inSolidarity: Summer 2023 edition

OPSEU/SEFPO inSolidarity logo in white on blue background

Note: Due to circumstances beyond the control of the inSolidarity Committee, the publication of this issue, originally planned for Spring 2023, was significantly delayed. While some articles may reference earlier events, they are important stories that we are proud to bring to OPSEU/SEFPO members.

Editor’s message

Craig Hadley, inSolidarity Editor

We’re back!

I’d like to thank all the participants who attended Editors’ Weekend in November 2022, with special thanks to those who pledged to take back the communicator skills they learned to their locals. As union communicators we play a critical role to keep members informed, educated, and inspired to be the positive change your union needs you to be.

I would like to congratulate the new inSolidarity Committee which is a healthy mix of experience and newcomer enthusiasm. Congrats to Mike Hamilton, L376; Christina Chrysler, L417; Marilyn Ott, L110, and Lorinda Seward, L351, your 2022-24 inSolidarity Committee. Our Executive Board Liaison is Tara Maszczakiewicz and our OPSEU/SEFPO staff liaison is Communications Officer Michelle Langlois.

The committee will be returning to a hardcopy publication schedule while incorporating web publication for time sensitive stories at During Convention 2023, we published online daily updates for each day of Convention, including pre-Convention and Awards Night extras.

By using this hybrid publication medium, we will ensure the committee can meet event coverage publishing demands in a time-sensitive manner. I’m also excited to announce that the inSolidarity Committee has a budget that includes in-person event coverage. This means we’ll be able to cover more OPSEU/SEFPO events in person, which means better photos, better writing, and more exposure to all the hard work you put in as activists.

As always, we welcome any writing contributions you’d like to see published. Simply send the piece to: and please include your name and local number.

inSolidarity is a member-produced magazine that covers our stories, our work, and most importantly, our collective victories. Submissions can be politically-focused, but they can also be health and wellness pieces, personal anecdotes, poems even recipes for busy activists on the go. OPSEU/SEFPO’s inSolidarity magazine is yours and it should capture the uniqueness of our membership.

While your written submissions vary, the inSolidarity Committee has committed to delivering recurring columns in each magazine edition. The simple rationale: it’s hard for readers to develop favorite columns if the columns are not recurring. That means you can come to expect consistency in our work as we strive to keep you informed, educated and hopefully, laughing at some of our humour stories.

On behalf of the inSolidarity Committee I would like to thank our readership, Executive Board and OPSEU/SEFPO staff who make it all possible.

inSolidarity Committee. Back: Craig Hadley. Front, l-r: Michael Hamilton, Christina Chrysler, Lorinda Seward, Marilyn Ott, Tara Maszczakiewicz

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Get your inSolidarity news and information on the OPSEU/SEFPO website at

You’ll find articles from our print issues, online exclusives, full Convention coverage, inSolidarity Committee information, our editorial policy, and submission guidelines if you want to contribute an article to inSolidarity.

Intentional representation: Why the future of union leadership needs to be women

Lorinda Seward, inSolidarity Committee

In 2015 the newly elected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, unveiled his cabinet; a gender-balanced one where women held 15 of the 31 cabinet posts. When asked why parity was important to him, in front of a cheering crowd just outside of Rideau Hall, he responded simply: “Because it’s 2015.”

Male allies are important in the fight for women’s equality, but there is a price to be paid for allowing men of privilege to speak for feminism. To assume that all it takes to improve the plight of women is to create a gender-balanced cabinet, ignores the structural discrimination and injustices that are embedded within our society.

Trudeau’s “because it’s 2015” speech coincided with the first time that a segment of the population became concerned with qualifications for the job. In the history of the Canadian Parliament, no one has ever been as concerned with the qualifications of Cabinet Ministers as they were in 2015.

The “male unless otherwise indicated” approach is the result of male dominance in governing bodies worldwide – unions included. When I joined OPSEU/SEFPO in 2000 a woman was president, yes, but over the history of our union, only two of the seven presidents and four of the 11 first vice-presidents have been women or gender diverse people.

