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In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 21, Number 3, Summer 2014

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A note from the Editor…

I am regularly asked if I take on too much, or do too much. Most people who are involved in the labour movement, volunteerism or community development also get this question. It is usually asked in that “helpful” way which appears to be loaded with judgment. A number of my colleagues on various projects and committees and I have discussed this as it’s a common theme among us.

At the present time I am President of the Board of Directors at Forest Edge Community Club, developing a youth group, running for city council and working to get up to speed on municipal politics. I also sit on a number of work committees, co-chair my local school council and to top it off I am a writer and editor for In Solidarity.

I manage to accomplish all of these tasks and be a part of so many projects through effective time management and a supportive family. Really, it’s my leisure. I, like many of you, enjoy being busy and being involved in my community, being with other people and working towards a better future. At the end of the day, when I am more productive and I know that my time was used well, I feel better about myself.

The way I see it: there are 24 hours in a day which makes for 168 hours in a week. I spend 49 of those hours sleeping and 35 hours working which leaves 84 hours a week left over. I don’t watch a lot of TV which gives me more time to focus on all of the projects and committees I’m involved in. The bulk of my free time goes to spending quality time with my kids and family as well as the volunteer work I do on a regular basis. I am also a huge believer in family dinners. I try to make sure that I sit down with my family and share a meal as often as I possibly can. I love family dinners because it’s a technology-free time where we can sit and engage with each other. We discuss current events, things that are important for the kids, and make plans for activities we want to do together.

With regards to my political campaign, I will be making an effort to include my children as much as possible because I see it as a learning opportunity for them. It is one unlike anything they would ever experience otherwise and I want them to have a better understanding of the democratic process in action.

Through my many diverse activities, I have learned a lot about myself. I have grown professionally and had opportunities that I would never have through my employer. 

Why, you may ask yourself, am I telling you this? I’m telling you this, because it started right here at OPSEU. While throughout my life I have always been a volunteer in different capacities, it was my first real union experience: an International Youth Day Event in 2007 (OPSEU’s first, actually) that really got me going. I became more passionate about really making a difference in my community, and felt the support of my OPSEU Sisters and Brothers behind me. So activists, continue reading the rest of this issue if you dare, you may just find yourself a little “busier.” I encourage all new and seasoned stewards to get out there and take advantage of every learning opportunity available to you. Then take that knowledge and make a difference. I’m thankful that I did, and I am enjoying the journey so far!

Kind Regards,

Virginia Ridley

A true show of solidarity

Vince Gobind, Workers of Colour Caucus

On August 3, 2013 the Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) celebrated five years of OPSEU’s participation in North America’s largest celebration of Caribbean history and culture: the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (formerly Caribana).

On September 28, 2013, to mark this occasion, Vince Gobind from Local 311 (on behalf of the WOCC) accepted an Award of Appreciation presented by Louis Saldenah at the masquerade bands victory celebration.

The award reads:

“Award of Appreciation to OPSEU and The Workers of Colour Caucus, in grateful appreciation for the contribution you have made and for letting us maintain our high standard over the years. We would personally like to thank you for all your help in making the 2013 Toronto Caribbean Carnival a successful season and helping us win Band of the Year 2013.” 

Louis Saldenah Mas-k Club’s theme for 2013 was Heaven and Earth. The WOCC, for a second time, showed OPSEU the Aurora Borealis from a Caribbean perspective, thanks to the XPATS section. The costume was a beautiful array of colours accentuated with vibrant jewels.

While celebrating the diversity of the Caribbean culture, Toronto also saw OPSEU’s diversity. WOCC was proud to have OPSEU members from four different regions including representation from four different equity groups/committees, a true show of solidarity within OPSEU.

The WOCC noted with appreciation the presence and participation of the following OPSEU members and leaders:

  • Sara Labelle, Regional Vice President (RVP) and Gord Longhi, Executive Board Member (EBM) both from Region 3
  • Felicia Fahey, EBM Region 6
  • Sandi Blancher, Vice-Chair, Hospital Professional Division (HPD) and Chair, HPD Bargaining Team
  • Peter Thompson, Region 1, WOCC Chair
  • Angela Bick Rossley, Region 3, Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC) Chair
  • Dave McCarl, Region 3 member, Provincial Human Rights Committee (PHRC) and
  • Krista Maracle, Region 5, Aboriginal Circle Vice-Chair

We were very pleased by all the new and veteran members that participated. We appreciated the time people took out of their busy schedules to support Workers of Colour.

OPSEU staff have played an integral part in supporting the objectives and activities of the WOCC. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to all the hard-working people in the background, especially OPSEU’s Equity Unit.

We would especially like to thank Monty Mohammed for volunteering his time to drive the OPSEU truck in three events and always lending a hand in ensuring OPSEU’s flags and banner are highly visible.

