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In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 21, Number 1, Winter 2014

InSolidarity cover, Winter 2014
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Are they private?

Verne Saari, In Solidarity

Your birthday rolls around yet again, and you might need to renew your license plate validation stickers or maybe even your driver’s license. As an OPSEU member, are you aware of which Service Ontario locations in your community will meet your needs by our own OPSEU sisters and brothers and not a private contractor?

In the event that you were unaware (as most people are), of the 289 Service Ontario locations 82 are staffed by OPSEU members and 207 are operated privately under contract.

This is a sector that has been whittled away at through “restructuring” to allow for the privatization of these government services thus eradicating the livelihood of many hard working OPSEU members. As of February 15, 2012 there were approximately 1,200 unionized staff employed with Service Ontario, with most of those being in call centres and “in person” service centres. In 2012, four service centres were closed, and a further 22 locations saw their hours of operation reduced. These are the people that work diligently to provide us with many government services which impact our lives. These are: drivers’ licence renewal; licence plate validation stickers; health card renewal; outdoors card renewal; land registry; liens search and registry; Ontario photo cards; newborn registrations; birth certificates; marriage certificates; death certificates; change of name; etc. etc. etc. (you get the picture).

As OPSEU members, all that we have to do to support our brothers and sisters is to seek out which centres are staffed by union members and bring our business there. This would equate to approximately 130,000 people (who already utilize these services) taking a stand to support our members. If we all support services supplied by union members where possible, then we will save many more union jobs. This is a small act individually, but huge collectively.

To compound the problem of privatized services, the government is on the verge of outsourcing the storage of private information to the lowest bidder. This will, in turn, store data in online “cloud” storage (see more information at https://opseu.org/ops/lost-in-the-cloud/index.htm.) Do you really feel comfortable in the knowledge that your personal information may be managed by a private company? Think about that!

Show solidarity with your unionized colleagues and make sure you support OPSEU member-provided services.

There is a crack in the system

Greg Snider, Disability Rights Caucus

There is so much to say about Workers’ Compensation: what it should be, what it is said to be and what it really is. I will try to restrain myself and focus on Workers Compensation from a disability rights perspective. Yes, I said rights.

Unfortunately, many injured workers face a lack of understanding and empathy from others. Many feel that injured workers are not trying hard enough, are lazy, are cheating the system or are responsible for their own injuries. This type of thinking is evident when injured workers are dealing with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Workers regularly report being denied benefits on the employers’ word, often with no contact being made to the injured worker. The message is that WSIB considers the worker untrustworthy. I can’t help but wonder why.

The treatment of persons with disabilities has historically been filled with blaming a person for their disability. I wonder how many of you have asked someone with an injury “What did you do?” instead of “What happened?”

How do we fix the WSIB problem? There are several simple steps that can be taken. First, there should be no cancellation of Workers’ Compensation Benefits without completing a full investigation, which includes a conversation with the worker. Second, there should be training (with regular reviews) about the barriers to providing appropriate service to persons with disabilities.

There are ways to make the system more financially viable and to support injured workers in the long term. The ultimate goal is for WSIB to recognize while businesses exist to make a profit, workers rely on the government to protect them at work. Businesses should be made to cover more of the injury-related costs which in turn would make the process accessible to those who need it for the full duration of their compensation.

Another idea that would control the costs of a Workers’ Compensation Program would be to develop training with real expectation for real jobs in the community where the worker lives. This is achievable. It requires working with the injured worker, finding out what they feel is possible and what their fears and hopes are. This will identify potential barriers that lay ahead or the strengths that can lead to success. People want to work, but some are limited in what they can do. In the case of many injured workers they are still learning what their abilities and limitations are.

Last, we need to address the healing process. Ultimately, injured workers trust their medical professionals. Their doctor represents their best chance at getting back to where they were before the injury. Workers’ Compensation must respect this relationship. The best person to make an analysis of worker’s ability after a disability is their personal doctor; that evaluation must be a major factor when developing a return to work plan.

Currently, one identified source of wasted financial resources is the Experience Rating System. This is a system designed to encourage a safer workplace which has clearly not done its work. The Experience Rating System is based on a simple philosophy which is designed to give rebates to companies with good health and safety records and penalize those with poor records. Although this sounds like a good plan, this is not the case. Several years ago the Ontario Government passed a law preventing WSIB from giving out rebates under the Experience Rating System if the Ministry of Labour had determined the company was responsible for a worker’s death that year.

