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In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 20, Number 4, Fall 2013

In Solidarity, fall 2013 cover. People dancing, singing and in discussion on the cover

Editors' Weekend returns!

On October 25-27, over 85 members from across the province attended the 2013 Editors' Weekend. Communication is key in engaging our members, and the Editors' Weekend is an important step in increasing our members' ability to communicate with their locals.

For most of the members, it was their first-ever Editors' Weekend, which will empower them to communicate more and more with the members of their locals.

Some of the courses offered included website design, videography, libel, social media, photography and learning to be a better writer and editor.

At this year's Editors' Weekend the new In Solidarity Committee was elected. We are pleased to introduce our new team!

Virginia Ridley, Editor

Virginia isn't just a wife, mother, full-time employee with the Children's Aid Society and OPSEU member. Virginia is an activist, a believer in making a positive difference in this world. Virginia is an active member of her community. She sits on a non-profit community board as President. She is co-chair of school council. She hopes to run for councilor of her ward in the 2014 Municipal Election. As if Virginia doesn't have enough on her plate, she is also vice president of her local and manages the local's newsletter and website.

Virginia is thrilled to be the newest Editor of In Solidarity and hopes to maintain the high standard set by our previous editors. She brings years of experience, knowledge, wisdom and brains to the table. She is not afraid to speak out for the good of OPSEU members. We are lucky to have her on our team!

Lisa Bicum, Assistant Editor

Lisa Bicum (Local 125) has been an OPSEU member since the early 1990s when she was hired as faculty in the English Department at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario. She has held executive positions in her local for the past ten years. Currently, she is Vice-President/Secretary of her local.

Lisa began attending Editors' Weekend approximately eight years ago and was elected to the In Solidarity committee three years ago. She's often responsible for human rights content and balances her writing with human interest articles. Because she teaches writing, grammar, and editing, she and Senior Communications Officer Don Ford can often be found fighting over obscure punctuation usage.

Sandy Green

Sandy is an active member of Local 416. An English major, Sandy is a contributing member of her local's newsletter. She has served as Chief Steward for many years and is now a Steward. Sandy is an experienced writer who is not afraid to "go out on a limb," having written editorials about issues at Algonquin College. Sandy is an activist and will not sit idly or be complacent. Change is needed in this country and Sandy will do her best to communicate important issues and fight for what is right, keeping OPSEU member's well-being close to her heart. Sandy is just glad that what she writes will be approved by Legal before going to print…long story.

Craig Hadley

Craig is also a newly-elected member for In Solidarity. Craig brings an abundance of experience to the team. He studied Corporate Communications and holds a degree in Work and Labour Studies from York University. Craig is working on a Master's Degree in Public Policy. Craig has been a full-time employee with LCBO for 16 years as part of their IT team. Craig has held various positions within his local and has been involved with several OPSEU campaigns, including the most recent LBED contract campaign. With Craig's knowledge and experience we are sure to have some very in depth articles on our government's lack of concern for the middle class in this country.

Verne Saari

Verne, a newly-elected member of the In Solidarity editorial team, comes from an OPSEU family. Verne and his wife both serve as executive members of their locals, Verne as steward of
Local 659 and his wife is vice-president of her local. This OPSEU family has much to talk about over dinner and have great ideas to communicate to OPSEU members. Verne is a laboratory technician with Health Sciences North in Sudbury, and has witnessed first-hand how our government controls and inhibits success. Verne has committed himself to communicate political issues and wrongdoings to OPSEU members so they can be informed and be able to make decisions necessary based on the facts. Verne will be a great asset to the team and we are certainly looking forward to see what Verne will bring to the next issue of In Solidarity.

Daughters for Livestock

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

My daughter is fourteen. She excels at school and is becoming a fabulous citizen. This past spring she spoke before council to propose the building of a community garden—it was a Scout project, and the garden was a success. She's community-minded, and we're very proud. She doesn't ask for much, and we have no doubt that she will succeed in life. Maybe she'll marry. Likely marriage is a ways off.

My husband and I know we have it good. We have great kids (we also have a son), and we are easily able to provide for them, but we are ever mindful of those who struggle. We have worked hard, but we are very fortunate. In turn, we take time from our lives to think of what we can do for others.

To remind me of how good my life is, I often check out the Human Rights Watch website. Past issues of In Solidarity have featured articles I've written on the plights of various disenfranchised groups around the world. I hadn't been to the site recently, and it was time.

Wow. The site never ceases to amaze me.

Recently I read Exchanging Daughters for Livestock by Janet Walsh and Gauri van Gulik about the number of young children in southern Sudan used as commodities—traded for livestock. Girls as young as twelve married off to VERY old men for upwards of eighty cows; stories of beatings from resisting marriage.

The Human Rights Watch report—This Old Man Can Feed Us, You Will Marry Him, looks at child marriage in South Sudan and outlines that approximately 48 per cent of girls there between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, and some marry as young as 12. Sadly, many young girls are in arranged marriages as the families have much to gain from the prospective grooms' families: livestock, cash, or gifts. It's not bad enough that their older husband beat them, but young girls who resist may be beaten by their own families.

