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inSolidarity, Spring 2022: The latest news and insights from your inSol team

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Editor’s Message: Thank you

Thank you to all the workers who have kept Ontario running by continuing to provide public services throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic. The past two years have been nothing short of awful. Citizens of the world have wrestled with striking a balance between participating in the economy and protecting themselves and their families against the illness that has claimed millions of lives globally.

Thank you to all the OPSEU/SEFPO members, staff and activists in the greater labour movement who have endured almost insurmountable challenges maintaining activism both inside and outside their locals. You adapted from in-person meetings to virtual meetings. You continued to challenge the government and employers while placing an increased emphasis on the health and welfare of members. You have arranged phone calls, check-in’s, Zoom socials and even co-ordinated banging pots and pans with entire communities to honour pandemic heroes.

The pandemic helped society realize the value of every worker in every profession. From day care workers and teachers to retail workers, postal services and cleaners – the essential worker roster is simply too lengthy to list. We learned we are all equally important to keep society functioning. This time period has helped people realize the workers of society are the pillars of the economy, not the ruling class looking down from their boardrooms.

This renewed class conscience has fuelled a barrage of low-paid workers to walk off the job, forcing employers to offer much better wages. North American governments everywhere have had to respond by increasing minimum wage to prevent uprisings in other areas of the labour force. Workers coming together forced employers and governments to do better. There is a lesson here and it’s simple: Workers can incite change together. People will support workers and fair wages if the labour movement provides an outlet to funnel the energy against neoliberalism and austerity. The path is there; we only need to get on it.

As we enter Summer, there’s a sense of real optimism. COVID-19 appears to be in the rearview mirror and life is getting back to normal. The past two years were tough, but we are stronger because of them. Let’s use this strength to keep fighting the good fight.

– Craig Hadley

Inclusion for all: accommodation at OPSEU/SEFPO events

by Dan McKnight

As members of OPSEU/SEFPO/SEFPO, we have the opportunity to join in many excellent events. There are various meetings, educational events, campaigns, etc. We are stronger as a union when everyone has the chance to participate. It’s important we accommodate the needs of our members so we have a union where there is inclusion for all.

Some members have physical challenges that could limit their ability to participate in the many activities of our Union. OPSEU/SEFPO/SEFPO is committed to providing services in a way that ensures accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. Reasonable efforts will be made to ensure that:

  • Persons with disabilities are provided equal opportunity to obtain, use and benefit from OPSEU/SEFPO’s services;
  • Services are provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of persons with disabilities;
  • Communications with a person with a disability are conducted in a manner that takes the person’s disability into account;
  • Persons with disabilities may use assistive devices, service animals and support persons as is necessary to access our services unless superseded by other legislation.

When I first got active in OPSEU/SEFPO as a steward, I became aware of the many excellent training courses OPSEU/SEFPO had available. Many of these courses are available as educationals hosted by the seven regions in OPSEU/SEFPO. There are also other educational opportunities, like Editor’s Weekend, to which OPSEU/SEFPO members from across the province can apply to attend.

At the last Editor’s Weekend held in December 2019, I requested accommodation. There is a form to complete that tells OPSEU/SEFPO what support is needed. In my case, I requested accommodation for a hearing disability. I use hearing aids to hear. However, hearing aids do not work well when there are competing sounds. My accommodation allowed me to sit closer to the front of the class so I could hear the instructor clearly and to reduce background noises so they did not interfere with my ability to hear the instructor’s voice.

I’m happy to say these accommodations allowed me to be included in this excellent OPSEU/SEFPO event. I learned many good skills which I’ve applied to enhance communications in my local.

I encourage all OPSEU/SEFPO members with accommodation needs to not let barriers stop you from participating in OPSEU/SEFPO events. Let OPSEU/SEFPO know what your accommodation needs are. OPSEU/SEFPO is committed to addressing your accommodation needs so that you can be included. OPSEU/SEFPO benefits from your engagement and active participation. You can also benefit from the many social and educational opportunities OPSEU/SEFPO provides.