Why would the government pass a law like that? Obviously, it’s because rebates are going out to companies that should be receiving a penalty instead. Could the Ministry of Labour have it wrong?

The easiest way to answer that question is to look at how the two bodies determine if a workplace is safe. In the case of a death in the workplace the Ministry of Labour sends in a workplace inspector or group of investigators. The Ministry of Labour asks questions of co-workers and employers, review the site, review the records of the Joint Workplace Health and Safety Committee and any other items which they deem important. The WSIB has a much different approach. WSIB investigators stay at their own site and count the number of lost work hours due to injury.

We admit WSIB’s approach is much easier to implement. Unfortunately, it fails to determine if workplaces are safe or needlessly dangerous. It does a fine job of rewarding companies that have cost them no money and penalizing those companies that have cost them money, but that is not an accurate reflection on whether a company is actually “safe.” For the worker employed by a “Greed is Good” company the Experience Rating System itself becomes a danger to the worker. These corporations discourage employees from obtaining immediate medical assistance because it could mean lost work hours resulting in a lost rebate. They discourage employees from reporting all injuries because this could result in lost work hours resulting in a lost rebate. They discourage workers from following their doctors’ advice by setting up sick rooms or encouraging harassment of accommodated workers, resulting in more money for the “Greed is Good” company. Meanwhile businesses with a good moral compass may be paying penalties for injuries which occur from accidents out of their control.

The Experience Rating System does have its supporters who believe that any Workers’ Compensation Program requires a reward/punishment system to cut costs. However, it is our belief, based on the WSIB experience, that a compensation program can more easily save money by dealing with the actual compensation requests then dealing with a less direct process of making workplaces safe.

In my ‘free’ time…

Giving back to the community,

Virginia Ridley & Verne Saari, In Solidarity

In each issue, the writing team at In Solidarity would like to begin to introduce you to some of our own members who also serve in a volunteer capacity within their own communities. Volunteers are often the people who fill the service gaps in their communities. Volunteerism is about making our communities a better place. We regularly hear about the members in our union who are involved in OPSEU and trade union matters, but many more of us do a lot of important community work which deserves to be recognized.

Sabrina ‘Butterfly’ GoPaul

Local: 590
Job Title: Community Health Worker
OPSEU member: Four years

Butterfly volunteers in many different social justice movements in the Jane and Finch area. She is a community journalist for JaneFinch.com, a founding member of the West-Side Arts Hub (a collaborative table made up of community artists and art groups using the arts for social change and social justice) and a member of Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty—an anti-poverty grass roots movement that fights for social change.

Butterfly is inspired by her children: eldest son Zea, who she says “is one of my inspirations, he raised me just as much as I raised him” and by her smallest son Zakiah “who reminds me that this fight is a lifetime fight.”

More information about Butterfly’s volunteer work can be found on Facebook/West Side Arts Hub, on JaneFinch.com and http://jfaap.wordpress.com/

Pam Smith

Local: 455
Job Title: ODSP Caseworker
OPSEU member: 37 years

Pam has done volunteer work for several organizations over the years. In 1996 Pam helped set up an organization called the Violence Awareness and Random Acts of Kindness Program. In addition, for the past 15 years she has sat as a Board Member for the Christmas Sharing Program of Belleville.

Pam states that she has always tried to contribute and give back to her community. Being both an OPSEU and a community activist seem to go hand in hand. According to Pam, it is caring about our community, trying to make a difference and helping those who need it the most.

Pam stays involved in community work because it is rewarding. “It gives me a feeling of well-being and provides a balance in my life. When I present awards to elementary and high school students for the Violence Awareness and Random Acts of Kindness Program or when I deliver a Christmas Hamper to Family in need for the Christmas Sharing Program, the feeling of contentment I get from the smiles on their faces and the gratitude in their voices is indescribable. It reinforces why I continue to be involved.”

When asked who the most inspirational person in her life is, Pam answers candidly with admiration: “My mother, Gertrude Smith, is definitely the most inspirational person in my life. She was a mother of 10, owned and operated her own business and was involved in her church and her community for most of her adult life. She taught me that it is not what happens to you in life that is important, it is what you do about it that counts.”

The Violence Awareness and Random Acts of Kindness Program was started as a result of a senseless act of violence that claimed the life of Pam’s nephew, Mark Fyke, who was vacationing in Florida while on March break. For more information please visit the website at www.varak.ca.