In 2010, it is estimated that around the world more than 67 million women aged 20-24 were married before they were 18. Staggeringly, it is projected that more than 14 million girls under 18 will marry every year.

Human Rights Watch researchers in South Sudan found that child marriage contributed to domestic violence and marital rape, school dropouts, and reproductive health problems. Women are beaten for poor housekeeping, failing to conceive, refusing sex, or for requesting money. Add to that the fact that marriage is a death knell to education, and the tragedy is nearly complete. According to statistics, 39 per cent of primary students and 30 per cent of secondary students are female.

Human Rights Watch outlined a sad tale of a young woman who wanted to become a nurse. Her uncle denied her wishes as he believed that girls are born so families can eat. Her dowry was what he was after. South Sudanese education officials reiterated that parents sell their daughters and that parents value cows far more than they value education.

In addition, reproductive health problems also plague girls subjected to child marriage. According to the United Nations Population Fund, girls aged 15 to 20 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their 20s, and girls under the age of 15 are five times as likely to die. South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world.

One particularly horrific risk of pregnancy in adolescent girls is the "obstetric fistula." Adolescent girls' smaller pelvises make them prone to prolonged and obstructed labour. An obstetric fistula leaves its victims with urine or fecal incontinence that causes infection, pain, and a bad smell—it is estimated that 5,000 girls and women in South Sudan suffer from fistula each year.

On a positive note, South Sudan has created policies and laws on gender equality, children's rights, and education: however, major gaps abound, especially in the implementation of laws.

The authors urge "South Sudan needs to do more—with assistance from international donors—to end child marriage and mitigate its consequences. For starters, it should set and enforce 18 as the minimum age for marriage, establish a national action plan on child marriage that addresses the problem of dowries, and carry out a nationwide awareness-raising campaign on the harm of child marriage."

For me, this Human Rights Watch article has shed light on what I thought were legends. My friends and I would joke about dowries and being traded for magic beans. Clearly, this is no joke.
I think I'll hug my daughter a bit closer tonight. 

Our family's first contract

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

Parenting today is hard. I'm trying to make the right choices, trying to give my children a better life, an easier life. But where is the balance? How do I instill a good work ethic and values while still respecting their right to be children?

After some consideration, I decided that perhaps what's good for me as a contributing worker is good for them as contributing family members.

It dawned on me that what children really need is a Collective Agreement. Certainly many families have verbal agreements in place, but children require things more concrete. I recently sat down and drafted our family's first Collective Agreement. Now to take this to the bargaining table with the kids…

Article 1 – Purpose

The purpose of this agreement is to establish and maintain a collective bargaining relationship between the child(ren) and parent(s) of our home.

Article 2 — Management Rights

The child(ren) agree that the parents have the exclusive rights to maintain order and efficiency, to reallocate work, and to make, alter and enforce reasonable rules and regulations to be observed by the child(ren) provided that no rules are in conflict with the UN Rights of the Child which was ratified in Canada in 1991.

Article 3 — Representation

The parents agree that from time to time the child(ren) may feel that they require an advocate when dealing with the parents. The parents agree that the child(ren) may bring in a trusted adult to assist with parent/child conflict. Any expenses incurred in such event will be the sole responsibility of the parents.

Article 4 — No Strikes/No Lock Outs

There will be no strikes, slowdowns, or lockouts so long as this agreement continues to operate. We are a family, and we will agree to work through any problems that arrive. If we cannot resolve our issues, we will seek the assistance of a third party mediator. Any expenses incurred in such event will be the sole responsibility of the parents.

Article 5 — Grievances

It is the mutual desire of the parties that all complaints and grievances be adjusted as quickly as possible. It is understood that any child(ren) may register a complaint at any time to his/her parent without resorting to the grievance procedure.

Step 1

The child must submit a written grievance to the parent citing which articles of the collective agreement are being violated as well as the remedy that is being sought. A meeting will be arranged within 48 hours to discuss the grievance.

Step 2

Failing settlement of the grievance at Step 1, the child(ren) have the right to request a third party to mediate the grievance. The third parties have been agreed upon as follows: Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie K., or Reverend Smith.

Article 6 — Time Limits

All grievances should be filed within one week of the incident. The parents will not be addressing grievances from last year nor that time in Grade 2.

Article 7 — Seniority

There is no additional weight for seniority in this agreement. All child(ren) will be treated equitably.

Article 8 — Responsibilities of the parents

For the length of this agreement, the parents agree to the following:

  • to provide the child(ren) with a safe home full of unconditional love and support,

  • to treat the child(ren) with respect,

  • to communicate with the children,

  • to pay for all food costs,

  • to pay for and attend to all medical and dental needs of the children,

  • to provide the child(ren) with age and weather appropriate clothing,

  • to provide the child(ren) with age appropriate recreational activities,

  • to provide transportation as required,

  • to provide appropriate supervision as required,

  • to teach the children, and

  • to provide the children with an allowance and to teach them appropriate budgeting and saving skills

Article 9 — Responsibilities of the child(ren)

For the length of this agreement, the child(ren) agree to the following:

  • to behave in a way that is consistent with the respect guidelines set out by the parents,

  • to communicate with the family,

  • to follow problem-solving guidelines provided by the parent(s),

  • to follow the rules and discipline of the home.