When asked to describe her experience, Angela Bick Rossley wrote:

“It wasn’t until I actually participated that I began to understand the larger cultural context. In terms of cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness, this was actually a very powerful lesson for me. When I first saw what would be my costume – feathers, sequins and jewels, all sparkling and dangling – I saw it only in the context of the over-feminized and hyper-sexualized western culture. It wasn’t until I changed into my feathered, jeweled and sequined threads on parade day that I understood. It was an artistic, colourful and musical expression of culture. You really can’t measure everything by the western standard of beauty. Cultural understanding is very much nuanced. Lesson learned!”

The WOCC is very proud to have been able to share the Caribbean culture with OPSEU and we thank OPSEU for its ongoing support throughout the years.

On August 2, 2014, the WOCC will once again participate in the Toronto Caribbean Carnival with Louis Saldenah’s River of Mirrors in the XPATS section “Royals.”

For more information e-mail Vince Gobind at invinceable.intl@gmail.com.

Keep the conversation going

Craig Hadley, In Solidarity

If you attended Convention this past May, then you’ll surely remember the lengthy debate on whether or not to modify quorum rules for OPSEU Local General Membership Meetings (GMM). Reaching quorum is important because without quorum the meeting is not official. Members debated both sides of the argument in an effort to balance the quorum constitutional requirements with the operational needs of running a local. After fruitful debate, delegates voted in favour of leaving the quorum requirement as is. Recognizing that some of our locals are having issues with meeting attendance, an age old question must be asked: How can these locals get more members involved?

Here are some suggestions that may help your local build strong numbers for every meeting.

Location! Location! Location!

If your meetings are off site and held at an OPSEU office or other location, you may want to re-examine how accessible that location is for your members. A possible solution is to explore a variety of locations and then poll your membership. Employee demographics are always changing; therefore, a meeting location that worked 10 years ago may not work today.

Time

Is the time of your meeting compatible with life outside the workplace? A 6 p.m. meeting start may be your local’s traditional meeting time, but is it compatible with your members? Ask your members: maybe lunch time meetings would work better. Some locals hold multiple GMMs over two or even three time slots.

Make a Friend

It’s a simple concept that’s often overlooked, but getting people to your meetings can be as easy as that. Remember the first time you attended a local meeting? Chances are someone from the LEC introduced him or herself to you before introducing the union. The same applies to getting new members out. If they’re comfortable with the people in charge of the meeting, they’ll be comfortable attending a meeting.

Introduce the Union

When your employer hires new staff, most employees are unfamiliar with unions and may rely on external sources or the employer to form an opinion. They may want to get involved but are unsure who to contact. Some OPSEU locals will host a yearly new member dinner or lunch where new employees have the opportunity to ask questions and meet the LEC.

Get Social

Let’s face it: humans are social beings. Through social events, people mingle, friendships are made and shared interests are discovered. Most would agree that a person is much more likely to come out to a social event than a stuffy business meeting. Host a bowling night, summer BBQ or children’s holiday party. The next time there’s a GMM, the member will be gathering with friends instead of union officials.

Marketing

What’s your local’s message to your membership? People need to know what the GMM is about and why it should concern them. On your meeting notices try to include some of the issues you’ll be discussing. Better yet, start up a local web site or create a local newsletter to spread the word. Even the most involved OPSEU activists can usually recall what sparked their interest in the union. Advertising “sparks” such as health and safety, hours of work, benefits and retirement could ignite member interest.

Public Relations

Right-wing media attacks unions on a daily basis. Unfortunately our members are not immune to being bombarded with negative stereotypes associated with union involvement. This negativity can be a stumbling block for would-be activists. Promote and hold a local charity event. In addition to benefiting the cause, you’ll attract members who are already involved in philanthropy or may want to get involved in a good cause. Once the event is decided upon, advertise around the workplace and be sure to notify local media.

Set Goals

Have an LEC meeting and set realistic, obtainable membership improvement goals. Once the goals have been agreed upon, discuss and write down the tactics that will deliver those goals. At the next LEC meeting, review what worked and what didn’t work and make adjustments until your goals are reached.

There’s no single template that will guarantee increased membership involvement within locals. Local presidents who have highly-attended meetings will tell you it didn’t happen overnight. It took dedication, hard work and trial and error to find the combination that worked. They’ll also tell you not to be afraid to think outside the box. Just because it’s “always been done this way” doesn’t mean things can’t change. Workers and workplaces are dynamic, and as lives change, so do the needs of the members. What worked in the 80s and 90s, may not work today.

Short term GAIN… long term PAIN

Sandy Green, In Solidarity

When I think of privatization, I can’t help but think of the 1979 movie, Norma Rae. I have only seen this movie once, and thirty five years later I can still remember it. That is how great of an impact that movie had on me. I am not an economist nor am I a politician, but I can tell you what will happen if our government privatizes services.

Privatization means the transfer of government goods and/or services to private ownership and operation. Over and over, the privatization of public resources has proven that the taxpayers lose. Every time.