Accommodation is inclusion. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Jilted or Gilted: A change in perspective

by Marilyn Ott

Do you sometimes feel jilted, or gilted? Did you ever wonder why?

For those of you who are scrabble players, “gilted” is a recognized scrabble word, meaning that something is covered with a thin layer of gold or something that looks like gold. Jilted, on the other hand, is the term given when something or someone is rejected or abandoned, especially if it is done quickly and with an element of surprise.

These two words are so similar, yet have vast different meanings. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum. While one term may conjure visions of a precious gem or something valued, the other word may bring up connotations of something that is useless or discarded.

As one ponders life, and circumstances, that are often beyond our control, I urge you to look at the first letter or the scenario that you are dealing with and ask yourself, is there another letter there?

Stepping back and changing your perspective may change the situation from a “J” to a “G”. It may change the meaning of the circumstance for you, or it may change the “asset” value of the situation for you.

Just a thought to ponder, as we all navigate our way through these days: could you replace a “J” with a “G”?

Quiet assertiveness: Does that even exist?

by Cindy Divert, Local 528

I thought about that as I left a work meeting where I was somewhat “praised” for my work, but criticized for my lack of loudness and assertiveness.

As an introvert, you’re always trying to find your place in the corporate world. It seems like you’re in a classroom, sitting in the back row and raising your hand to get the teacher’s attention, and it isn’t noticed. I still struggle with that feeling in work meetings where my assertiveness isn’t always shown. My voice matters and I have a say, but because I’m naturally not a loud person, it’s often heard softly. Do you always need to be loud to be a leader? Can you be assertive without being loud?

An introvert doesn’t necessarily like the spotlight (I know I don’t!), but you can be a quiet leader, like the author Susan Cain who wrote the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Barack Obama identifies as an introvert and so does Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, and Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. They are all smart, successful men who have been in the spotlight and are excellent and proficient leaders.

I’m certain that my introverted ways have made me observe things that may have been missed by others. My listening skills and ability to observe a situation before I dive in are something I bring to the table. Is it seen? Maybe, or maybe not. I may have to practise these skills in a louder manner. Being less “loud” is a trait and not a fault. It may take me more time to warm up to strangers or to lead a team, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have the abilities to do so. I rehearse what I have to say before saying it out loud, especially in a work setting. I practise my scenario in my head over and over before actually saying or doing it. I experience anxiety when thrown in a last-minute speaking engagement and being singled out in front of a crowd.

I think about introverted kids in classrooms who are probably always told to get out of their shells. They are most often overlooked for their lack of assertiveness. They grow up thinking that they lack competence because they’re not as bubbly as their classmates until they discover their true capabilities. Introverted kids are in tune with emotional cues and sensual details.

The assumption that introverts can’t be assertive is a myth. It may not come as easy as others but I have a few tips that I found have worked in the past:

  1. Get out of your head. I often repeat this to myself. It’s hard, but by jotting doing ideas or scenarios helps and maybe sharing it with someone could work.
  2. Be you. Forcing yourself to be something you’re not is a lot of work. Don’t apologize for your introverted ways.
  3. Share your observations. You may be surprised at how much you absorb.
  4. Be a better communicator. It takes awhile to contribute your ideas, but be transparent.
  5. Don’t let anyone dismiss your quiet assertiveness. Great ideas are often born in quiet corners.

The other side of the line

by Christina Chrysler

I was a relative union newbie in 2017 when college faculty across Ontario voted to strike. I was a contract employee, forced into “precarious” work, one of the key issues on the table. In fact, I didn’t have just one contract; I had five separate contracts so my employer could avoid awarding me a full-time position. I considered myself lucky.

Now full-time, once again I find myself reflecting on my strike experience.