The Christmas Sharing Program is a confidential registry for low income families to receive a nutritional Christmas hamper. More information about this program is available at www.christmassharing.org.

Jeff Arbus

Local: 613
Job: Professor
OPSEU member: Over 30 years, and Board Member/RVP in Region 6

In his own community Jeff volunteers with the Canadian Ski Patrol, and has done so for six years. This is a volunteer organization founded in 1940 at the request of the Canadian Amateur Ski Association. This group provides emergency first aid/first response for both alpine and Nordic skiing. Jeff lives and works in the Sault Ste. Marie region where this group also provides spectator first aid/first response services at the city area for all Soo Greyhound hockey games and any concerts. They are a four seasons service as they are also involved with the Relay for Life, the St. Joseph Island marathon and the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s Community Day Festival. You can find more information about the Canadian Ski Patrol at www.csps.ca

Volunteers and community activists are the people who are behind the changes we see in our community. Without the hard work of thousands of volunteers every day, programs that we value in our communities would fail to exist. These are the programs that sometimes most benefit our children, seniors, and families. Programs that ensure our safety and programs that bring comfort to those in need. If someone in your region or local is active or a volunteer in their community, In Solidarity would like to recognize them by sharing their story. Please forward the contact details of anyone you would like to nominate to be featured in an upcoming issue of In Solidarity.

Beyond the stigma: feminism & sexwork

Shauna Weston, PWC Region 6

Prostitution is said to be one of the oldest professions in the world. Canadian policies and legislation which focus on women and sex work are fundamentally paternalistic and neglect to acknowledge the complexity of social and economic factors involved in the sex trade. The laws also totally disregard the autonomy and capacity of women to choose. Though sex work is criticized and stigmatized in our society and viewed as immoral and degrading to women. Sex work is essentially just that, work. Sex work is only illegal because of its perception as coercive and exploitative, but morality is objective and society’s opinion on what is “right” and “wrong” is constantly shifting. Morality provides no basis for law.

The sex work industry and its workers must not be penalized by the skewed illusion of what is moral by a dominant society. Every woman has the right to make informed decisions about her body, and laws governing sex work are laws which govern a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.

When we recognize that sex work is not exploitative of women and respect that sex work can be a voluntary choice, establishing conditions which enhance and benefit the workplace must begin. We accomplish this by ceasing to endanger sex workers and the first step to reducing harm is to decriminalize and legitimize sex work and provide sex workers with the same rights as other workers.
Sex-positive feminists feel that:

  • To protect the rights of sex workers there needs to be a distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution. It must be recognized that not all sex workers are forced into sex work and that an individual can consciously decide to engage in sex work.

  • Sex work needs to be governed and regulated by the same employment and occupational health and safety standards and provisions other workers enjoy and have access to. Sex workers, like any other worker, require laws that protect from manager exploitation, as well as having access to additional health insurance benefits and sick and vacation time. Sex workers have the right to clean, safe places to work with the absolute right to refuse to engage in unsafe sex practices.

  • Sex workers also require protection by law enforcement to ensure laws against physical assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, extortion and fraud are equally enforced.

  • There is no logical basis for the argument against sex work or its continued criminalization. Sex work is not exploitative of women. Sex workers only face a danger of exploitation because of criminalization and stigmatization. Laws governing sex work deny women control over their own bodies in the same way that laws governing reproductive rights do.

  • The right to control our sexuality is as essential to feminism as the right to control our reproduction. Any law which denies a women’s control over her body is a law that labels women as second-class citizens and places us under the control of men. When these laws are eliminated, and sex work placed under the control of those who work in the industry, women will achieve greater political, social and economic power and protection.

We must challenge the stigma attached to sex work and the inequity and inequality experienced by sex workers in their attempt to negotiate fair payment/wages for services rendered, achieving a workplace free from violence and securing benefits provided to any other working person. To fail to recognize sex workers as having legitimate voice in the feminist movement is a grave injustice and perpetuates patriarchy and inequity.

Is prostitution harmful? The same thing was once believed about homosexuality; it was said to lead to violence, drug use, disease, and mental illness. These problems were not caused by homosexuality itself; they were the result of legal oppression and social stigma, and once those harmful factors were removed the “associated problems” vanished as well. The same thing will happen with sex work.