  • to ensure that the parents are appropriately ,briefed on new information concerning school, friends, and activities,

  • to complete regular chores as agreed upon by all parties, and

  • to complete impromptu additional duties as assigned by the parent(s)

Article 10 — Wages

Each child shall be provided with $1 per year of age on a weekly basis. Example: Four-year-old shall receive $4 per week on Fridays.

This will automatically increase with each birthday.

This may be withheld if the child(ren) do not complete chore expectations. If the child(ren)'s wages are withheld for more than two consecutive weeks, an automatic meeting will occur within 48 hours to investigate.

Article 11 — Weekends & Holidays

Our family observes all statutory and Christian religious holidays. We will also observe other religious holidays when invited to share them with friends. While work expectations are lessened on said holidays, there is an agreement that should the child(ren) allow the parent(s) to sleep in on weekends and holidays that the children will be exempt from regular chores. Impromptu chores may still occur.

Article 12 — Sick Leave

All child(ren) and parent(s) are eligible for sick leave as required. A doctor's visit will be scheduled in the event of prolonged or severe illnesses. All parties are expected to adhere to doctors' orders.

Article 13 — Health & Safety

The parent(s) shall continue to make the home both healthy and safe. All parties have a responsibility to identify any health and safety concerns and bring them to the attention of the parent(s) for immediate correction.

After consideration and negotiation, both parties have agreed on a two year agreement and the first Collective Agreement of our family was ratified. Check in with me in 2015 as to how renegotiations are going.

Incredible kids restore your faith

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

If you're like me, you're likely to get cynical once in a while. You likely see disagreeable behaviours in people and begin to lump groups together. You find yourself saying things like, "Young people these days…", or "I can't believe how entitled the younger generation is…", or "Those baby boomers are all stuck in their ways. They really need to retire."

Face it. We are turning into our parents. I get pretty cranky when someone doesn't hold a door for someone coming behind, and I often pass judgment to the younger generation.

However, I witnessed something recently that snapped me out of my crankiness. This event restored my faith in youth and left me feeling reassured that there are young adults around us who are making a difference in their communities. More importantly, these youth will carry on their service and will live community-oriented lives.

You see, I attended a Scouts Canada youth recognition ceremony in my area. My daughter received her Chief Scout designation, and as a proud parent and Scouter, I attended.

The place was packed. There were 75-100 youth being recognized in our region (Chatham, Windsor, London, Sarnia), and the auditorium was electric. These youth were receiving Chief Scout, Queen Venturer, and Medal of the Maple awards—all the highest honours in their respective levels of Scouting.

The place was electric because these youth are electric. They exude enthusiasm. They live adventure. They think of people other than themselves. Their service often doesn't stop with Scouting awards. Many of these young adults have received or are working on Duke of Edinburgh awards—incredible.

These awards are a culmination of service-based activities. These youth have devoted countless hours to working with all sorts of service groups, at camps, and with the disenfranchised. They've built community gardens, have run community programs, have planted trees, cut wood, cleaned up, painted…you name it. They have set and achieved personal challenges and have become well-rounded young adults.

These 75-100 youth were living proof that purpose-based living is alive and well, and in this case, the Scouts Canada organization happened to be the vehicle. Are they the coolest kids in town? Nope. But I could count on any one of them if I ever needed anything. I would spend any Saturday knee deep in adventure with these youth.

I will continue to support the Scouts Canada movement—and it could use your support. Scouts Canada has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but it really is a solid organization which encourages skill building in areas cut through curriculum changes and over-protective parenting. So if you have an hour or two, check out a local Beaver Colony, Cub Pack, Scout Troop, or Venturer Company. Offer to teach them to macramé, whittle, or cook—whatever your talent may be.

You'll be glad you did. 

Letters to the Editor

Dear In Solidarity Editor:

Although I'm happy to encourage young people to establish themselves and make their world better, I am not a big fan of dividing history up into segments. It may be convenient, but it falsifies the past and distorts the present.

I especially don't believe in "Ages" like the Middle ones, "Centuries" like the 19th, or "Eras" such as the Victorian or the Edwardian. I don't like "Decades" such as the Roaring Twenties or the Dirty Thirties. I don't even really believe in the 1960s.

And I certainly don't take "Generations" seriously. X? Y? Z? What's next? "Double A" as in batteries?
What really bothers me, though, are younger people classifying older people and doing it badly. I am part of what Jeff Weston called the "Silent" generation (born 1925-1945) in the Summer issue of In Solidarity. Silent? Really?

Think of some of the people born then: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Vanessa Redgrave & Jane Fonda, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Gloria Steinem & Germaine Greer, Bob Dylan & Phil Ochs, Ken Kesey & Neal Cassady, Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood, Miles Davis & Sonny Rollins, Joan Baez & Judy Collins, Abbie Hoffman & "Danny the Red" Cohn-Bendit … I could go on … perhaps to Charlie Darrow and Sean O'Flynn.

Hey! We made the sixties (for whatever that was worth); and, whatever we were, we weren't "silent."

Howard A. Doughty
Steward, Local 560

We want to hear from you!