For groups who have been historically underrepresented in unions, any visibility can feel like a win.  Representation, however, is not enough if it’s not done with intention – like, intentionally making a gender equal cabinet. So why does intentional representation make some people so angry?

People tend to assume that their own way of thinking about or doing things is the typical way of thinking about or doing things. In her book Invisible Women, Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez says that for men, this bias is magnified by a “culture that reflects their experiences back to them, thereby making it seem even more typical”.

Perhaps then, even more important than intentional representation is intentional representation in leadership. In the weeks leading up to the 2015 federal election, Trudeau frequently declared himself a “proud feminist”. When privileged white men in leadership positions speak for feminism, they do so from a position of power given to them by their seat at the head of the table.

Understanding that systems of discrimination are embedded within social structures, women and gender-diverse people in positions of leadership can create policies that will be of benefit to all genders from a structural point of view. Currently, of the twenty-one Executive Board Members of OPSEU/SEFPO, 11 are women or gender diverse people, including the President and First Vice-President/Treasurer, so the tides are already turning.

The late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg famously said, “When I’m sometimes asked, ‘When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?’ and I say, ‘When there are nine’, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that”.

To that I say, “When there are twenty-one!”

Can term limits bring forth real change in OPSEU/SEFPO?

Michael Hamilton, inSolidarity Committee

For as far as I can remember, the motion of introducing term limits for elected positions has always been brought forward to the delegation at Convention. Currently, an elected official holds their position for a period of two years. This starts at the local level and goes all the way up to the role of President of OPSEU/SEFPO.

Last year, we had a change of leadership in both the roles of President and First Vice-President/Treasurer of OPSEU/SEFPO with our new President JP Hornick and our new Vice-President/Treasurer Laurie Nancekivell. They had replaced the previous leaders, Smokey Thomas who held the position of President of OPSEU/SEFPO for eight consecutive terms and Eddy Almeida who held his position of VP for five consecutive terms.

One of the constitutional amendments that was brought forward at this year’s Convention was to change the length of a term to a period of three years instead of two, with the limitation of holding a maximum of two consecutive terms (for a total of six years in the same position). I can understand why some folks may believe this to be a solution for enacting change within the union. It would provide an opportunity for new faces to step forward and become more involved with the process of how the union works.

On the flip side, the proposed change could cause some locals and committees to elect individuals who may not want to take on these types of roles. For some locals, it is hard getting members to even participate in a general membership meetings, especially when they do not have many members in the local. By setting term limits, we could potentially be pushing new people into longer-term roles they may not want or are not ready for.

I see both the pros and the cons of the argument. I always encourage members to become more involved in union business. Just recently, my local held our elections for the local executive. I think I was acclaimed as local president for two reasons: first, I believe my members have put their faith in me because I’ve been doing a good job for them. Second, a lot of work goes into the role of being a local president and some members just don’t have the time to dedicate to it when they have other responsibilities.

Except for the position of OPSEU/SEFPO President and First Vice-President/Treasurer, every other role in the union is a volunteer position. Executive Board Members, committee members and roles on the local level are all done by members who wanted to step forward to help the union.

Could a three-year term help to get more work done? I believe it would, but forcing people to step aside after two terms could end up being detrimental to the work that was done because a new member could be thrust into a role without having the prior knowledge or experience of what is required for the position.

The question was brought forth to the membership at Convention and the delegates voted against the Constitutional amendment.

What do you think?

Local 417 VP Tabatha Rutledge leading development of province-wide CAAT-A Nursing Caucus

Christina Chrysler, inSolidarity Committee

Health care in Ontario has been under attack for years, and the faculty who train aspiring nurses and health care professionals have not been immune. Pushed to the brink, one local vice-president has taken on the monumental task of improving communication between nursing programs across the province.