Second-class citizens

Sandy Green, In Solidarity

It has now been almost eight years, and the battle between the Ontario Liberal Government/Ontario Colleges and the part-time employees of 24 Community College continues. The democratic right of the part-time employees to be able to organize and participate in Collective Bargaining continues to be denied. What are the Liberals so afraid of? Why should part-time employees be discriminated against? It feels as though they are being treated as second-class citizens by not being allowed to be part of a union. Are they not part of the College community? Do these workers not play a vital role in the development and success of students? Do they not work as hard as full-time employees? Are they not valued? Do they deserve to be treated like second-class citizens?

These are important questions that need to be answered.

Over the last year I have taken the time and made the effort to talk to part-time employees working at various Colleges. Some of these part-time employees are single mothers trying to get back into the workforce. Part-time work may be their only option. Others are young graduates who have the knowledge, skills and education to contribute on a full-time basis, however only to have part-time positions available to them. Many part-time employees are very experienced, knowledgeable adults hoping that by getting their foot in the door on a part-time basis it may lead to full-time work. A handful of those I spoke to only want to work part-time. There are a few consistent themes however:

  • part-time college staff feel as though they are getting shoved around

  • they feel their hard work and dedication is not valued

  • they have no rights as far as advancement

  • they are not entitled to benefits

  • they have no seniority and they can be fired on a moment’s notice

Here are some quotes from part-time employees within Colleges:

“The worst aspect of working part-time is the lack of health, dental and sick leave benefits. We drag ourselves into work sick because we cannot afford to take the time off to recover and are worried about upsetting management which could then affect our future hours.”

“We have no recourse if we feel we are being treated unfairly, the good shifts and vacation can be given to the favourites vs. those with more seniority.”

“I was elated when I got hired, as this had been my dream and goal to one day work for a college even if it was on a part-time basis. I knew that once I got into the college I could demonstrate to my supervisors my dedication to the college and its values. With the skills and knowledge I obtained as a student many years before and my life and work experience since graduating I was sure that eventually I would obtain full-time employment. All the positions I have applied for are jobs that I have been performing for a number of years both outside and within the college. Every time that I have applied for various positions across the college I felt confident enough that I had all the required skills, knowledge and education required. I would submit my application and wait for someone to contact me for an interview. Days and weeks would go by and finally I would get a standard email saying that I didn’t meet the required qualifications. This is very disheartening as I felt that if I’m good enough to do the job while in a part-time capacity, why wasn’t I good enough to do it as a full-time employee? Over the years I have spoken to many people who have stated that they had worked for several years in a part-time position with the same experiences. I don’t understand why the college feels it necessary to pull from outside the college when there are fully qualified part-timers who would be happy to have full-time employment. College hiring practices are required to seek qualified union employees first. If there are no qualified applicants the college advertises out to the general public, i.e. outside and part-timers. I feel that they should first give the opportunity to internal part-timers before looking outside the college. I wish they would realize that sometimes it’s not always about the money when you are someone who puts pride and dedication into your work.”

“The way I see it part-time employees are paid less, with no benefits, no job security and no rights. They are asked to work just as hard if not harder than full-time employees. As a part-time employee the college requires me to cross a picket line when the various unions go on strike so that the college can continue to operate. Again, if part-timers can keep the college running when you need us then why can we not obtain full-time work?”

“For some, part-time employment is all we can do at the moment. We may have young children at home, we may be caring for our parents, we may be trying to get back into the workforce or we may have other responsibilities. Why should we not be given the same rights as a full-time employee? It’s just not right.”

There are many part-time employees that are part of unions. When I was part-time in another career I was part of a union. I received benefits, was included in the pension plan and had rights as far as advancement opportunities. If this is what part-time employees want what is the problem? If other OPSEU sectors are able to enlist part-time employees to be part of a union then why are College employees not allowed? Why are their democratic rights being denied? I don’t think we have been given a clear answer on this. We all know that it boils down to dollars and cents. The part-time employees that I have spoken to would be more than happy to contribute to their benefits.

Ontario is the only province where part-time college workers are denied this right. There are approximately 16,000 part-time college employees and the numbers are getting higher every year.

What part-time employees want are as follows:

  • A protocol for hiring and retaining part-time and sessional workers in colleges in Ontario. including a policy for posting these positions;

  • A process for dealing with the complaints and grievances for part-time college workers.

  • Standardized pay schedules and paybands across all colleges for part-time and sessional workers in Ontario colleges.