When the announcement was made that we would go on strike in 2017, there was a feeling of apprehension but also an overall expectation that things would be okay. We’d never been on strike for long, apparently. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of the longest strikes in our history, lasting from October 16 to November 21.

I didn’t want to be on strike. As a single mother with no job security, I couldn’t afford to be either. My contracts outside of union protection were both a blessing and a curse. These contracts meant that I still had some income in addition to strike pay, but it also meant I had to cross my own picket line. I had to picket the same hours as full-time employees and then still work my other contracts. I wasn’t alone in this; many people worked other jobs. It was stressful and we were exhausted. However, while the experience was at times unpleasant, wet and cold, some really amazing things happened too.

We discovered that we had been working in silos. Suddenly, we were all in one place and we were talking. We commiserated and supported each other and, in so doing, relationships were formed. We didn’t just talk about what we were doing in the classroom; we were learning from each other ways to do our jobs better.

People put their skills to use, producing infographics and communicating between our campuses. Students were visiting and we were forming more meaningful relationships with them. Businesses donated food and other unions and locals joined us on the line as we walked in the cold. A community was forming.

We took turns bringing hot lunches to share, some members developed “play lists” to keep up morale, and our campus ran a “strike pool” (which I won and donated to the Student Emergency Relief Fund). Between the laughter, there were threats, assaults and a lot of name-calling towards us, but the community we formed made it somehow bearable.

I entered into the strike frustrated, resistant and even a little resentful of what I felt was being forced upon me. I didn’t understand the union, and I didn’t think I had a place in it. What I realized is that being a member is being part of something much bigger than I. I went from saying things like “I’m not a union person” to appreciating how truly fortunate I am to be a member. I now recognise that the action we take as a union has a ripple effect, creating change in legislation and working conditions across our country and around the world to the benefit of those who aren’t so fortunate.

In 1776, American political activist Thomas Paine wrote, “It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies; yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the forces of all the world”. Six months later, the Declaration of Independence was signed.

We all have the power to create change, even when it seems bigger than ourselves. As a workforce, we have the numbers, but as a union, we have solidarity.

Six young people hold placards as they stand side by side facing the camera
Local 417 members (Kingston campus)


Seven women (bending down) and one man upright smile at the camera and hold placards.
Local 417 members (Kingston campus) huddle


A man with a piracte hat and a woman smile at the camera. The woman holds a placard
Local 417 President Grant Currie and a member


Two young women excitedly raise their arms and yell at the camera
Local 417 members (Kingston campus)


Coping with the pandemic

by Michael Hamilton

COVID. It’s the word we are all sick of hearing and talking about.

Life for everyone changed when the world was forced to shut down because of COVID-19. In the last two years, we have had to make all types of changes to our lives with the way we interact and communicate with people. With restrictions easing up now, it seems like we are on the track to re-establishing what we lost in these last couple of years. With that being said, we have also established a new normal of how we communicate with people.

With everything that happened during the pandemic, a lot of the activities and social functions that we were all use to were put on hold. At the beginning, no one knew when and how long any of this would last. Two years later, with all of the rotating shutdowns and re-openings, it seems like there is light at the end of the tunnel. We were forced to change our habits, hobbies and overall perspective on life.

Personally, the last couple of years have been rough at times. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a very social person and I enjoy the company of others. I always believed in supporting local bars and restaurants, so it was a shock to me that I couldn’t do those things anymore. I’m also an avid poker player. I know gambling is still a taboo topic for many people, but I loved the experience of going down to Niagara Falls to play poker for a day or a weekend. That all stopped. It was a shock to my system. I’m not the type of person who can sit down in front of my TV and binge-watch shows all day. I need to be out among the rest of the world, interacting and socializing with people.

Don’t get me wrong: My whole life hasn’t been terrible the last couple of years. I actually found a long-lost hobby of Lego – Star Wars to be specific. Friends of mine on my various social media platforms have applauded the builds that I’ve done over the last couple of years. Lego allowed me to focus my mind and take away my thoughts of the struggles that have been taking place in the world.