Tabatha Rutledge, Vice President of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 417, is leading the charge to form a province-wide nursing caucus in the union’s College Faculty (CAAT-A) Division. The caucus will consist of CAAT-A members teaching in nursing and health care related programs across Ontario. The goal of the caucus is to enhance communication between institutions to monitor and assess issues that impact the health care field.

When asked about this initiative, Rutledge remarked, “I have long felt that there was a need to work collectively across the province to support and represent nursing faculty to the best of our abilities. Nursing faculty positions have been under attack for years and it has to stop!”

Rutledge first suggested the development of the nursing caucus at the Region 4 Divisional meeting in the fall of 2022. Since that time, Tabatha has developed and distributed a survey across all of CAAT-A via local presidents and communications officers. The purpose of the survey is to identify people interested in representing their local on the caucus, as well as to shape the goals and actions of this caucus moving forward. While nursing programs are currently the focus of the group, faculty from all health care-related programs and industries are invited to participate. Some problematic areas identified as potential priorities on the survey include academic freedom, workload, health care challenges and their impact on nursing programs, and harassment, bullying, and intimidation in the workplace.

The move to develop a caucus specific to nursing and health care has been a long time coming. With so many of the faculty, clinical supervisors, and lab instructors in colleges being active, licensed professionals in their fields, they have repeatedly fallen victim to poor treatment both in their medical careers and in their post-secondary roles. The added pressures during the COVID-19 pandemic have further drained an already exhausted group.

Respect for all health care workers should be reflected in post-secondary education. All too often, the power of academic leadership comes from institutional structures that force faculty to work in siloes. The proposed CAAT-A Nursing Caucus aims to limit the barriers to communication to ensure faculty across the province are working together to train the nurses and health care professionals of tomorrow.

Rutledge remarked, “As a group we need to work in collaboration, to address common issues and move forward together, not separately, because we are stronger together.”

If you are interested in representing your CAAT-A local on this caucus, or if you are a member of the nursing or health care field outside of CAAT-A and would like to contribute, please contact Tabatha Rutledge directly through the Local 417 website:

OPSEU/SEFPO members use vacation to deliver medical supply suitcases to people in need

Marilyn Ott, inSolidarity Committee

Imagine, you are about to embark to the sunny south for a week of diving, snorkeling and the lure of underwater reality. You are about to relax under a canopy of palm trees waving with the wind, recognizing that you, an OPSEU/SEFPO member, have done “good” for the people of that country.

Logo: Not Just Tourists/Plus que touristes

A colleague of mine recently took a suitcase of life changing medical supplies to her travel destination during her vacation through an agency called Not Just Tourists (NJT). NJT state that they were “founded with the purpose of getting medical supplies to those who can’t afford them. Ordinary tourists are given the means to change the lives of locals they visit.”

NJT was founded in Ontario, and for more than 30 years the organization has helped ordinary tourists deliver more than 10,000 suitcases, and 1,000,000 pounds of medical supplies and equipment to 82 countries. The project does not accept funding, is non-political, and non-religious. Everything is accomplished through volunteers.

If you are interested in helping others in some of these countries, get involved! You can prevent the waste of unused medical supplies and bring them to areas of the world where they are most needed. Vacationers who sign up are given suitcases to deliver to clinics in their destination country. You get to know that you have helped another human.

If you have any questions, contact Not Just Tourists online at

Don’t miss AGO’s exhibition of impressionist masters who transcended barriers of sexism and disability

Rina Gulli, Local 678, Disability Rights Caucus Region 6 Representative

Currently, a rare exhibition is on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) that illuminates the work of female impressionist painters Helen McNicoll (Canadian) and Mary Cassatt (American). Their work demonstrates how these women transcended barriers of sexism and disability, and OPSEU/SEFPO’s Disability Rights Caucus encourages everyone not to miss this opportunity to see these masters at their finest.