We love to get feedback from our readers. If you have a comment on one of our stories, please send to In Solidarity, c/o Virginia Ridley, OPSEU Head Office, 100 Lesmill Rd., Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8. Contact at: opseu.insolidarity@gmail.com

Building Unity in the Workplace

Steward Update

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 rumours: 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 rumours. 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, work shifts, 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

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. ***


OPSEU Biennial Women's Conference

A Woman's Journey — The Art of the Possible

The Provincial Women's Committee is extremely happy with this year's Women's Conference. The committee was excited to present all of our panelists who are amazing and elegant women; each of them with completely different life journeys. The current Provincial Women's Committee would like to acknowledge the amount of hard work that went into this conference from the previous committee. They started what we were able to complete and present to the members.

On November 8th I commenced on a journey with 150 women for three days and was blessed to hear remarkable women share their deep and personal stories with us. I watched the women of our union become excited and engaged. As OPSEU President Smokey Thomas stated "Women make OPSEU strong." I know with certainty that they have been empowered, and will be unstoppable in their communities, locals, regions, and in our union as they step up and make change.

Jennifer VanZetten, PWC Chair

November 8-10, OPSEU members from across Ontario gathered for "A Woman's Journey: the Art of the Possible," OPSEU Biennial Women's Conference for a weekend of sisterhood and solidarity. The weekend was packed with events, including a night of eclectic multi-ethnic entertainment, panelists who spoke on the realities facing Aboriginal women, and learning how to effectively lobby elected officials to champion progressive change.

In organizing the conference the Provincial Women's Committee aimed to produce an "aha" moment that would allow sisters to move forward in speaking out and standing up. From finding the right speakers to offer enlightenment on important issues such as poverty and abuse and examples of good women in politics, to what to include in the swag bag, much work was done by past and present committee members alongside staff to ensure that all details small or large were taken care of. All the work proved to be well worth to watch sisters come to the mic for the first time and end the conference on a perfect musical note with a spontaneous round of "Solidarity Forever."

Laura Thompson, PWC Rep Region 5

This year has been a hectic one for me. Having been elected as Executive Board Member (EBM) for Region 7 this spring, the learning curve has been sharp to say the least. Some of the duties and obligations I have been faced with have been both challenging and rewarding.

I have to admit that it was with a little trepidation that I decided to attend the Biennial Women's Conference, after all it was not like the International Youth Day Conference in August, where there were attendees representing every segment of our membership. This was going to be a women's conference and I am most definitely not a woman! So, bolstered with the support of my peers in the executive and the camaraderie of the great Sisters of Seven, I made the bold leap into the fray.

On the first day of the conference I was entering the Eaton Chelsea hotel where the conference was being held when I encountered a sister from another region that I have known for several years who somewhat bluntly asked "What are you doing here?" I was not entirely unready for this, as I had mulled over this same question and more like it in anticipation of such a reception. I let the sister know that I was attending in my role as EBM from my region and that I was here to offer my support to the sisters from Region 7 and indeed all the members present for the conference. The sister smiled and accepted my explanation. I felt my comfort level increase a little and so my conference began.

Upon entering the big ballroom for the opening plenary I felt a little out of place. There were several groups of women, some I have known over the years, some totally new to me. I mingled as much as I dared with the larger masses and gradually found my Sisters of Seven. As I began to take it all in, I noticed other EBMs in the room, including several males. Poor Michel Bisaillon took quite a ribbing from one of the evening's entertainers, but he took it in the spirit intended and everyone, including him, had a good laugh.

The singers, dancers and writers put on a mind-blowing show. I was singing along with the singer and tapping my fingers to the Bollywood music while watching the dancers and for that brief time I was not a male member. Nor was I an EBM. Indeed I was just a person in a room filled with other people enjoying the entertainment presented to us. I think it was at this time I started to feel a little less isolated within the conference. I must say that as much as I felt welcomed by the sisters at the conference, I never could quiet the voice inside my head that kept reminding me that "this isn't for you, Glen." Several times I wanted to step up to a microphone and express my support, or offer an opinion or share an experience but that nagging little voice would chime in with that same "this isn't for you, Glen!"

The panel discussions on Day Two were informative and entertaining. Again, I forced myself to keep silent when the panelists asked for comments and questions, even though I was so interested in some of the subject material. Again that darn voice! Some of the speakers were there offering insight and inspiration that although intended for the female audience, certainly resonated with me. I have always been a person who believed that you can accomplish pretty much anything in life with enough effort, patience and drive. I hope that some of the sisters I sat with were also so enthused and inspired.

That evening we were treated to a showing of a documentary called "Miss Representation." This piece highlighted some of the disparity encountered by women and girls in wages and social status. Filled with statistics, facts and anecdotal testimony, it had me sitting with my head shaking and jaw in my lap. I was so moved by the content that I sent a text home to my wife and suggested that her and my teenaged daughter sit down and watch this. It was an eye-opener to say the least.