I have found that even with the pandemic, people are determined to try and do better in their lives than what they were doing before COVID. Whether it be lifestyle or career changes, people now more than ever have a greater understanding of what they’re worth. For myself, I have become more involved in the union and activism than I ever thought I would be.

One door opens and another closes. Always try to keep a fresh outlook on life no matter how grim the situation may be because when you least expect it, an opportunity will be there for you to grasp and take hold of.

Marching forward

by Michael McClure

Our third year of Project Search at Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital got off to a fantastic start, despite the shifting sands of a pandemic, and we are grateful to the hospital for inviting us back for in-person learning during increasingly challenging times.

Project Search offers students with disabilities a total workplace immersion experience with a goal of competitive employment for every program graduate.

Our bright new interns of the program have embraced major changes in their young lives as they left the regular school environment and began to navigate a complex new environment while also contending with the impact of COVID-19. At time of writing, they will have already completed their first internship and embarked on the second leg of their Project Search journey. It’s clearly evident how their newly acquired skills are transferring to new environments and job duties. As we’ve experienced in past years, one department has even expressed interest in hiring one of our interns upon completion of the program.

We are so grateful to be onsite, but it hasn’t been business as usual. COVID-19 has brought about many operational changes including staff redeployment. We have had to remain very flexible and creative as we navigate a fluid environment. For example, one of our internships had to be placed on hold for safety reasons, but this challenge also presented an opportunity to explore, and ultimately develop, a blended internship to provide a rich learning experience for that intern. This will involve working in several different departments each day providing a fulsome experience across them all. Other departments have experienced such a significant increase in workload that they were unable to accommodate an intern and others have experienced a temporary but conversely reduced workload which is not conducive to a rich learning opportunity for an intern.

As new opportunities grow from new challenges, there are other highlights to note as well. Of particular significance is the addition of transportation services now available for our interns coming from the north (Acton and Georgetown). This service, offered through Activan, has been in the works for some time and, with the help of a Halton District School Board superintendent, are a great partnership was formed.

We also welcomed visitors from the Wellington Catholic District School Board and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board as the Ontario Ministry of Education begins to roll out Project Search across the province. The province has ambitious plans for Project Search, and we look forward to seeing how that unfolds.

As we enter the second and third internships we introduce resumes, cover letters, and interview skills in greater detail. All our interns prepare, practise and participate in actual interviews for their second internships. Resumes are also written and revised in preparation for those interviews and together form a foundation for later in the year when we begin to work closer with Community Living’s Xplore Employment team and explore real-world employment opportunities.

We’re so proud of our interns for the strength and resiliency they have demonstrated as we march forward into 2022. Their growth and development will no doubt continue throughout the second internship, and we are already looking ahead to the third prior to the exciting transition from graduation to paid employment through ongoing support from Community Living Oakville.

Eight S’s for happiness

by Rayman Yuang, Local 526

Life is a fun game, not a misery to be endured. Here’s simple and easy manual on how to play and win the Game of Life.

  1. Sleep

Quality sleep is the foundation of your health and well-being. Nothing – diets, nutrition, food choices and even exercises – beats a good night’s sleep to rejuvenate and recharge your energy.

Poor sleep can result in weight gain. It’s often the root cause of many ailments and discomforts, including mood-swings and depression.

  1. Serenity

Peace, inner or global.

Know that all is well, no one and nothing is broken and needs to be “fixed”. You are perfect as you are. Don’t be hard on yourself: Others’ comments and opinions about you are none of your business.

Don’t feel sorry for your past “mistakes” or ”failures”: what you could’ve/should’ve/would’ve done differently for a different or better result.

You did nothing wrong. In fact, you did your best under the circumstances back then. Remember, you can never fail: You either win or you learn.