Helen Galloway McNicoll painting, "The Open Door" - Impressionist painting of woman in white dress standing next to an open door.
Helen Galloway McNicoll painting: “The Open Door”, 1913
Mary Stevenson Cassatt painting, "Child Picking a Fruit". Impressionist painting of woman in a dress holding a baby, picking fruit from a tree.
Mary Stevenson Cassatt painting, “Child Picking a Fruit”, 1893

The gallery’s curators have brilliantly juxtaposed the work of these two artists, who never met, but have extraordinary similarities and parallels. Both women worked as professional artists at the time of the suffragette movement, and both demonstrate, within their compositions, women doing progressive and non-domestic activities like reading a newspaper, painting or thinking. Both groundbreaking artists brilliantly demonstrate women in artistic and intellectual pursuits. Both had disabilities.

The striking similarities of artistic and feminist vision of these two incredible artists is jarring.

Equally jarring is their use of brush strokes and colour (McNicoll’s yellows warm sprit and soul), to shed light on the women’s movement to transcend societal expectations, while little global light is shed on these two women themselves as masters of impressionism.

Of significant poignancy is that both women had disabilities, with Cassatt having diabetes, rheumatism, neuralgia and cataracts, and in 1917 stopped painting because she was almost blind, and Helen McNicol, deaf at the age of two due to scarlet fever, died at the age of 35 due to complications of diabetes.

OPSEU/SEFPO Disability Rights Caucus enthusiastically encourages everyone to partake of this event. This must-see, rare and important exhibit closes at the Art Gallery of Ontario September 4, 2023.

[Insert time for union activities here]

Anonymous OPSEU/SEFPO member

“Darn, I’m 15 minutes late for the [insert council here] meeting. It’s conflicting with the [insert regional update] meeting, but the times start half an hour apart, so I can probably make it to both, if I get my name on the agenda first thing…nope, didn’t happen because I was late. Wait! Can I do this all while single handedly parenting a preschooler or two? Probably. Maybe? Ok scratch that…”

Tonight, my child fell asleep to the soothing sound of our 2+ hour meeting, volume set to low, of course. It went on through his bath and through dinner, but we needed quorum!

How effective can I be as a representative of my union, and of my [insert equity-deserving group within union here] if there are so many meetings for so many worthwhile things, and I want to do it all?

I’m a single parent, and all of these meetings seem to take place when I’m putting my child to bed, or when I should be having a relaxing lunch break, but can’t because I work for [insert front line job that doesn’t get breaks here].

I’m told that becoming a parent shouldn’t be a barrier to achieving my career and life goals. Prioritize, they say…

I’m not sure what I’m intending here. A rant, a vent, a solution?

I suppose, just a friendly reminder to think of those who are the least likely to be in a position of privilege when scheduling meetings, and when you wonder why certain people aren’t as involved as they could or should be. Think about:

  • Those who don’t work 9-5.
  • Those who have blended families.
  • Those who are single parents.
  • Those who live remotely and must commute long distances (the need for hybrid meetings)
  • Those who have dependents/provide elder care
  • Those who work in 24/7 workplaces


[Insert name of empowered single parent working in a front line, 24/7 agency, holding leadership positions on several OPSEU/SEFPO and other committees]

The language of business is not our language

Joe Grogan, Retired OPSEU/SEFPO member, Region 5

I want to share with OPSEU/SEFPO members some ideas about how corporate language affects our thoughts, our priorities, our actions – and even turns us into commodities ourselves.

As a (retired) public school educator of 36 years at the secondary and post-secondary level, I have seen how this works. At the community college where I taught, the institution was organized into divisions that were encouraged to compete with each other for programs and students. These divisions are called School of Business, School of Health Sciences, etc. In all activities, the administrators of these divisions are coached to emphasize their units as “profit centres”. Any activity that promotes profit is good; anything that doesn’t is considered a “loss”. The programs and courses reflect this corporate reality.  They prepare students almost exclusively for jobs.

In one of his press conferences, Premier Doug Ford emphasized that the goal of education is jobs, not the education of the student. Students are viewed as funding units for colleges, not people for whom the educational system was established to promote the public good and quality of life for students, faculty, support staff and administration.

