that hurt the most vulnerable members of society. "I always felt public service was a pretty honourable calling. I believed in the role of public policy," he said in an interview in 1990.

OPSEU's budget and finances: Always in season 

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, 1st Vice-President/Treasurer

Building the OPSEU budget. Sounds easy enough. But is it?

In an era of competing priorities, crisis and contingencies, the budget sets the stage as the blueprint for the union and our planning process. It's more than a document of dollars and cents, additions and subtractions. It is the core of OPSEU's strategic planning. Not only does the budget outline the union's day to day operations and obligations, it also sets the parameters for bargaining, campaigning and member activities. And given the democratic, transparent process set in place, through Constitutional guarantees, the budget is in essence the keystone of our organization. It's important to get it right. And it's not right until Convention says so.

While I, as 1st Vice-President/Treasurer am responsible for presenting a budget to the Executive Board and subsequently to Convention for discussion, debate and approval, there are in fact many architects. And like Rome, OPSEU budgets are not built in a day.

The budget cycle begins in earnest in November when a draft budget is presented to the Executive Committee for consideration. Their job is to ensure the document meshes with the goals and direction as established by our leadership and policies that have been passed.

This working document is the result of work completed by our senior management team. Through consultation with staff, committees and Division leaders, the Administrators prepare a list of wants and needs consistent with organizational directives. This draft is presented to the Treasurer for study and necessary changes. Administrators are held to account for their "asks" in a meeting with the Treasurer and the OPSEU Accountant. The draft presented to the Officers incorporates any changes.

Consistent with our commitment to the democratic process, the Officers then have the opportunity to go through the budget, asking each Administrator to explain expenditures and justify requests. It's a rough few days to be a senior manager and Officers have tough decisions to make. Officers are usually rather direct in their line of questioning. But that's only fair. After all, we are talking about more than $90 million of hard-earned members' money. And it's important to ask the right questions and get the proper responses. Though onerous, the process is fair and represents the team approach of staff and elected officials working together to get the best results for our members. All changes made are then incorporated into a document for the entire Executive Board to consider.

Later in November, the Executive Board meets to discuss, debate, delete and add to the budget. EBMs are the members' direct link to the budget process. In their travels and day-to-day interactions with the rank and file, EBMs are uniquely positioned to give grass roots input into what is important on our front lines. This process is designed to produce a budget by the end of November but sometimes, especially in particularly contentious times, the process can continue right up to the Convention floor. There are several examples in our history of Convention sending the Executive Board back to an all-night session to redo the budget with instructions sent from the floor. But it doesn't end there.

The budget is then put on the floor for the entire Convention to consider. The delegation has the right to amend or delete anything presented. All motions to change the budget have to be passed by a majority of the delegation. Any Constitutional changes impacting the budget, such as a dues increase, have to be passed by two-thirds majority. If only our federal or provincial budget was as democratic.

Once passed, the budget is then the blueprint for action. And while it is the 1st Vice-President/Treasurer's budget, I feel confident that the process allows every OPSEU member the opportunity to shape the work that we do.

It is my responsibility to ensure that the budget is administered as directed. I am in constant contact with Board members and staff to assess progress. Financials are provided to the Executive Board to monitor spending and assess additional member requests. These financials are also sent along with rebate cheques to the local treasurers. The contingency fund is the fail safe for any unexpected surprises or to fight off attacks of politicians looking to score political points. I also keep a close watch over membership trends, collective agreement settlements and any unexpected internal expenditures. While we try to ensure absolute compliance, sometimes estimates are off. The zero wage increase environment has had a significant impact, but I believe in the face of that challenge, we as an Executive Board have done a good job managing resources and making emergency allotments that are in the best interests of all members. It's not an exact science but it is democracy and we could not have done it alone without the staff's commitment.

With the future of the union movement under constant attack by an emboldened right wing, expect our capacity to be tested in the coming months and years. As always OPSEU will be up to the challenge because, in good times and in bad, we stick together. Debate is healthy and without it democracy suffers. Let's face it: it would always be nice to have more money for the fight, but in the end we will be victorious because we know how to fight smart.