The goal of any privately-run business is to make as much money as possible. Capitalism is the motivator. Greed. Profits are achieved by cutting services, lowering wages, and by eliminating or reducing employee benefits, pension plans and vacation. This leads to unacceptable working conditions and most importantly lack of qualified, knowledgeable and experienced employees. When standards are lowered, services are lowered, and society’s most vulnerable—children, elderly, disabled and disadvantaged—will face compromised care.

The government would have you believe that the sale of service makes sense for you, the taxpayer. They sell an asset or service for a large sum of money to lower our deficit. Makes sense, right? However it is short-sighted planning. The taxpayers will no longer receive any more dividends, income or profit from this service. Privatization is similar to taking a buyout from your employer. You take a lump sum of money, leave your place of employment, and give up your benefits, pension, vacation, sick leave and future income. Once the money is gone, it is gone. Why would a company be interested in purchasing a government service unless it was going to make a substantial amount of money?

Is privatization worth it? We can look at recent examples of government privatizing services such as: the Walkerton PUC; the recent gas plant scandal (cancelled contracts to private contractors cost taxpayers billions); Highway 407; road repair and maintenance. All these services ended up costing tax payers billions of dollars to fix, not to mention that the poor service that was delivered cost people their lives, health and well-being. When services are being delivered for profit, they are not as good. Period. Canadians, and in particular Ontarians, are known throughout the world as having excellent health care. I am not ready to give up these quality services for lesser, possibly more expensive ones. I’m thinking quality not quantity here. It is not worth it.

The example that always seems to come up in favour of privatization is liquor stores. Many people feel that the price of alcohol and beer would be lowered. This was not the case in Alberta. When the selling of alcohol and beer became private, the cost went up. LCBO staff are trained to recognize inebriated clientele, to diligently ask for identification, and they do not sell to anyone they feel are drunk or underage. LCBO staff members have the right to call the police or 911 if necessary. A privately owned LCBO will want to maximize profit. They will sell beer and alcohol in corner stores and grocery stores. Do you actually think the store owner will be diligent in checking and verifying age requirements if it means losing a sale? If you are a parent who has lost a son, daughter, spouse or friend because of a drunk driver I would be concerned. The LCBO makes about $1.7 billion per year. A part of this substantial profit per year could all disappear if LCBO is privatized.

Minimum wage, poor service, lack of concern, greed, poor working conditions and lower standards: That’s what privatization means to me.

My OPSEU family

Kathryn Weston, Special to In Solidarity

Since I can remember, my mom has brought me to lots of demonstrations, rallies, various social justice events and, of course, union meetings.

Since my mom became a part of OPSEU, I have attended even more events and meetings with her, including Local and Area Council meetings, two Women’s Conferences, CLC Women’s School and two Conventions. I have learned lots, though sometimes it may not be that exciting. These meetings and conferences show the solidarity of OPSEU. I have also learned that there are many different types of people that are part of OPSEU and everyone has equal rights. Their voices are respected. 

 During the last Women’s Conference I had the opportunity to sell wild rice and all the money raised went to Fort Albany. I felt this was me reaching out to other women that I hadn’t even met. During convention, I met people from different regions, locals, town, cities and even countries. I enjoy listening to people talk and sharing their experiences. At the Provincial Women’s Committee Breakfast, I watched various women be recognized for their contributions within their regions. I was moved by Shannon Nolan when she won the Bread & Roses Award for her contribution to Malawi and ensuring they have clean water there.

I love that my mom is an activist, and a union member. I wouldn’t change a minute of it. I consider OPSEU my family.

Voice lessons

Verne Saari, In Solidarity

Our provincial election has come and gone, and we all know the result. No, I will not be beating the drum about which party should have been or could have been…etc.

What I am going to share is that for the first time in my life, politics interfered with a friendship. This came as a total shock to me, and I have to say it was not pleasant. I had shared what I thought to be mild and informative OPSEU posts (placed on a popular social media network) in regard to the support we gave to the New Democratic Party. I provided no rants, no vote for this or that party— none of the diatribe one would expect from a union activist and contributor to a union publication. I just shared some posts.

I must admit that I was never the type to push my opinion on anyone, and I’ve avoided conflict as much as I could. Yet, here it was. I had publicly posted my support only to have a friend challenge what I had placed. Initially I did not know how to react. I kept turning over in my thoughts how I should reply. Each time I came to a decision, I thought of the ramifications. So many scenarios, all dependent on my choice of words.

I finally decided to do nothing.

I spoke with a trusted senior citizen friend on this matter (my dad) and he was quite surprised that I could be so easily rattled by the news that someone had a political opinion that differed from my own and that I could be somewhat bothered by it. His thoughts were that if one is willing to publicly proclaim his or her support to a political party, then one must also be willing to discuss with any challengers why it is that one supports said party. He noted I should be careful, though, as it is one topic that can cause much turmoil.