  • A multi-year plan for converting part-time and sessional workers to full-time workers at community colleges.

The battle continues and possibly what it will take is a change in government. Kathleen Wynne fights for equal rights, the “vulnerable workforce,” people with disabilities and social justice. She supports cooperative labour relations, increasing the job market and help for college and university graduates. She needs to support the right for democracy, the rights for part-time workers to join a union and to recognize that part-time employees are an important part of the work force. Time for her to re-think her position on part-time employees. Isn’t it time she gave some thought to this other “overlooked” subset of society?

Book Review: You Can’t Say That in Canada!

Sandy Green, In Solidarity

The cover of Margaret Wente’s book You Can’t Say That in Canada! gives you a first impression of what is to come. The quote, “Canada’s most influential columnist reflects on life, politics and the pursuit of happiness,” is accurate for indeed she covers all aspects of life in a “no-holes barred” controversial style, done with great humour and accuracy with facts and figures to back it up.

In the introduction, Wente captures the readers through interesting topics and gives the reader a glimpse of her spirit and personality. One must conclude that her mailbox at the Globe and Mail is over-flowing at all times as she has ruffled the feathers of Newfoundlanders, Muslims, elderly drivers, feminists, AIDS activists, people who worship David Suzuki and ballet dancers to name a few. She addresses the financial ups and downs of the Canadian economy from a very personal level and includes life with her husband in her usual frank, honest and humorous way.

Her friendship with Conrad Black and Brian Mulroney is evident. Wente delves into the details of Black and Mulroney’s “fall from grace.” She is a well-respected journalist with the reputation for being fair, humorous and straightforward. Her description of men vs. women is extremely funny and although many may agree with her theories, few to none would never be willing to “put it on paper.”

Throughout the book, Wente moves along to give us her opinions of men and women in the workplace, as well as women and men’s changing roles in family and society. She accurately describes how gender roles have changed and continue to change. Wente concludes that these changing gender roles are not always for the better. Wente’s analysis of the current culture of unions, the politics of Ontario, the disgraced Liberal Government, the province’s financial woes, the educational system, the Federal Government and health care is clear and concise. She has used the phrase “busybody state” to describe how governments are determining more and more how we live. This is done with facts, figures and, importantly, humour.

Wente shares a number of her personal experiences in this book, including her initiation into country living and her experiences of “small town culture.” Again, she describes finding herself in hot water, and explains to the readers how she had to scramble to make amends. Wente closes the final chapters discussing our present way of living, human rights and its ramifications, the “Botox years,” the future, and how proud she is to be a citizen of Canada.

Personally, I loved the book. I found it to be a great read. I could relate to most of her opinions and experiences, though not all of them. Wente raises awareness and creates citizen engagement by creating strong feelings, either positive or negative, and by expressing her opinions, knowledge and experiences on paper. She raises awareness and her “tell it like it is” style is a refreshing change. If you are looking for a thought-provoking book which may blur the lines between socially acceptable thoughts and someone who says it as she sees it, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Margaret Wente’s You Can’t Say That in Canada!

Green Jobs: Keeping It Safe, While Keeping It Green

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety

Green is commonly associated with things that are good for our environment. Now we use “green” to describe products, industries, the economy and even jobs, and as a verb—greening—to describe the process. There is a growing movement to improve and protect the environment by reducing carbon emissions, pollution and waste, and a shift toward more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly practices. Along with the benefits of “greening the economy” come changes to traditional jobs as well as the creation of new kinds of jobs—and with these changes come new challenges to worker health and safety.

“Green” jobs cover a wide range of jobs in different sectors, but all contribute, in some way, to preserving or restoring the environment. They can include jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity, reduce usage of energy and raw materials, or reduce waste and pollution. Many new green jobs are actually old jobs that have shifted over to cleaner, greener industries, and/or are in conventional sectors that are making real efforts to green its operations. Waste management and recycling workers have to handle products that may be energy efficient but may contain highly toxic substances, for example lithium in electric car batteries.

New technologies or work processes designed to protect the environment can lead to new hazards or to new combinations of hazards. For example, workers who install solar panels on rooftops are faced with a combination of hazards similar to those faced by roofers and electricians. Like roofers, they use ladders and scaffolding and are at risk of falling from heights. And like electricians, they face electrocution and burns from contact with overhead lines while installing solar panels.