 It wasn't that long ago, during one of the most difficult times in Ontario's history, that Mike Harris had the union movement (and OPSEU in particular) dead and buried. Thousands of OPS members were shown the door and with them went the dues they contributed. Our epitaph was premature. Not only did OPSEU survive, we grew by leaps and bounds. The burgeoning BPS is testament to our resiliency. And, despite all of the barriers to organize facing us, we continue to grow. Workers get it. OPSEU is "Ontario's Union for Changing Times." Nimble, flexible and able to fight attacks on working people.

And all of this good work starts with the annual budget. Designed for workers, by workers. It doesn't get any more accountable than that. Thank you for your work, your dues, and for allowing me the great privilege to watch over our money. I pledge that it will be spent wisely.



A brief history of Canadian Labour 

Power Tool: A handbook for OPSEU Stewards

For most of the 19th century, unions were illegal in Canada. Penalties for union membership, union organizing or talking union were stiff: fines, jail or, even worse, being shut out of the job market entirely.

Despite this, workers organized. They knew they stood a better chance of improving their lives speaking with one voice than as individuals, so they met and organized in secret.

The law permitted gatherings of family members. So to follow the law and to protect each other's identity, workers called each other "Brother" and "Sister" instead of using names. We still refer to each other as Brother and Sister to emphasize our kinship and solidarity.

It was a Conservative, Sir John A. Macdonald, who legalized unions.

In the election year of 1872, Toronto printers waged a vigorous campaign for the 9-hour day and 54-hour week. Macdonald, then the opposition leader, promised to legalize union membership and he won. While his new law allowed membership in unions, it prohibited strikes and it didn't force an employer to negotiate with the union.

Employers could have an employee who missed work, for whatever reason, jailed for absenteeism.

It took many long, brutal strikes before unions won legal recognition. That happened in 1943, with federal law recognizing unions as the sole collective bargaining agent for their members.

A tradition of social activism

Early on, Canadian unions began their tradition of fighting for universal social programs and better working conditions for all workers, organized or not.

This goal of improving all workers` conditions separates us from U.S. trade unions. Canadian unions recognized a need to enter the political arena and elect pro-labour candidates, who would enact laws to benefit all. American unions, in general, concentrate on their own members.

The results are two very different societies. Canadian Labour's involvement in politics has brought us universal health care, unemployment insurance, the Canadian Pension Plan, minimum wage laws, and standards ensuring a safe work place. In the U.S., these are often negotiated benefits for the organized minority.

Since organized labour represents only 16 per cent of the American labour force, this causes dangerous divisions in the working class. It also gives U.S. employers a strong incentive to break their unions, and explains the enthusiasm of right-wing governments in Canada for the American system.

Why buy Canadian made?

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

Buying products made in Canada means something. It means that you are supporting Canadian jobs and that you believe in the health and safety of the workers. It means that you are concerned about the environment and the environmental impact of manufacturing, and that you believe that no one, especially children, should be working in sub-standard conditions. As the old adage goes, "You get what you pay for."

However, food production standards differ from country to country. For example, in America livestock can be given growth hormones and be treated with antibiotics while still producing consumable products. Information about why Canada does not use antibiotics or growth hormones is available on both the Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency  websites.

Pesticide and insecticide use is more widespread in agriculture production internationally than in Canada. The next time you walk through a grocery store ask yourself why your fresh food is imported from the USA, Mexico and other countries. Worse yet, critically consider how much financial savings there are to warrant the growth, canning and shipping costs of fruits and vegetables in Thailand or other countries brought to your neighbourhood grocery store.

When buying products made overseas there are a few things that you should know and consider. Did you know that the most recent statistics available state that worldwide, over 12 million children from aged 5-14 work in full time jobs? This makes up too large a portion of the international workforce. Secondly, be aware that many developing countries have relaxed environmental laws; laws around disposal of hazardous chemicals and products simply may not exist allowing the manufacturer to pollute the area. Non-existent emissions controls allow manufacturers to create huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and smog.

Finally, you should know that, internationally, occupational health and safety does not exist as it does in Canada. Hours of work can include 14 to 18 hour days, 7 days a week. Workers do not have the right to refuse unsafe work or even voice their concerns.  