That being said…I did nothing. I chickened out, as it were. I avoided the conflict, once again. I did, however, reply to a comment made to me on election night in reference to the ideology that we would awaken with a new government in Ontario (interpreted as Progressive Conservative). My reply was this: “We shall see.” Just three words. At that time it was all I could think of which could be as neutral as possible, all while trying to avoid any possible conflict regardless of the outcome of the vote returns. Of course I did not want to be the raving political commentator and force my ideals upon anyone else, let alone a good friend.

 One day post-election, and my friend was quite silent on the aforementioned social media site. Yet again, I was torn. Should I message my friend to gloat? I immediately felt a sense of shame at my own petty feelings of wanting to lash out at someone who basically had only shown support to a political party of his choice and was also not shy in sharing that viewpoint. Was I trying to somehow make myself feel better for having a lack of voice? In retrospect, I suppose my lesson in this experience will be that maybe I do need to break out of my neutrality and find that more audible personage that I seem to be lacking.

Living in a democratic society such as we have here in Canada allows us the right to vote for whom we want and to vocalize our support We are able to do so as these are a couple of the many rights we hold as citizens of our great country.

I assume that any member who has taken the time to read this far into my musing must have voted.

So how about you, my fellow OPSEU members? Will you find that voice?

I can only hope that we can all find that voice and be the impetus our province and our country so desperately needs. To help make positive change to ensure that rights for everyone are protected and to help make our province, and our country, an even better place to live through our actions and deeds. We are the people helping make this province work for the greater good of all its peoples. Ontario needs us.

I thank you.

Workplace Harassment Check Up

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

August will mark 22 years for me as a college professor and OPSEU member.

Twenty-two years. Wow.

As corny as it sounds, I remember getting the offer of employment. Why do I remember that so clearly? You see, right after I got off the phone, after the reality of my first grown-up job had sunk in, I turned to my boyfriend (now husband) and proudly proclaimed that this job had better provide happiness as I would be damned if I was going to drag myself into a job I hated day after day. I warned him that if I ever felt I hated my job that he would be responsible for supporting me. My promise to myself (and threat to my husband) rings true to this day.

Luckily for him, miserable days for me have been few. For twenty-two years I have been happy in my employment. I love the energy I get from my students, and I value the friendships I have made with staff and faculty over the years. My job is busy, and sometimes people and their actions suck my will to live, but I go to work willingly each day.

However, that’s not to say that I haven’t had a few close calls with undesirable situations, and when in those situations, I was glad my college had in place a clearly-written, respectful workplace policy.

I would think that we could agree that on most days, most employees get along fairly well in their workplaces, non? However, it would be short sighted for me to think that every relationship in every workplace is honkey donkey all of the time. I hear of ill treatment of others, and when I do, I refer them to our college policy. Upon further reading, I’ve found some solid information from our OPSEU resources. According to the OPSEU policy on bullying and psychological harassment, no one needs to put up with bullying or a poisoned workplace.

How do you know when you are being bullied or when you may be just sensitive? According to OPSEU’s policy for the workplace, bullying and psychological harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct, comments, actions or gestures that affect an employee’s dignity, psychological or physical health and well-being.”

The OPSEU website also provided the following:

Bullying and psychological harassment are often characterized through insulting, hurtful, hostile, vindictive, cruel or malicious behaviours which undermine, disrupt or negatively impact another’s ability to do his or her job and results in a harmful work environment for the employee(s).

Bullying and psychological harassment can take many forms and may occur when the behaviour or conduct:

  • would reasonably tend to cause offense, discomfort, humiliation or embarrassment to another person or group;
  • has the purpose or effect of interfering with a person’s work performance;
  • creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile or offensive work environment

Although there can be no exhaustive list, examples of behaviour and impact that may signify bullying or psychological harassment include, but are not limited to:

Behaviours

  • insulting or derogatory remarks, gestures or actions
  • rude, vulgar language or gestures
  • malicious rumours, gossip or negative innuendo
  • verbal aggression and/or verbal abuse
  • shouting, yelling
  • swearing, name-calling
  • glaring or staring
  • outbursts or displays of anger directed at others
  • targeting an individual through persistent, unwarranted criticism
  • public ridicule
  • verbal, written or physical threats and intimidation
  • mobbing and/or swarming
  • misuse of power or authority
  • isolation and/or exclusion from work-related activities

Impact

  • undermines
  • humiliates
  • offends
  • embarrasses
  • intimidates
  • threatens
  • frightens
  • demotivates
  • demoralizes

Can cause:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • emotional distress
  • physical distress
  • low morale
  • inability to perform work tasks
  • absenteeism
  • loss of productivity
  • turnover

I know this information isn’t likely news to many of you, but I think we all could use a little reminder once in a while of how we should be treated in our workplaces (and how we should treat others). Sometimes, the effects of ill treatment sneaks up on us, and sometimes, those doing the harassing are quite clever, thus making it hard for us to put our finger on what is not sitting well with us.

Anyhow, I wish all of you respect in your workplaces; however, if your Spidey sense is telling you something isn’t quite right, and you think you could be being harassed or bullied, check out your workplace and the OPSEU website for more information on various policies, and by all means, contact a union steward.