The final day of the conference began with a showing of Solar Mamas which documented the struggle of women from some of the poorest regions of the planet being recruited into a training program in India that taught solar engineering. Upon completion of a six-month accelerated program, these women would become engineers and trainers themselves, teaching the women of their home countries how to assemble and maintain solar energy units to light, heat and cook with in their villages. The film emphasized the plight of an impoverished woman from Jordan who overcame extreme adversity, including the male dominated villagers who shunned her decision to get educated. Her struggle made me aware of how awful it must be for women in some of these countries where male dominance is so deeply entrenched, either through religious, tribal or societal value systems.

After the film I had the chance to "really take part" in the conference by working with my region to present to the conference the problems we face in the northwest region of Ontario. We highlighted the challenges of distance, time zones, weather and road conditions and the one thing that was front and centre of just about every discussion all weekend—child care issues. Our presentation was the only one that was done in a theatrical manner, and it was well received.

Here's what I am taking away from this conference: I may have a bit more awareness how others must feel when, for instance, a woman goes into a male dominated union meeting. I won't say I know how exactly they feel, just that I certainly was made a bit more aware at a personal level. I have a deeper understanding of some of the challenges faced by women with child and elder-care issues. And I was thoroughly impressed with the strength and solidarity shown by all the women present.

I think the women of OPSEU still have a way to go to achieve some of their goals like getting numerical representation at the executive levels, both locally and regionally. The women who spoke to this certainly have a handle on what they need.

I'd like to close by saying that the sisters of the Women's Committee who put this conference together, along with the staff, are to be commended on doing a fabulous job. I would also very much like to thank everyone there for making me feel so welcome. Perhaps I will have the honour of attending another Women's Conference in the future and I hope that I would be welcomed as warmly and openly again. It turned out that this conference was indeed "a little for you, Glen!

Glen Archer, EBM Region 7

When I was first accepted as a candidate to attend the Women's Conference 2013, I was nervous and anxious. I didn't know what to expect. I have met new acquaintances, broaden my connections and networking circle not only within OPSEU but outside also. I have made new friends and reconnected with old.

I was able to take my knowledge and studies outside of the books and into the real world, applying it to real-life scenarios.

I personally feel like not only have I grown as a better person, but I am also able to give my voice permission to grow and to speak out to make things right. I was empowered by the guest speakers and their life experiences. I loved everything about this weekend and I feel so privileged to have been able to attend.

Your sister in OPSEU
Gidget McCullough, Local 543

Volunteering: A way to give back

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

After much soul searching over the past few years, I have come to realize that idleness is not my friend. The more idle I am, the less fulfilled I feel. There was always something missing. If I spent time doing nothing, I felt as though it was time wasted. At the end of the week no matter how busy I was or wasn't, I felt the same, yet less… productive.

I know it's not the same for everyone, but for me, I need to be busy. It started a few years ago with increasing my union involvement. I attended the International Youth Day Conference the very first year it was held. I thought to myself that this was something I wanted to understand more because this was something I could get behind. As I continued to navigate social issues and intentionally increased my social awareness, I found that there was much work to be done. I couldn't be the person who sat on my sofa saying "Someone else can do it." It was a calling.

Since that fateful event six summers ago, I have increased my activity in OPSEU, as well as in my local. I am on the executive of my local, I write for In Solidarity, and I continue to be involved in ways that I can.

Last year, I decided to become more involved in my community. Westmount neighbourhood in London is one of those little hubs. To really belong to the community was to get involved in community events. My family belonged to the community pool, and I offered to help out any way I could. Well, that quickly turned into a seat on the Board of Directors of Forest Edge Community Club. At that time I thought I could handle this—a few meetings a year, help with planning events, sharing ideas, etc. At the AGM, I ran again for a seat on the Board and was elected vice-president. The job description was pretty vague—it was more-or-less to help out as needed. This was perfect for me. Shortly thereafter a resignation and reorganization left me in the president chair. I was suddenly the president of a small not-for-profit with a budget of $50,000/ year and a seasonal staff of six. I quickly had to learn things that had never crossed my mind, such as governance models and director's liability. I loved it.

Next year, I will be running for city councillor in my ward. I have received much encouragement from my neighbors to do so. It was the realization that simply sitting back and wanting for better did nothing. It takes getting involved and taking action. It takes putting yourself out there and giving back. So many of our politicians are losing touch with the people they serve and the issues they represent.

Being involved in the community means being a part of the community. My children know our neighbours. There are Mr. Foster and Mr. Stannard the firefighters who wave and smile each time the boys say hello. There are Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Wells who are heavily involved in the Community Club and school. There is Mr. Million the police officer who has a personal relationship with our family. Mrs. Cullen passed on some reading assessment tools she uses in her Grade 1 classroom. Mr. Loveday at the church has a vision of creating a real community. I could go on to list all the wonderful people who work hard in our community, giving their time and ideas to make it a family friendly place, where neighbours say hello, and who call me to report an observation on "those Ridley boys."

Volunteering and giving back has allowed me to connect with my community and change my family's experience. No longer do we go from home to work and home again. We are engaged with our friends, and we are recreating the family street—the street where children play together and parents talk to each other. We have created a forum where we can, as a group, tackle concerns with the school and the community, not through complaint processes, but through co-ordinated action and change.