Morally, ethically, economically and for your own health and well-being, buying products that are made in Canada is worth it.

Building unity in the workplace 

Ken Margolies, Steward Update

insol_winter2013_final_page_18_image_0001.jpg One of your most important jobs as a steward is unifying the members in your area to work together and build the union. Building solidarity is essential, especially in tough times, but it can be challenging.

Here are things you can do to build and maintain unity:

Introduce members to each other

Find opportunities for members to get to know each other in comfortable situations like lunches or union social functions. Look for key members to help you connect groups to each other. This could include people who speak more than one language or get along particularly well with lots of different kinds of members.

Keep members informed

When members don't know what you as steward are doing, or what others in the union are doing, they sometimes think the worst. The may assume nothing is happening or someone is making deals without their knowledge. That's why it is important to keep members informed of any union activities or actions you take as a steward.

Stop rumors

Members hear and repeat rumors all the time. Sometimes rumors lead to arguments, suspicion and divisions. Talk to members about the danger of starting and repeating rumors. Encourage them to not believe rumors about work or the union but instead to come to you so you can get the correct information. If you don't have the information, say you will find out and then always get back to the person—even if it's to say you weren't able to get the facts.

Be inclusive

Actively seek to have all groups where you work involved and represented. This could mean job titles, workshifts, ages, races, ethnicities, gender, sexual orientations or any other aspect of your co-workers. If you see groups of members who are not involved in the union, get to know one or more people from the group that is not involved. At some point you can discuss why they are not involved and how to turn that around. Often you will find that they stayed out of union activities because they didn't feel welcome or needed.

Be transparent in decision-making

Make sure everyone knows what questions the union is considering, how and when the decision will be made, and how the members can get involved. Invite everyone to give their opinions. Talk to members who may not readily volunteer their ideas and ask them to share their thoughts. Once a decision is made, make sure everyone hears about and understands it.

Bridge the generation gap

Members with seniority often say that younger workers don't understand or appreciate how hard it was to win the things the union fought for over many years. Younger or newer members may feel that others in the union don't take their ideas seriously.

If you are one of the senior members, a younger person can help you learn about the concerns of the other generation. Perhaps they have an issue that the union is not addressing. Maybe they feel excluded because at union social events their music doesn't get played or they are turned off by how meetings are run. Once you better understand the younger members you can start finding ways to involve them more in union activities and start a dialogue that can lead to greater unity.

Bring people together to address common issues

It takes a lot of communication, especially one-on-one discussions with your members, to identify common issues and convince people to work together for solutions. Start with an issue that's winnable and affects many members. Together, discuss ways to resolve the problem and then develop a plan of action to convince management to agree. Once members are involved in a common struggle, they are more likely to become a strong, united group, more prepared to fight the big battles that almost always lurk just down the road.

Ken Margolies is a senior associate at the Worker Institute at Cornell University.

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

Patient lifts and worker risks

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

insol_winter2013_final_page_21_image_0001.jpg If you have ever tried to move or lift someone on your own, unassisted, you can appreciate the challenges faced by caregivers and healthcare workers for whom patient handling is a part of their daily job. While mechanical lifts make it much easier to move and lift patients and can help reduce the ergonomic risks associated with manual patient handling, they also introduce other workplace hazards. Nova Scotia recently released a hazard alert to help reduce injuries to attendants who work with patient lifts (also known as hoists).

There are many types of lifts including:

  • wheeled hoist/portable floor lift,
  • stationary hoist/fixed lift,
  • ceiling track complete with motor,
  • sit/stand lifting aid, and
  • bath lifts.

Hospitals, long term care facilities and private homes use mechanical lifting systems to move or reposition patients/clients with mobility issues. Client lifting poses an injury risk to the attendant, however because the task cannot be eliminated, engineering solutions were created in the form of mechanical lifts.

Mechanical lifting systems have been the source of injury, and even deaths, to clients and attendants, mainly related to the malfunction, failure, or misuse of patient lifts. This hazard alert focuses on the hazards to attendants (workers).