Supporting your child’s education

Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity

Well, it’s that time of year again. The kids are going back to school, and parents are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Some parents are anyway. With the rising cost of tuition and the ongoing underemployment of young workers, perhaps you are already worrying about next year’s tuition bill. While you may have missed some deadlines to apply for this year, please considering supporting your student’s application for the 2015-2016 school year. Below is a list of scholarships that are offered from OPSEU:

The Larry Cripps Scholarship Fund

The OPSEU Executive Board unanimously approved an annual bursary/scholarship of $1,000 to be awarded in the memory of Brother Larry Cripps, a Correctional Officer and longtime union activist who died in 2004.

Who can apply:

The scholarship is open to dependents of OPSEU members in good standing who are studying at a publicly-funded, publicly-run post-secondary institution in Ontario. Please submit your relationship to an OPSEU member and the number of his/her Local on your application form.

To receive the scholarship, the student must be confirmed as enrolled in either a Police Foundations Course or a Law and Security/Corrections course.

OPSEU Global Solidarity Scholarships

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union offers ten scholarships annually to support our goals of social justice and global solidarity for the working class.

Our fund offers children, foster children or wards of OPSEU members in good standing an opportunity to win a $1,000 scholarship towards post-secondary education in a publicly-funded, recognized Canadian university or college.

OPSEU has made the fight against HIV/AIDS a top priority in our work towards a healthier international community by adopting the Live and Let Live Fund as part of our responsibility as a trade union.

HIV/AIDS activism and international worker solidarity across borders are the foundation of the OPSEU scholarships. We will ask our applicants to tell us about them in essay format, along with a summary of their personal involvement in helping to build our communities.

Who can apply:

Applicants must be children, foster children or wards of OPSEU members in good standing. Please submit your relationship to an OPSEU member and the number of his/her Local on your application form.

At least five of the 10 scholarships will be awarded to students who identify as representing equity-seeking groups: racialized workers, Aboriginal workers, workers with disabilities; LGBTTIQQ2S (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, transsexual, intersexed, queer, questioning, and two-spirited) workers, francophone workers and women workers. Applicants should acknowledge their eligibility for this equity qualification on their application form, if applicable.

Curt Bishop Scholarship Fund

Annually OPSEU offers a scholarship up to $1,000, in part or whole, in the memory of Curt Bishop, a long-time union health and safety activist who passed away on June 30, 2008. 

As a member of the Corrections division, Local 678 (Algoma Treatment and Remand Centre), Curt understood that improvements in workplace health and safety come only through worker action and effort. For more than two decades, Curt dedicated himself at both the local and provincial levels to the struggles of OPSEU members to achieve safer and healthier workplaces. 

Who can apply:

Open to dependents of OPSEU members in good standing who are studying at a publicly funded, publicly run post-secondary institution in Ontario.

HPD Scholarship Fund

The Hospital Professionals Division offers seven scholarships (one per region) of $750 each annually to students who are entering professions within the HPD.

Who can apply:

The scholarship is open to OPSEU members or their dependents who are enrolled in a publicly-funded, recognized Canadian university or college. If you are a dependent of an OPSEU member, please submit the member’s name, your relationship him or her, and the number of his or her Local on your application form.

To receive the scholarship, the student must be confirmed as enrolled in a Hospital Professional program.

The Carol McGregor Scholarship

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union offers an annual scholarship of $1,500 in the memory of Carol McGregor, a longtime union activist on disability rights issues, who died in 2006.

Who can apply:

This scholarship is open to children of OPSEU members.

The recipient must have a visible or invisible disability and be pursuing post-secondary education at a publicly-funded university, community college or trades program. Extra consideration will be given to students who have participated in a collective action or community organizing on disability or human rights issues.

There are many other ways to assist with the financing of your child’s post-secondary education.  The following websites will help to get you started:

http://opseu.org/content/scholarships

www.nupge.ca/scholarships

Canada’s shame is the Harper Regime’s gain

Dave Lundy, Executive Board Member

“I will never forget that Adolfo (my husband) gave his life and blood for this land, and I will do the same.” — Angelico Choc.

Adolfo was an outspoken local community leader who stood up against the Canadian-based HUDBAY mining development in his home country of Ecuador. His courageous leadership ended when he was targeted and murdered by machete, near his home village. His murder remains unsolved. His wife continues to fight for the very basic right for their community to even exist.

On Friday May 2nd, I attended the Mining Watch Annual Meeting—a non-governmental organization (NGO) group that OPSEU supports with an annual donation—as the Board’s elected representative to OPSEU’s International Humanity Work. What I heard, what was reported, the pictures, the eyewitness accounts, as well as the written reports, was a shocking, eye-opening glimpse into the sordid world of Stephens Harper’s utter destruction of Canada’s international image.