For every hour of my time I have given to volunteering, union work, and not-for-profit work, I have gained a friend, a neighbour and a better place for my family. I am more fulfilled and am happier knowing that I am ensuring positive change around me. I encourage everyone to find one thing that you believe in and can contribute to. It may be an hour a month or 20 hours a week. It has to fit your lifestyle and work for your family; however, through the process of giving back, I hope that you too learn that you are getting ahead.

'No half measures'- Dealing with workplace injuries

Dolly Coelho, Local 290

If you had the choice to be unhealthy or healthy, which would you choose?

I had the privilege of attending the No Half Measures, Sir William Meredith International Conference. This year marked the 100 year anniversary of Sir William Meredith's famous report, Laws relating to the liability of employers to make compensation to their employees for injuries received in the course of their employment which are in force in other countries, and as to how far such laws are found to work satisfactorily. This report founded Ontario's workers' compensation system.

During the three day conference many individuals came together to discuss changes which have occurred since the report was released in 1913. I was in the company of amazing people, including injured workers and various types of injured worker representatives, to discuss the progress we have made over the past century as well as how damaged the system has become.

I was invited to the conference as a panel participant to discuss my personal injury experience. Those in attendance were very supportive, understanding and respectful, a stark contrast from my injury experience.

The No Half Measures, Sir William Meredith International Conference was my first opportunity to publicly tell my story. Telling my story is my chance to work toward creating change and helping people. I was able to share that injured workers are impacted negatively not only by the injury itself, but also by the existing systems in place. It is time for change. Change for injured workers, change in attitudes and change to repair the systems. Injured workers are currently facing broken systems which are harming many…perhaps many more than they are helping. I am looking forward to more opportunities to tell my story and help lead the way for change.

Experiencing this conference reaffirms my drive to help others and strengthens my appreciation of those who helped me: my health care team, my OPSEU representatives and my co-workers.

Q: What is the most frustrating part of the process?

Our compensation system harasses injured workers, ignores their situation and causes further harm and stress. Endless paperwork is created and time-consuming processes are put in place with the hope that you give up.

Q: What do you want people to know about injured Workers?

A few things:

  1. Injured workers are regular people, trying to get by in life like anyone else. It is necessary for us all to work, as wages provide us with a source of income. It is frustrating for injured workers to contribute when systems push for them to give up and tell them they are unwanted. Too often employers do not accept responsibility for the workplace accident. It is unfortunate that their duty to accommodate is something that has become a fight instead of a right.

  2. We are not cookie-cutter people, rather we are all individuals who matter. While some injured workers may have experienced a temporary and tolerable injury or issue in life, others may have been lengthy and more of a nightmare. We don't all deal with circumstances the same.

  3. I want people to put themselves in the injured workers shoes. If you became injured, would you want fair treatment? Your rights protected? Proper care? Compassion? Empathy? Respect?

Q: What should co-workers do if a colleague is injured?

As a co-worker to an injured person, consider reaching out and telling the injured worker things like: "I am thinking about you;" "I hope you get better soon;" "Please let me know if there is anything I can do;" "We miss you."

Q: What should we do to solve some of the problems that injured workers are facing?

  • Speak out for yourself and others as multiple voices are powerful for change, as we are all stronger together

  • Stay safe at work, report any issues to your employer

  • Use your benefits, get regular treatment and inform your health care provider of any nagging physical issues to help make you better

  • Write your local MPs and MPPs about these issues.

Rumour has it

Don Ford. In Solidarity

For this edition of In Solidarity, someone sent me a small filler piece which talked about shrinking the world's population to a village of 100 people, and what that village would look like. The piece ran like this:

If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. There would be:

  • 57 Asians

  • 21 Europeans

  • 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south

  • 8 Africans

  • 52 would be female

  • 48 would be male

  • 70 would be non-white

  • 30 would be white

  • 70 would be non-Christian

  • 30 would be Christian

  • 89 would be heterosexual

  • 11 would be homosexual

  • 6 people would possess 59 per cent of the entire world's wealth and all 6 would be from the US.

  • 80 would live in substandard housing

  • 70 would be unable to read

  • 50 would suffer from malnutrition

  • 1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth

  • 1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education

  • 1 would own a computer

I was about to send it to the In Solidarity editor when I noticed that there wasn't a citation for the information. Not a problem—a quick Google check would remedy that.

Well sure enough, conflicting information started popping up. Some websites verified this as factual. Others, such as one of my "go to" websites, Snopes.com, disputed most of the "facts" contained in this list. Bottom line is this list may be accurate…or not.

What this underscores is how important it is to check the facts on anything you read on the Internet. Facebook is notorious for circulating alarming stories and "too good to be true" scams that many people accept at face value. When you "like" or "share" these stories all you really accomplish is to make the world a slightly less intelligent place.

The next time you read something about gang initiation scares (flashing your headlights at a car in the dark) or putting in your PIN backwards at an ATM to use as a distress call, check Snopes.com or other reputable sites first. They will tell you what is true, untrue or unverified. At the very least, it will make you a little smarter and a little wiser. 