At one stage in my college career, a dean of the business school, in response to a problem that he was trying solve, stated, “The problem here is that we need to run this place more like a business.” In recent years, we have seen how students have been considered clients, not students and people.

This is absurd! By now, we are all aware of the expression, “We all need to do more with less”. In the auto industry where this started in the 1980s, this approach was called “kaizen”, a term from Japanese business culture that means “good change” or “continuous improvement”.

Meanwhile, administrators at all public education levels cut full-time teachers, hired part-time teachers at lower salaries with few, if any, benefits while giving themselves hefty salary increases. At the college where I taught, 75 per cent of the faculty are now part-time and only about 25 per cent are full-time.

Furthermore, we have seen how online learning has such appeal to administrators who get more control of everything and can hire more part-time staff, weakening the faculty and our union. Part-timers can be played off against full-time staff since they are vulnerable, but also a possible replacement labour force. Another reason administrators love the digital revolution: higher production, lower costs and more control – especially through enhanced electronic monitoring.

The same issues can be seen in the public health care system, where patients have become clients. Medicine is being run more like a business, not a public service to promote the general good. Most people have noticed the decline in health care services. Nurses are treated as expendable, with huge workloads leading to burnout and resignations. Part-time nursing staff must seek employment at two or three hospitals to equate a full-time income. Ottawa and Queen’s Park are the source of the hurt.

Every day, when we encounter mind-bending effects of corporate business language, we must understand what is happening and use our union’s resources to reverse this psychological attack on us and our quality of life.

I Craig your pardon? Back to the office, back to absurdity

Craig Hadley, inSolidarity Editor

I Craig Your Pardon? is a new series by inSolidarity Editor Craig Hadley, taking apart the nonsense in our workplaces and our lives.

If you work in an office environment, you’re likely experiencing a heavy push by management to return to the office full-time or a majority in-person hybrid model. You’re also likely seeing your company leadership justifying the return to office as “family” getting back together, reuniting teams or coming together to collaborate on ideas.

Here’s an idea: replace selling this sham as a fun reunion and just be honest with people. Start by telling the workers we have buildings that need to be filled, lunches that need to be purchased, and of course, management jobs to be justified.

For most office jobs the requirement to regularly attend a physical workplace is as dated as early assembly lines from the industrial revolution. Work-from-home technology has been available for well over a decade, but most workplace architects rarely include what’s good for the worker or society in their blueprints. It took a pandemic for the world to realize that most modern jobs can be performed anywhere, which, amidst a housing crisis, raises the idea that office towers could be best utilized for housing, eliminating unnecessary travel. The worst part is that decision-makers are trying to spin their message of in-person attendance as being fun, hip and comforting.

I Craig your pardon?

There is nothing fun, hip or comforting about any workplace, and anyone who is selling it that way is killing their managerial credibility. Office workers have become accustomed to working from home, and with many in the workforce being former latchkey kids who thrive on independence, the sell-job simply isn’t working. It’s like being told the tub of “frozen dessert” in your freezer is actually ice cream. It’s not real, just like management’s justification to work from an office isn’t real. Frankly, it’s as greasy as the congealed vegetable oil frozen dessert is made with.

And just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with going into the office if there’s a purpose.  There’s no purpose going to the office for a meeting where all participants are physically in the building, but you use Zoom anyways.

Welcome back to a post-COVID world plagued with inflation, wage freezes and a soaring cost of living.  Welcome back to a world where we leverage technology to replace traditional face-to-face meetings but insist the participants are in the office building. Welcome back to absurdity.

A Celebration of Black History Month with OPSEU/SEFPO

Michael Hamilton, inSolidarity Committee, Coalition of Racialized Workers Region 5 Representative

Bilingual logo: Coalition of Racialized Workers/Coalition des Travailleurs Racialises

For the first time in three years, the OPSEU/SEFPO Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW) was able to have an in-person gathering for their Black History Month events in February 2023. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic had put a damper on in-person events taking place during the first two years of the pandemic. The Coalition held events in 2021 and 2022 virtually. This time around, it was a hybrid event, and it was a smashing success!