Our national media often reminds us of the fact that Canadian mining companies lead the world in extractive technologies, explorations and resource development, and that the Canadian companies publicly traded here on Canadian stock exchanges are among the most profitable in the world. What we are not informed about is the all too often horrific toll that local people and local environments are forced to shoulder to deliver those profits. Nor are we as Canadians made aware of the role the Harper government plays in ensuring those profits.

It was reported during this meeting that in Mexico, Canadian Embassy officials met with local anti-mining activists specifically to spy on them. The Canadian Embassy official then turned over the information they gained from meeting with these activists to the Canadian Mining firms operating in the area. These companies in turn handed the information over to right-wing paramilitary organizations so the “problems” could be dealt with.

In Papua, New Guinea, Barrick Gold is exploiting a huge local remote gold deposit. Barrick Gold is not even bothering with developing a tailings pond and is instead contaminating the country’s third largest watershed with its arsenic-laced runoff, while the solid tailings are literally spilling into the village. In a development approved of by our Federal government, Barrick Gold has moved aggressively into the development of non-judicial grievance mechanisms to deal with complaints. Essentially what this means is that in exchange for signing over all rights to sue in court (any court), local citizens are offered chickens, and used clothing.

Many may not be shocked by what they have read thus far, since this is the same Harper Regime that denies climate change exists, subsidizes Tar Sands development, guts environmental protections, labels environmentalists as terrorists, and is attempting to force pipelines and tanker traffic through communities regardless of massive local opposition. Obviously, contempt for local peoples is not confined to foreign jurisdictions.

Ontario’s Ring of Fire is one such instance. I listened with rapt interest as local First Nations Leaders and legal activists answered a long held question of mine: “Why did so many of our First Nations peoples sign treaties that are so often against their own best interest?” At the time, over 100 years ago when these treaties were signed, First Nations Leaders often could not read English, and even for those who could the treaties where written in legalese. When they rightfully grew suspicious of what they were being asked to sign, they were assured verbally that they would retain all their traditional rights to the land. In short it looks like they were deliberately mislead…no, lied to…about the contents of what they were signing. We know this because of recently unearthed diaries written at the time by government negotiator Daniel MacMartin. These diaries are now being used to challenge the treaties and the rights it bestows on governments and mining companies to exploit mineral resources. We can expect lengthy court battles and public demonstrations before the Ring of Fire is ever begun to be developed. If you want to learn more, search the YouTube video “Oral Promises, Broken Promises.”

The Canadian flag used to be worn on shoulder patches, luggage and backpacks with a source of pride by Canadians travelling abroad. We were seen as the good guys, a country with the moral conviction not to put profit before people. That is no longer true. One anecdotal story shared at the Mining Watch meeting was especially disheartening.

“When travelling in Central America we heard from a Canadian traveler in Guatemala. He was told by locals that they knew ‘a Canadian’ was travelling in the area and that they ‘were working on a lynching’.” 

As a union, OPSEU can be rightfully proud of the positive impact our very small donation has abroad, yet as always there is more we could do. The Harper Regime has sold Canada’s well-earned international reputation for campaign contributions and for the quarterly profit statements of Canadian mining interests. Once Harper is gone it will take decades to earn back the trust that was so casually tossed away. In the meantime, OPSEU members can rightfully claim that Harper’s values are certainly not the same values that we as Canadian union sisters and brothers hold dear.

What part of HUMAN does Human Resources not get? 

Sandy Green, In Solidarity

Terms like discrimination, conflict of interest, non-compliance, professional ethics and harassment have all been used to describe how colleges, businesses and companies are using third-party medical organizations to re-assess an employee’s medical condition. This is AFTER a certified physician or specialist has already seen, diagnosed, treated and given a prognosis on this employee. The Colleges use the well-known excuse that the employee’s physician does not give sufficient information and therefore they have the right to call in a third-party medical company. In my case, the company was Toronto-based Morneau Shepell. This name is notorious to college employees. Morneau Shepell has denied employees accommodations and sick leave, and has ordered employees back to work…often going against the employee’s general practitioner or specialist. They justifying this by stating that the “information provided was insufficient.” According to Human Resources, an employer, particularly one who is paying for the employee’s sick leave, is entitled to sufficient information up to and including third-party assessment.

Many employees say they are harassed into signing a Freedom of Information form allowing Morneau Shepell to investigate their medical condition with the physician. Morneau Shepell sends your doctor a one or two page information sheet to fill out. Morneau Shepell indicates that they contact your doctor by phone but, in my experience this was not the case. I have been told by many physicians that they will not speak to this type of company over the telephone as their words get “twisted” around. I was not seen by a doctor, nor did I speak to a doctor. I spoke to a nurse, hired by Morneau Shepell, who apparently brought my information to a panel of doctors who then overturned my physician’s orders regarding my return to work schedule.