Your say can change childcare in Ontario

Laura Thompson, Provincial Women's Committee

In July 2013, two-year-old Eva Ravikovich died in an unlicensed childcare facility in Vaughn. This tragic event dominated the news. It felt like one of those events that was so heartbreaking that it had to change everything. If anything could show that the existing childcare system in Ontario isn't working, the death of a two-year-old child should be it. In Ontario, too many families are forced to rely on the patchwork of family, friends, neighbors and unlicensed facilities. Although some progress has been made to provide safe care for children, so much still needs to be done to fix a system that makes it all too easy for homes such as the one in Vaughn to lie to parents, pass themselves off as a licensed provider, and get away with it.

The Ministry of Education is responsible for investigating complaints that arise from both licensed and unlicensed facilities, and recently, some progress has been made regarding the enforcement and investigation of these providers. The Ministry has pledged to improve the investigation of facilities by establishing an enforcement team dedicated to investigating complaints, responding to public inquiries, and providing information. While this is a positive step forward, this move really isn't as extensive as it needs to be to truly address the public's concerns. For instance, the Ministry of Education has committed to informing parents when a provider has been found guilty of running a home with more than five children under the age of ten. Concerning? Yes. However, of greater concern is the fact that any investigations concerning abuse, neglect, or public health violations continue to be confidential.

It feels like we've have been having this conversation forever. Ontarians are frustrated as progress is slow, and a substantial childcare strategy still feels like a blank box at the bottom of the checklist. To put this issue in a personal context, I was born in 1982; my mother, like many working parents, scrambled to find an adequate arrangement. I was put in the care of an unlicensed childcare provider. Fortunately, we were one of the families who found a committed caregiver—a caregiver whose home came to feel like a second family. Thirty-one years later, luck is still the best that most families can hope for despite the fact that we know that affordable accessible childcare is achievable. To see the possibilities, one just has to look at Quebec's subsidized daycare system or at Manitoba's $20/day childcare maximum.

So how do we bring these possibilities into our province? When it comes to unlicensed childcare, an individual can file a complaint with the Ministry of Education office in his or her area regarding concerns about an unlicensed provider. A parent or guardian can complete the childcare survey that the OPSEU Provincial Women's Committee is doing in partnership with the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare. Through this survey, the OPSEU Provincial Women's Committee's goal is to get our members sharing their stories about childcare in Ontario so that we can get a genuine idea of what is going on and what the issues are. I am amazed at the conversations and insights I have gained when talking to members of my local and region about this issue. I encourage you to start the discussion in your region and local.

To complete the survey, or to read more, check out the following websites:


Part 4 of a four-part series

"Mega-Mart": How much do you really save?

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

I am raising a young family, and I have to spread my dollars carefully. Thanks to unions, my husband and I both receive solid paycheques. That paycheque only goes so far, however, when we have a mortgage, car payment, utilities, and taxes. I carefully budget each expected dollar coming in. So, when there is a surplus, there's a little breathing room, but for the most part everything that comes in goes back out. I convince myself that this is ok as we have long term assets and property which are building equity. The truth of the matter is that in today's society, we all need to be smart about our money.

My shopping habits are not for everyone. I understand that. However, I need to stretch our money. A few years ago, I took to surfing the clearance racks at the local big box stores for clothing staples for my children. After all, it was convenient. I have two boys 13 months apart; therefore, the odds are good that they will both get use out of an item. I would load up with T-shirts in every colour, books and games for the next age groups, jeans and shorts. How efficient!

What I have come to realize is that buying a kids T-shirt for $3 on the clearance rack gave me a bit of a rush but caused me to over buy. Normally this is a problem in itself; however, my problem was compounded with the fact that my children have more things than they ever possibly need often in colours or styles that they don't like to wear. Worst of all, once that $3 T-shirt (100 per cent cotton made in Bangladesh) goes through the wash, it is left riding up at odd angles, exposing belly buttons, fraying at the seams, or twisting awkwardly over the shoulders. The quality of the "super-deal" at the "Mega-Mart" is simply not there.

Case in point: My five-year-old has (I actually counted) 42 T-shirts. Let's say on average, I purchased these for $4 each. I have spent $168 on accumulating low quality T-shirts for him over the past few years. Yet, he wears the same five shirts over, and over, and over. Wouldn't I have been better off purchasing a smaller number of good quality clothing items that will last both him and his brother as opposed to the low-end quality which will shrink, stretch, twist and rip at the seams?

This frame of thought doesn't only apply to clothing. I have purchased a vacuum every year of my married life. I did not know that we were so hard on vacuums, and I don't especially think we are (how often do I really vacuum anyway — we're talking minimal use here). However, every year I went back to the "Mega-Mart" and spent another $100 on the least expensive vacuum I could find.

I could go on and on listing the cheap "Mega-Mart" items I have bought and re-bought over the years only to find that there is a lower level of quality in these mass-produced low-end items. It was after great expense and a little insight that I finally learned that we really do get what we pay for. Shopping in the "Mega-Mart" is not only devoid of customer service, but also results in lower-quality items compared to the "same" (read similar) make and model from other stores. Comparing two name brand shoes side by side, you will realize that the reason the "Mega-Mart" can sell for less is that there is cheaper quality and material in the "Mega-Mart" model. Cutting corners to produce what consumers think of as a deal only causes further expense in the long run.