New hazards related to patient lifts include falling suspended parts, dropped loads, equipment failure, structural failure, and electric shocks. There is also the risk of body strain if a hoist should fail and an attendant tries to catch a falling client.


The following tips from Nova Scotia and best practices from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offer practical guidance to help prevent injuries to attendants using patient lifts.


Find out about, and meet, the legal requirements in your own jurisdiction for the use of patient/resident/client lifts in workplaces. Some general requirements may include: providing adequate lifting equipment; proper training of employees who use this equipment; proper installing, testing, operating, use of, servicing, maintenance and repair of any lifting machine in accordance with the manufacturer's or an engineer's specifications.

Sling safety

Slings are a key part of the lifting system. It is important to use the correct sling – the one approved for use by the patient lift manufacturer – for the specific hoist. The safe working load (SWL) must be clearly marked on both the lift and the sling. Take care to ensure the sling is compatible with the load limits of the lift and the patient's weight. Perform sling care according to the manufacturer's specifications. Inspect the sling fabric and straps to make sure they are not frayed or stressed at the seams or otherwise damaged, and if there are signs of wear, do not use it.

Equipment inspections

The manufacturer's specifications will likely provide a frequency for periodic inspections and pre-use inspections. The periodic inspection requires documentation to demonstrate it has been completed. Pre-use inspections ensure that compatible parts are used and properly configured, and that load restrictions are not exceeded. They also identify any visible signs of damage to equipment that may lead to a failure. Create a system to ensure that defective equipment is clearly marked and taken out of service until replaced or repaired.

Tips for users of patient lifts

  • Be trained on, and understand, how to operate the lift.
  • Fasten all clips, latches, and hanger bars securely during operation.
  • Keep the base (legs) of the patient lift in the maximum open position and position the lift to provide stability.
  • Ensure the patient's arms are inside the sling straps.
  • Lock the wheels on any device that will receive the patient such as a wheelchair, stretcher, bed, or chair.
  • Ensure that the weight limitations for the lift and sling are not exceeded.
  • Follow the instructions for washing and maintaining the sling.
  • Follow a maintenance safety inspection checklist to detect worn or damaged parts that need immediate replacement.

Regardless of size, all workplaces can benefit from a code-of-practice, or safe work procedure for hoist operation, inspection and maintenance.

*** Source: Health and Safety Report, (volume 10, issue 8), Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), 2012. Reproduced with the permission of CCOHS, 2012.

"Mobile technology: Slipping us into uncivilized territory

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

insol_winter2013_final_page_22_image_0001.jpg I realize I run the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, but I need to get this off my chest. I firmly believe that our day-to-day manners are going down the crapper. Whether it's while we drive, while we shop, or while we work, our slip into uncivilized territory is getting more pronounced each day.

What, you say, might be a cause of this decline? Again, the dinosaur in me points to our addiction to mobile technology. There are many instances where mobile technology has encouraged those around me to act more boorishly than they normally would.

And it's not just me who's alarmed. Anna Post (www.emilypost.com) found an interesting paradox in the latest research on the state of mobile etiquette in America. Apparently 80 per cent of people surveyed are annoyed when they see people using laptops, smart phones, etc., in stores, elevators, on dates, in meetings, at funerals, etc., yet 77 per cent admit to using one of these devices in one of these places. Interesting!

The following is a list of instances where we might be able to tighten up our day-to-day mobile manners.

Walking and texting: For gosh sake, get a clue, and get the hell out of my way. Even though you may think you are saving time by texting and walking at the same time, you're slowing me and everyone around me down—especially when you're in a narrow hallway, staircase, entry to a building, etc. You may think you're multi-tasking, but you're sucking equally at two different things. Please move aside. Urban dictionary calls this a "Blackberry Jam"—a traffic jam caused when people exit the subway, etc., all using their devices.

Talking on the phone at dinner: Four words: put your phone away. Unless you're waiting for a very serious phone call (organ transplant, child being born, home purchase, etc.) put the phone away. Please let the person with whom you are dining know that you care more for him or her than for the latest sports scores, Facebook updates, etc. Dr. Cindy Post Senning (www.emilypost.com) makes it known that texting and/or talking on the phone at the dinner table are not acceptable. Her latest book, Emily Post's Table Manners for Kids covers many of the latest etiquette loopholes. She states, "The family meal is a social event, not a food ingestion event." Even adults could learn from this.