 Morneau Shepell promises companies that they have a proven return on investment and they will reduce absenteeism by 10 per cent. Since Morneau Shepell is paid for by the employer, how could this not be considered a conflict of interest? Their evaluation system is definitely flawed and many complaints have been filed against them. I wonder what the College and Physicians and Surgeons think about a credited, knowledgeable, experienced doctor’s ethics, patient care and treatment being challenged, questioned and overturned. In essence, they are saying your doctor is not qualified to make this kind of diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. I have had the same doctor for over 30 years. I guarantee my doctor knows me a lot better than a nurse that I have never met and spoken too only once over the phone.

Is using a third-party medical company a violation of your Human Rights? Is it discrimination? Are accommodation laws being broken? These are all questions in which the answers seem elusive.

Our College has no directive, plan or guidelines in place as to whom and why employees are sent to Morneau Shepell for further medical investigation. Human Resources can send whomever they want to Morneau Shepell and, in my experience, they are the employees that have illnesses you cannot see. Mental illnesses seem to be their number one target. The added stress and anxiety that I experienced because of this company was enough to add weeks on to my recovery process.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that employers have a “duty to accommodate…the needs of persons with disabilities must be accommodated in the manner that most respects their dignity.” Arbitration hearings have established that “Unions can raise human rights issues in any workplace grievance process…human rights must be respected in every workplace process…human rights, principles and, in particular, the duty to accommodate is relevant.” Having neither rhyme nor reason as to the selection criteria of who the Colleges send to a third-party medical company is unacceptable and an open door for discrimination to take place.

On our college’s website under Accessible Services for Colleges, Customer Service Standards states to “Recognize and Respond” to the following Disabilities:

  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  • Deaf Blind
  • Intellectual/Development
  • Learning
  • Mental Health
  • Physical/Mobility
  • Speech/Language
  • Vision Loss
  • Other (temporary or permanent, visible or non-visible, may include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, kidney disease, allergies, cardiovascular problems, seizure disorders, cancer, diabetes and HIV infections – these disabilities may affect a person’s cognitive and physical abilities)

Using a third-party medical company that does not recognize and respecting a doctor’s orders and that has the reputation and proven lack of concern for employees health and well-being, that promises to save Colleges money by reducing sick leave benefits is the exact opposite of what Colleges directives, rules and regulations state. The Colleges core values are “Caring, Learning, Integrity and Respect.” Isn’t a company’s best asset its employees? This underhanded treatment of employees is deceptive, wrong and a misrepresentation of most workplace goals, attitudes and beliefs.

What are you doing after work? Being retirement ready

Anita O’Keefe, Local 110

I am still not sure how they got my e-mail address. Perhaps it was my guardian angel.

In the midst of all the chaos, fear of the unknown and the bureaucratic jungles that came with preparing for my retirement, there came an invitation to join a day-and-a-half course offered on the weekend by local volunteers from CURC, the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada. Right from the beginning it was a combination of “down home” hospitality and hard-nosed facts.

I soon realized there would be more than just showing up. Once I had confirmed my attendance (Oh by the way did I mention it was free?) one of the three facilitators, Elaine McMurray, sent me homework to do. If I was to get the most out of the workshop, then I needed to collect some information, such as my latest CAAT pension statement, my present monthly expenses, and my estimated monthly expenses once I retired.

The learning objectives were designed by those who had walked this path before me and who knew how I was feeling and what I needed to know:

  • Have a general knowledge of the range of issues to be considered in planning retirement.
  • Have a set of major goals for retirement, in consultation with a spouse or partner where there is one. (Oh did I mention your spouse or partner could attend for free as well?)
  • Know what questions to ask to gain the knowledge needed to pursue the goals set (this was so helpful when I met with HR, my financial advisor and when I went looking for the best fitting health care benefit plan).
  • Know where to seek the answer to questions. (Now I have a very valuable and long list of people, places, phone numbers, e-mails and websites that will help me through the coming jungles.)

All these objectives were achieved and with flying colours.

Our course agenda also included sections on Finances:

  • Income from workplace pension plans, from the government (OAS and CPP) and paid work.
  • How to calculate our “net worth” by having us review our assets, liabilities and tax breaks and credits for retirees.
  • How to calculate our retirement income, our retirement expenses (glad I did my homework) and elder financial abuse.

And we learned about so much more. Through presentations, group work and lively discussions we covered life retirement goals, issues for women in retirement, changes in our personal and working relationships, activities and leisure time, our emotional and mental health, elder abuse, legal planning (including powers of attorney and wills), and grappling with the question of our changing identity and who we would be in retirement and beyond.

Each participant received a treasure in the form of a “participant manual,” a true survival guide covering each topic in depth (no charge!).

What I cannot show you on paper is the energy, the devotion, expertise and the compassion of our three facilitators. Perhaps I can give an example. On our first day, a few questions were raised that the facilitators did not feel they had the expertise to answer correctly. They created a “parking lot” list of these questions. When we arrived the second day, there were handouts waiting for us with the answers. After a long first day these amazing volunteers went home, called lawyers, researched websites and even consulted with union presidents to bring us the answers.