Making my dollar stretch now means making personal connections with my friend: the seamstress who can replace that broken zipper for $6; shopping at the farmers' market on a Saturday afternoon; learning to trade and barter. The "Mega-Marts" of our world do not value their customers, only their dollars; however, the local farmers, and the single-income seamstress do value customers. My advice to anyone trying to stretch a paycheque is as follows:

  • Stop thinking you are saving money by buying at the "Mega-Mart".

  • Evaluate what you really need (five T-shirts vs. 42).

  • Spend time with family and friends making large batch meals instead of dining out.

  • Wait on big purchases. Put the money you are about to spend aside earmarked for the item you think you want. If you still want it next week, it will likely still be there.

  • Develop relationships in your community; my local pizza parlor gives me a discount as a regular customer.

  • Buy used where you can (better for the environment, less expensive, better quality).

  • Negotiate prices—you don't know if you don't try (I haven't paid bank fees for the highest level bank account in two years).

  • Never spend money you don't have.

  • Buy off season/end of season when you can. You can get better quality at a lower price.

  • Do a cost analysis or a comparison between repairing and purchasing new; a $6 zipper on a great pair of pants vs. $40 for new ones. 


It's time to fill some buckets

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

Recently I was honoured for twenty years teaching at Lambton College, and I can honestly say I love my job. However, to say I loved every single moment would be a big fat lie. Sometimes students (I figure I've dealt with at least 10,000 of them) can suck my will to live, and sometimes co-workers or managers can be difficult to deal with, yet somehow I keep going. There are days when injustice seems rife and management decisions are getting me down, yet I keep chugging along. All employees, no matter how much they love their jobs, have days when they feel emotionally and physically drained, yet, we keep going.

Conversely, we have days when things are going along tickety boo. On these days, we feel good about ourselves and the jobs we do, and we feel valued and that we are making a difference to someone or something. I'm eternally thankful that most of my days are good ones; however, for some people, keeping their chins up and making through the work week is difficult.

So how do we keep from sinking? How do we make sure we are having more good days than bad in the workplace? One thing to do is to try to find humour in something—I usually find humour in something stupid I've done (I could write a book).

Also, every day, someone likely does something nice for me, and I make a note to do something nice for others. Someone "fills my bucket" every day. Someone's probably filling your bucket, and you are likely filling the buckets of others. You're probably laughing and saying, "Yuck. I don't want to see what's in her bucket!" Let me explain.

"Bucket filling" is a simple concept used in several schools in the US and Canada. It doesn't come from Oprah or Dr. Oz; it's the brain child of the late Dr. Donald O. Clifton who created a program to build character through kindness and compassion. The Internet is full of suggestions for building bucket-friendly places (usually classrooms). My daughter's teacher uses the analogy, although it usually comes out as "Don't be dumping in my bucket."

Think about it—character development through kindness. Kindness is something that costs nothing but is strangely lacking in many, many places.
The principle is simple: when we feel good about ourselves, we have a positive effect on those around us. When our "buckets" are full, we feel confident, calm, and patient. We have positive thoughts and expect positive results.

The opposite is just as true. When our buckets are empty, we are void of positive thoughts or feelings. We can easily become sad, negative, depressed, stressed, worried, afraid, or physically ill. Just as we can spread positive vibes, we too can spread negative vibes to those around us. When this happens, others' buckets get emptied.

Sound familiar? Do you ever feel like there are external forces adding to your stress level? Are the demands of your workload increasing? Are managers or workers sucking the life out of you some days? Are you more irritable than you once were, but you can't quite figure out why?

Perhaps your bucket level is a bit low, and it's high time people focus on some bucket filling. As much as we often feel helpless against external forces, we can do our best to fill our own buckets by filling the buckets of those around us.

Here are some simple suggestions:

  • Smile

  • Say hello

  • Hold a door

  • Call someone by name

  • Help someone without being asked

  • Compliment someone

There it is—a simple way to take charge of our happiness and the tone of our lives. Many of us remember extra things we used to do—the things we've cut out because we're exhausted or busy catching up with work or other obligations. Somehow, something has sucked the fun out of many of our lives.  

Let's do it. Let's restore the good vibes around workplaces, our families, our towns, and heck, the province. Let's end each day knowing that something as simple as being kind could have a ripple effect to those around us. 


Rules to live by

  1. Never give yourself a haircut after three alcoholic beverages of any kind.

  2. You need only two tools: WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40.
    If it moves and shouldn't, use duct tape.

  3. The five most essential words for a healthy, vital relationship are "I apologize" and "You are right."

  4. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

  5. When you make a mistake, make amends immediately. It's easier to eat crow while it's still warm.

  6. The only really good advice that your mother ever gave you was: "Go! You might meet somebody!"

  7. If he/she says that you are too good for him/her—believe them.

  8. Learn to pick your battles. Ask yourself, "Will this matter one year from now? How about one month? One week? One day?"

  9. Never pass up an opportunity to pee.

  10. If you woke up breathing, congratulations! You have another chance!

  11. Living well really is the best revenge. Being miserable because of a bad or former relationship just might mean that the other person was right about you.

  12. Work is good, but it's not that important.

  13. And finally, be really nice to your friends and family. You never know when you are going to need them to empty your bedpan.

Download In Solidarity Fall 2013

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