Health and safety and labour organizations in Europe and North America have expressed a shared sentiment that these emerging jobs need to be good for workers, as well as for the environment. And with the green economy expected to grow quickly, there is concern that skills gaps could be created, and put workers, inexperienced and not properly trained in the new processes, at risk for injury.

The way forward

A report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) suggests that “a true green job must integrate safety and health into design, procurement, operations, maintenance sourcing, use and recycling.” They emphasize that policy changes are necessary to support approaches such as “prevention through design” when creating green jobs.

The North American Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), as part of their Prevention through Design (PtD) initiative, is developing a framework to create awareness, provide guidance, and address occupational safety and health issues associated with green jobs. Basically PtD is a concept that promotes eliminating hazards at the design stage of a project.

PtD addresses workplace health and safety needs, and involves preventing or minimizing the work-related hazards and risks to workers, through the planning, engineering and design of the work, process and equipment. A growing number of businesses, organizations, and countries are supporting and implementing PtD concepts to pre-empt and “design out” hazards.

In addition, to prepare workers for new occupations and new ways of working, employers must ensure that employees receive adequate, relevant health and safety training and information. By assuming a proactive approach to hazard elimination in green jobs, there is an opportunity to improve the health and safety of workers in general.

Municipal elections, October 27, 2014:Who’s running?

Verne Saari, In Solidarity

Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye…calling all OPSEU members who are intending to be candidates in the 2014 municipal elections. In Solidarity wants to hear from you! If you are running in a municipal election, or know of an OPSEU member who is, please submit the candidates contact information to insolidarity@opseu.org.

OPSEU members have a long-standing tradition of working in their communities to create positive change. The In Solidarity team will be putting together an article for an upcoming issue that informs our members of OPSEU members province-wide who are running for an elected position in their municipality.

Workplace bullying: What it is…and what it isn’t

Sandy Green, In Solidarity

Bullying within the workplace is alive and well, without a doubt. What does it take to get rid of a bully? I don’t have the answer to that, but knowledge is power and that is a beginning. Knowing the signs of bullying and the characteristics of a bully are important for you to know. Ever since Bill 168 was approved, “Employer Duties on Workplace Bullying and Harassment” addresses an employer’s obligation to implement rules, regulations and procedures to put an end a bullies “reign of terror.” Most workplaces now have now put a directive in place regarding their “zero tolerance” for bullies. But, in my experience, nothing has really been accomplished to rid the workplace of such bullies. The words “all talk” comes to my mind.

Bullying is any pattern of behaviour that intimidates, humiliates or demeans a person. Bullying can be constant nitpicking, fault-finding or criticism of a trivial nature. It can also be a constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contribution and achievements. It is interpersonal hostility that is deliberate, repeated and intentional behaviour intended to harm the targeted person’s health or employment status. It is driven by someone who needs to control another individual. Bullying is intentional and relentless. A bully does not care if it damages people’s lives and/or the organization that employs them.

Here is the suicide letter left by Pierre Lebrun, OC Transpo employee:

“I’m going to commit an unforgivable act…I have no choice. I’m tired, exhausted and completely backed against the wall…They will never leave me alone. I can’t go on living like this! They have destroyed my life, I will destroy their life…OC Transpo and the unions can’t hide from what they do to me…They will pay dearly for what they’ve done to me. The people who I hold responsible are: (four names listed) along with many others…all I wanted was for them to leave me alone, not to bug me but it was too much to ask. The have spread lies, especially that I was a rat who denounced my own union members to try and have them stop laughing at me.”

Signs of Bullying:
 

  • public humiliation

  • persistent criticism

  • singling out, ignoring or excluding

  • social isolation

  • constantly undervaluing effort

  • removing areas of responsibility

  • deliberately sabotaging or impeding work performance

  • refusing to delegate

  • constantly changing work guidelines

  • withholding information

  • over monitoring of work with malicious intent

  • setting up employees to fail

  • blocking applications for leave

  • instigating complaints from others to make the individual appear incompetent

  • verbal aggression

  • withholding job responsibilities

When you are the victim of a bully, your professional and personal lives are affected. You dread going to work, you have no energy and your relationship with your coworkers is compromised. When you are bullied your self-esteem and self-confidence are lost. There are in fact thirty-three illnesses that go hand in hand with bullying.

Below are some metaphors that bullies have been compared to:

A bully is like an addict:

Bullying in the workplace is like an addiction. The underlying cravings are similar to those of other addictions i.e. the needs are insatiable. Bullies are rarely satisfied with one victim. Many are serial bullies. They use and abuse victims and when they are of no further use to them dispose of them and hunt out others to feed their habits.