Talking on the phone when dealing with someone in the service industry: When you take a call or text when someone is helping you, you're sending the message that the person helping you doesn't count. People in service positions are already subject to ill treatment from shoppers. Turn the phone off, smile, and be pleasant. How long does the average transaction take? I'm sure you can take a few seconds out of your day to be civil.

Talking on the phone in the grocery store: I often see people on the phone discussing which pasta brand or which peanut butter to get. For *&^$ sake, choose a cereal on your own. You're a big boy or girl; is buying the wrong brand a life-shattering error? Kathy Condon, who writes the blog Communication in the Workplace: Tools for Communication Including Face-to-Face Networking notes that being on your cell phone is good for you but is wreaking havoc on everyone else around you. She goes so far as to suggest that we use our phones to read our grocery lists, but we end it there. She even suggests we turn off our ringers.

Texting (surfing the Internet, updating Facebook, Tweeting) during a meeting: This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve (other than people texting and driving). When I take time out of my day to physically attend a meeting, I expect that all of us in the room are focused on the task at hand. Are my expectations too high? Not if you ask me. The next time you see me in a meeting room with you, please put your phone away. Don't look at it, don't fondle it, don't even have it in front of you (unless of course, you're waiting for your child to be born). Put your laptop away. Put your tablet away. You get it.

Texting during class: Legions of students do this daily. Clearly, the Internet is more interesting than I am as their Professor. Clearly, the Internet does not assign grades.

Texting or talking while on the toilet: Eww. Enough said. Unless, of course, you're so important that you can't spare two minutes for a whiz. Can a person talk and wipe at the same time? From what I hear in public bathrooms, that would be a magical skill for many people to acquire.

Texting when you should be delivering the message a more appropriate way: Notices of break ups, death, accidents, divorce, and other biggies should never be texted, tweeted, e-mailed, Facebooked, or left on answering machines. There's nothing funny to say about this faux pas. It's just bad manners.

Texting at your kids' or family's activities: I've heard, more than once, from kids at various events, "Mom! Put your phone down and watch my game!" The Huffington Post's Ramona Emerson believes compulsive phone checking is a drug dealer mannerism, and drug dealer mannerisms "have no place at lunch with your mom, or at the movies with your friends or on a date with a cop."

At the end of the day, life is short, and the people around you matter. Live in "the now." Live in "the here." If you're surrounded by people so uninteresting that you need to constantly look at your phone, find a new group of people. They're out there. I'm sure of it. You just have to look up from your electronic device once in a while to see them.

Corporate tax cuts create jobs

OPSEU News Release

TORONTO, March 1, 2013 – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union is reacting with shock and surprise after learning that corporate tax cuts implemented by the province have actually created a job.

"We have always maintained that the Liberal government's corporate tax cuts would not create jobs for Ontarians, but the news that former Finance Minister Dwight Duncan begins work today at a Bay Street law firm calls our position into question," said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. "If corporate tax cuts can create a job for Dwight Duncan, is it possible they could create a job for someone else? This is what we're grappling with."

Duncan has accepted a position with McMillan LLP, a happy landing spot for many a politician who has served Bay Street well.

"Under Dalton McGuinty and Dwight Duncan, government and Bay Street became intertwined as never before," said Thomas. "From former TD vice-president Don Drummond to RBC CEO Gordon Nixon, bankers have had unprecedented influence over government policy, especially since 2009. It's no wonder wealth has been funneled upward from people to profits, to the detriment of 99 per cent of the population."

Thomas said that if new Premier Kathleen Wynne wants to be the "social justice Premier," as she has stated, she will have to realize that social justice cannot occur without redistributing wealth from owners to workers and low-income Ontarians.

"The problem of growing inequality can be resolved in two main ways," Thomas said. "The first is by transferring wealth from profits to wages and public services. The second is through tax fairness.

"Premier Wynne's commitment to social justice will be judged by how she addresses these two major policy areas."

Download In Solidarity Winter 2013

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