  1. Smile

Enlightenment is to lighten up. Life is a fun game. Smile often! It makes yourself and everyone happier. Laughter and joviality are infectious and work wonders on your immune system. They also open doors to opportunities, attract favourable events and benefactors into your life. Don’t believe me? Try it, you will be pleasantly surprised.

One smile dispels 1,000 worries. One smile makes you 10 years younger. It’s the best cosmetic.

  1. Simple

Life is simple. Don’t complicate things.

Simple and polite answers are best. “Sorry, no,” is a perfect reply to panhandlers. “Why don’t you get off your ass and get a job like everyone else?” Not so much.

After your kids move out, consider downsizing to a smaller house.

De-clutter. Less is more. Cluttered closets lead to cluttered minds.

Donate the hundreds of pairs of shoes and clothes you haven’t worn in years.

  1. Slow

Contrary to common belief, we do have time – a lot of it, in fact. There’s no need to rush into anything.

Did you known that 96 per cent of all traffic accidents are related to human risk behaviour, where speed is a major factor? Slow down. Don’t try to beat that yellow light. Make sure to reach your destination alive and in one piece.

Take your time in breathing, eating, drinking, enjoying the view and smelling the roses along the way. Haste will not get you anywhere. More haste, less speed.

  1. Silence

Speech is silver; silence is golden.

Don’t offer unsolicited, unwelcome advice or make snide comments. Grandparents should not meddle with or lecture their children on how to raise and educate grandkids.

Disasters and conflicts start with careless mouths. Four horses can’t chase down a spoken word.

  1. Sports

Exercise releases endorphins that promote happiness. It gives you an immediate boost in mood and energy.

Our bodies consist of many parts and joints like machinery, all of which are subject to wear-and-tear. It’s important that we take good care of them while exercising so we can live long, healthy lives.

  1. Share/support

We humans are creatures who value and crave social interactions, emotional support and a sense of belonging.

Sharing and giving back benefits everyone, including yourself. It has a boomerang effect on the personal happiness scale.

For the common good, let’s share physical assets, wealth and property, or intangible knowledge and experience, and uplifting, feel-good stories.

As a parting thought, I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite quotes:

Stop existing (reactively by default). Start living (intentionally by design).

Wishing you a happier and more prosperous life, one day at a time, starting today.

Why is this newsletter called inSolidarity?

by Dan McKnight

“In our hands is placed a power” – Solidarity Forever

Why are we called inSolidarity? I believe I can answer that question.

I was on the original inSolidarity editorial board back in the mid-1990s. At that time, there was an initiative in OPSEU/SEFPO called Building Powerful Locals (BPL). The purpose of this initiative was to build a strong, member-driven union starting at the grassroots level.

To achieve this objective, the steward was recognized as the most important position in the union. The steward is in the workplace and hears the concerns of front-line workers. Stewards can connect members with the resources in OPSEU/SEFPO to address member issues. In addition to stewards, there are activists who support the union (e.g., trustees, health and safety reps, members who attend pro-union demonstrations, etc.). Stewards and activists are the building blocks for an effective grassroots union organization.

Given the importance of stewards and activists to the success of a strong, member-driven union, communication among these groups is also very important. Stewards and activists can learn from each other and form bonds through a shared understanding of the common struggles we face in the workplace. This is why OPSEU/SEFPO launched the inSolidarity newsletter. The purpose was to support stewards and activists by providing a forum of communication among the thousands of stewards and activists in OPSEU/SEFPO.

Effective member-to-member communication at the grassroots level helps build a stronger union. Over the years, the circulation of this newsletter has increased to be more inclusive of all members of OPSEU/SEFPO. Stewards and activists hold an important place in OPSEU/SEFPO, but the power of a union comes from the consent of as many members as possible.

But why call this member driven newsletter inSolidarity?

To answer that question, think about the huge size and diversity of OPSEU/SEFPO. These are two great advantages OPSEU/SEFPO has as a union. OPSEU/SEFPO is the largest union in Ontario with about 180,000 members. There really is strength in numbers. Those huge numbers of people, and the additional family and friends they also include, is an awesome power that can be organized to achieve great social, economic and political objectives for members.