A bully is like a Jekyll and Hyde character:

Unpredictable and two-faced, bullies can be charming to some individuals and evil to others. This reflects a splitting within the psyche into good and bad—a defense against anxiety.

A bully is like a praying mantis:

A praying mantis stalks its victim, often spying on it before attacking. Likewise bullies watch and monitor potential victims, testing them to see how they react. The praying mantis seizes its prey in a vice-like grip and eats it alive (it may feel like that to a workplace victim too). Once bullying begins the victim becomes trapped. Often, support from colleagues and friends is needed for the victim to stand up and challenge the bully or escape from the situation. However work colleagues and managers may turn a “blind eye.” Victims become socially isolated and more vulnerable unless changes are made to the interpersonal relationships and group dynamics.

Negative effects on the victim include:
 

  • post-traumatic stress

  • lower levels of job satisfaction

  • permanent disability

  • psychosomatic symptoms and physical illness (heart attacks, chronic fatigue, ulcers, fibromyalgia, colitis, high blood pressure)

  • depression

  • isolation from friends and family

  • substance abuse (victims seek to kill the pain)

  • family violence (victim takes out their frustration on their spouse and/or children)

  • decreased productivity

  • higher rate of absenteeism

  • decreased commitment/engagement

Recently, there has been proof that bullying within the workplace has serious detrimental effects on the organization. It is said that workplace bullies “are destroying productivity.” Bullying is just bad for business, period.

Negative effects of bullying on an organization:
 

  • high turnover and intention to leave the organization

  • higher rates of injuries and illness

  • increased EAP costs

  • decreased commitment

  • higher levels of client dissatisfaction

  • higher rates of absenteeism

  • increased short-and long-term disability costs

  • increased WSIB costs

  • decreased productivity

  • worsened organization image

In order for you to know what bullying is, it is important that you know what bullying is not. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two.

What is not bullying?
 

  • Reasonable management action—your workplace has the right to set reasonable performance goals, standards and deadlines.

  • Allocation of work.

  • Allocation of reasonable working hours.

  • Failing to promote someone after a proper, documented selection process.

  • Informing an employee that their performance is unsatisfactory, after following established performance management guidelines.

  • Informing an employee, objectively and confidentially, that their behavior is inappropriate.

  • Restructuring of the department.

  • Low-level workplace conflict.

  • Expressing differences of opinion.

  • Making a complaint about a manager’s or other employee’s conduct, if the complaint is made through appropriate sanctioned methods and in good faith.

  • Occasional, on-off incidents which would be considered to be minor (losing your temper, shouting or swearing).

  • Comments that are objective and intended to provide constructive feedback to assist the employee with their work.

  • Unskilled managers handling difficult conversations badly.

  • Rigid rules consistently applied that are impacting employee engagement.

  • Poor communication or disagreements between employees.

If you feel you are being bullied, start taking notes, keep your emails, save your phone messages, write down any witnesses that were present, (this is difficult as bullies are masters of attacking when there are no witnesses around), and inform your Local President. It is imperative that you keep track of every single incident (dates/times). Bullying has to be recurring and constant. You must have proof that bullying is taking place.

The next issue of In Solidarity will discuss what a bully looks like, their profile, the characteristics of the victim, what you can do if you are being bullied and how to prevent bullying in your workplace.

Keeping a grievance file

Steward Update

Are you satisfied with the way you keep grievance records? If you’re not, you should be: your records could make the difference between a co-worker losing a day’s pay, missing out on a promotion, or maybe even losing a job. What you do with your notes and paperwork can be critical to the union’s ability to help a worker win justice, avoid disaster, or just plain get a fair shake.

Veteran stewards and union staffers will tell you that unless they are accurately written down and carefully filed, even the best facts and evidence are useless to the union if management is determined to have their way. These experienced hands know that a well-organized grievance file can be one of the union’s most effective resources—and you, as steward, are key to making sure it’s built correctly.