I am most grateful to our three volunteer facilitators: Elaine McMurray, CUPW retiree; Mary Ellen McDermott, CUPW retiree; and Heather McMichael, OPSEU retiree, and also to the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada who make these workshops possible. It was a “no brainer” for me to decide to join CURC. No, membership is not free but a bargain at $20 per year.

If you are looking to help yourself and others plan for retirement then please consider what CURC has to offer. The web site for the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada is www.unionretirees.ca.

Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Thousands of OPSEU members are college teachers and support staff. Many more have children in schools, colleges and universities. We all have a stake in the future of education in Ontario. That’s why Henry Giroux’s most recent book (one of almost sixty) is so important.

Neoliberalism is the dominant political ideology among senior government and corporate leaders. It has core values that are shared by the American Tea Party, Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives and Stephen Harper’s base. They include resentment of government, public investment, social programs and social diversity. They promote corporate profit, individual selfishness, the “market” and the idea that education should just be training for jobs that pay less for more.

Henry Giroux believes that education should be more. As a working-class kid, he got to college on a basketball scholarship (at 70, he still looks fit enough to be a potent point guard) and went on to became the post prolific critical thinker in North American education.

Giroux denies that education can be separated from a sense of social justice, something that neoliberals don’t merely ignore, but actually fear. In Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education, he knits together a critique of education under increasing corporate control of everything from textbooks to research agendas and offers a positive vision of what education could be.

As well as vocational training, education is a moral and a political project. Morally, it should help young people to distinguish between right and wrong; politically, it should help them to promote what is good and discourage what is bad— ethically, economically and environmentally—while growing as competent workers and citizens.

Giroux writes honestly and effectively. He offers insight, inspiration and hope—rare among critics of education and precious to anyone who believes that education matters. At $17, this may be the biggest book bargain of the year.

Henry A. Giroux, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2014), 258 pages. ISBN 9781171131124.

Public Sector Unions in an Age of Austerity

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

The history of trade unions once witnessed the evolution of craft unions from the old “Guilds” as they adapted to free market capitalism. What followed was the mass organization of industrial workers in the factories of the 19th and 20th centuries. Now, the most vital part of the labour movement is the public sector, and OPSEU is helping make a new labour history as we face 21st century challenges.

Clear and concise, Ross and Savage have edited an excellent account of the issues facing all public sector workers. They “contextualize” public sector unions by showing the dilemmas we face when “the boss is the state” and can legislate a “contract” if negotiations aren’t to their liking.

They deal with the larger issue of political power, especially by focusing how public sector workers are uniquely able to address our working conditions and relate them to the public good. Although wedge politicians once capitalized on false stereotypes of lazy, overpaid civil servants, Tim Hudak paid the price when Ontario citizens woke up to the importance of those 100,000 jobs he said he’d cut. They decided that OPSEU and others provided critical services and shouldn’t be blamed for management corruption and incompetence.

The contributors also examine specific parts of the public sector—social services, nursing and education—to show how workers can develop relations with citizens and with other unions to build a broad, progressive movement as well as a strong system of collective bargaining.

Woven through the book is the issue of electoral politics. Just as the craft and industrial unions faced the question of how to use their power effectively, OPSEU must constantly revisit our political strategies. The insights in this book will help is do exactly that.

Stephanie Ross & Larry Savage, eds., Public Sector Unions in an Age of Austerity (Halifax: Fernwood Press, 2013), 160 pages. ISBN 9781552665848.

Zombies…They’re everywhere!

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

My local president brought to my attention an interesting book review from the March 2014 Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Bulletin. Zombies in The Academy—Living Death in Higher Education (Whelan, Walker, & Moore, 2013) seems like a particularly good read. However, those of us living what is described here may not want to have affirmed what we see every day.

This book by a group of Australian academics is a collection of essays. The ideas are not new as many books written over the last several years have documented our stressed post secondary education system.

According to these authors, however, higher education is not merely sick but has “joined the ranks of the walking undead—colleges and universities are now filled with zombies.”

Why the zombie metaphor? Faculty’s inability to think, their loss of individual control, and contagion all lead to feeling of loss of control and autonomy over our teaching.

What led to this zombie apocalypse? According to the authors, changes in 1990s leading to the corporatizing of higher education have turned learners into customers. Teachers are described as “lumpenproletariat,” and students who can afford it, shop for their education.

The authors continue: devices that originally vitalized the classroom have become dead as they “nullify the human input of the individual teacher,” and the “live interaction of the seminar system has been supplanted by the stunted interactions of online discussion boards.”

Also of interest is the “audit culture” described. What can’t be measured can’t be managed, so we are inundated with surveys, key performance indicators (KPIs), and outcomes so that “managing a university faculty, a psych ward, or a mincemeat production line becomes identical.”

On the plus side, some of the essays offer hope outlining that the zombie is inherently disinterested in the allure of corporate, consumer culture and that the zombie can resist.

For those of us in the CAAT-A bargaining unit, hopefully our contract negotiations and our desire for increased academic freedom and control over our teaching will help quell this zombie apocalypse.