In the union movement, our solidarity together is often our greatest strength. We come from very diverse workplaces, but we have common interests as workers. Our solidarity is what gives us the strength to overcome the many issues we face as workers. This is why inSolidarity is the perfect name for this newsletter. The articles we write  and the issues we communicate in this newsletter build solidarity throughout the OPSEU/SEFPO membership. As the lyrics in the traditional union song Solidarity Forever say, “In our hands is placed a power stronger than their hoarded gold”. If we communicate effectively with each other, member-to-member, then we will organize ourselves into a powerful force for positive change.

I’m happy to be writing for the inSolidarity newsletter again. I believe that effective communication between OPSEU/SEFPO members makes us a stronger union. The more we realize our common cause as workers, and the power of our solidarity together, the more successful we will be in overcoming the challenges we face.

Just like that old union song says “Solidarity forever, for the Union makes us strong”.

Mobilizing during a pandemic

by Michael Hamilton

To say it’s been easy to be a union activist during the pandemic would not be accurate. COVID-19 put up many roadblocks that union members are still dealing with, even as we see restrictions being lifted.

In the past, activists would be able to visit members and give out information on what is going on within the local and the union at large. Activists were forced to take a different route in interacting with the membership. A lot of the correspondence shifted to online platforms, for better or worse. The world as a whole was forced to shift to more digital platforms for forms of communication.

Before I continue, I need to express the views of this piece are strictly my own. My employer and the union negotiated a new collective bargaining contract in the spring of 2021. As stated earlier, it was hard to mobilize and have a conversation with members because of the COVID protocols in place. Even though members voted for the new contract by a vast majority, there was still dissention amongst some members, because they felt they were left out of the process of bargaining.

A lot of the communication was used through phone zaps, email and social media platforms. The pushback came from the members who weren’t strong using computers and other gadgets to receive their information. Even when local presidents held Zoom calls to give information about the bargaining process, for the most part the turnout was low. Again, members who had never used Zoom before felt the application wasn’t accessible enough for them to engage.

Just to clarify, my workplace has never closed since the pandemic started. We were shut down on Mondays at the beginning of the pandemic for about a year but we reopened in March of last year. I am a local president, and I’ve heard the complaints and the frustration from my members about the way the public has interacted with our workplace and the members. On top of that, Bill 124 made it impossible for our bargaining team to bargain for any kind of significant pay increases or pandemic pay. Our bargaining team did the absolute best they could with the hand they were dealt. The membership didn’t lose anything, and we made some small gains for our benefits package.

This has not been easy for anyone. I missed the fact that we, as mobilizers, couldn’t interact with our members on a more one-on-one level, as in the past. At the same time, it provided us new tools and resources to use for the next round of bargaining. One can hope by then that Bill 124 won’t exist anymore and there will be an understanding of the good work our members have continued to do since day one of the pandemic.

Social capital

by Marilyn Ott

Have you ever thought about the term or the concept of capital in terms of your social connections? You may indeed hold a wealth of capital in terms of your relationships, in terms of your contacts and in terms of your verbal skills. This was a new term to me, one I have grown to appreciate and nurture.

In all of our lives, there are situations we wish we could do something about. There are times when we wish we could help others. There are times when we wish we could just connect with someone and talk to them or tell them our story. I propose that when you do this – when you are able to do this – you are wealthy. You have social capital.

When you have the resources to talk to someone about an idea, when you have the resources to influence someone or when someone has the opportunity to influence you and your thinking, your life may actually be richer and more informed, and you may gain insight.

This does not mean that you would have to accept everything that someone has said to you, or that you would be able to influence others to the point where they do what you want them to. But it is a great opportunity to consider your assets and leave them there or invest further.

So the next time you are considering a decision or a task, reach into the social capital bank we all possess.