One Grievance, One File

As a steward you will want a file—paper, on the computer, or both—for each grievance you are working on. It’s a file that must be available for use by higher-ups in the union chain of command if—and when—the grievance moves through the steps of the grievance procedure. Not only that, it may well become part of your union’s files and serve as a vital resource for new stewards and officers preparing for their duties. Routines differ from union to union, but most have grievance files. Some locals have organized their files by cutting up the contract and pasting each section on a separate folder, either on paper or on a computer. Others may keep them chronologically, by department, or in other ways, but most locals have a central index so they can track down specific cases by the issue, by the grievor, or by both. Whatever the system, it depends on the facts and information gathered, at least initially, by the stewards. This information, in fact, serves as the very foundation of the union’s case. If you’ve worked around computers at all you’ve probably heard the term GIGO. That stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. If the data you put in a computer is bad, the output will be bad—worthless, in fact, like garbage. The same holds true of what you put in a grievance file.

So, what would be the contents of a grievance file?

For each grievance, you might want the following facts:

  1. Notes on your initial talk with the grievor or grievors. Obviously, you need the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of the case. You need names spelled right, job titles, accurate notes on what people say happened when—all the basics you collect when beginning the grievance process.

  2. Your working file should contain all your notes on conversations with the grievant, the supervisor or supervisors involved, and witnesses. Be sure to write down the date and time of these conversations, even if they’re just on the phone. The exact time and date of a conversation can be very important later on in piecing together the chronology of a case.

  3. The file should contain notes on your own thinking as to which parts of the contract apply to the situation. Don’t tell yourself you’ll remember. Jot it down.

  4. The file should contain any documents you have requested from management and copied for possible use as union exhibits. You’ll want these in a safe and secure place, because management’s not likely to respond well if you have to come back to them and say you’ve misplaced your copies and need them researched and copied again. If you can, scan relevant documents into a computer.

  5. The file should contain your notes on, or copies of, relevant supporting evidence. This could include relevant arbitration cases or grievance settlements and federal, state or provincial laws or regulations (health and safety, family leave and so forth).

As you build your file keep in mind that the material you’re accumulating may not be called into play for days, weeks, maybe even months into the future—even years, in fact. If it becomes a part of the union’s permanent files, it may be used as a resource for other stewards who end up handling similar or related cases.

Are your notes clear to others?

In the same way, while you may be able to read your notes without difficulty the day after you make them, would they make as much sense to you weeks or months down the road? And would they be decipherable by someone else? The file may be called into use some day when you’re not available to elaborate on what one of your notes really means. So be sure to go over them with a careful eye before turning them over to another union official or putting them into a file for possible use sometime in the future.

Finally, keep the file in a safe place. A lot of stewards have a secure place at work where they can keep their union paperwork, while others have space at home. If they’re on a computer, be sure you have your system backed up. The best research and the best notes in the world are no good to you, or a grievor, if they can’t be located when needed.

David Prosten, Steward Update.
With thanks to Solidarity in Action: A Guide for Union Stewards, published by the Labor Center, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

A letter from the Editor

Dear Members, Stewards, and Activists,

This will be the second edition of In Solidarity which I have been editor. In Solidarity has been a members’ publication since March 1994. There have been many people over the years who have been committee members, writers, contributors, and editors of In Solidarity. We have seen the publication move through design and content changes along the way. It is through the hard work of so many people that In Solidarity remains here today as the members voice. In Solidarity is an important tool for a union such as OPSEU. OPSEU prides itself on being a member-driven union. The highest power is with you—the members. Not only do we hear the words, we see the commitment to every member who calls OPSEU “My Union” through things like a full quarterly publication. It has moved from a newsletter to being a magazine-style publication which any OPSEU member can be proud to display on their coffee table or to share with friends and family.

In the last issue we showcased the new editorial team behind In Solidarity. The committee is interested in making your publication more relevant to you. The In Solidarity team is committed to bringing you interesting and relevant information on a quarterly basis. We have many pieces of information to share; however, I am certain that you have more. OPSEU members are active in their communities, and are involved in local, provincial, federal and even international groups which may be of interest to the other 129,999 members of OPSEU. Many of you have unique knowledge and viewpoints on many of the most relevant issues members are facing. If you would like to pitch an idea for an article, try your hand at writing and article, want to point us to your blog, or community group, we welcome these suggestions.

If there are pieces written in this edition which you would like to share your reaction to, please submit these as Letters to the Editor. I hope to hear from you soon!

Virginia Ridley
Editor
In Solidarity

Email: insolidarity@opseu.org
Post: In Solidarity
c/o Virginia Ridley
OPSEU Head Office
100 Lesmill Rd.
Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8

Download InSolidarity Winter 2014