The theme for the 2023 events was “Who We Are: The Power of Black Resistance”. I must say, as the Region 3 representative for the Coalition, it gave me a lot of pride knowing that the Coalition was able to present our experiences to the membership again. There were two events that took place on February 24 and 25, 2023 with the first being held at the Region 5 Wellesley office and the second at the Region 2 Hamilton office.

The goal of the events was to show the OPSEU/SEFPO membership that the Coalition has been at the forefront of bringing equity issues to the table. The CoRW has been a champion of the Social Mapping Project which has identified gaps and lack of representation of racialized members in the union.

The event included guest speakers LolaBunz a multidisciplinary artist, Evelyn Myrie, CEO of EMpower Strategy Group and Linda V. Carter, a director, writer, actor and narrator. Each of them provided a unique perspective on the difficulties of bringing equity and inclusion into the conversation. The overarching message was that change is going to be hard. Now, more than ever, leaders are needed to give a voice to those who do not have one. We all have power in the words we speak and the actions we take.

The CoRW has taken pride in knowing that we are the voice for racialized members within OPSEU/SEFPO and our respective communities. The events were indicative of that with our Region 4 representative Renford Thomas hosting the Wellesley event and one of our Region 5 representatives Butterfly GoPaul hosting the Hamilton event in conjunction with our Region 2 representatives Vanessa Edwards and Maxwell Onukwufor.

I feel it is important to reiterate that the CoRW is here to support our fellow racialized brothers and sisters in OPSEU/SEFPO. Our chair Peter Thompson has made it clear that the union needs to do a better job at recognizing racialized members. This shouldn’t just be highlighted in February because of Black History Month – this should be an ongoing conversation all year round.

It is great to see that the new administration has put more of an equity lens focus on bringing more racialized members to the table to ensure that OPSEU/SEFPO can better represent them. Again, change isn’t easy, but it is necessary, and hopefully we will start to see better representation in our union’s leadership.

Spending time in quiet solitude uncovers rich stories of union activists

Lorinda Seward, inSolidarity Committee

As the OPSEU/SEFPO inSolidarity Committee’s newest member, I’ve been asked several times about my motivation for joining. As an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my head, which breeds introspection and creativity, and I’ve spent much of my life looking for meaningful ways to tell stories.

Stories of union activism can motivate and inspire us. But they can also serve as an important lesson. As George Santayana reminds us: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

I am an audio snob. It’s not that my tastes are particularly superior to others, but my equipment is.  From the diameter of the driver of a headset to the sensitivity to the impedance, to the frequency – I will pay ridiculous amounts of money for exceptional headphones. But headphones also serve another purpose.

Headphones are the universal symbol for ‘please leave me alone’.

Like many introverts, I take comfort in my own thoughts and ideas. My mom said I was shy when I was young. As an adult, people call me quiet and sometimes aloof. Large groups of people drain me. I prefer the company of a small group, and solitude recharges me.

So, how did I, a gold medal introvert, end up as the newest member of OPSEU/SEFPO’s provincial inSolidarity Committee? The simple answer is that my friend and fellow committee member, Chris Chrysler nominated me, I accepted and was elected by the attendees at Editor’s Weekend.

The longer answer stems from the introspection and creativity that has developed from my introversion. I began playing the guitar and writing songs as a kid as a way to process emotion and tell stories. Over the last decade, I discovered photography and became enchanted with the way a still image could tell a complete story and move one to tears all at the same time. Most recently I’ve become interested in videography as a way of communicating stories in a creative and meaningful way.

This is my reason for wanting to join this committee – to tell the stories of union activists in creative and meaningful ways. Just as my journey to the inSolidarity Committee was long and winding, so too are the stories of our members. The history of the labour movement in Canada is rich with tales of strength and solidarity in the fight for rights such as workplace safety, minimum wage, employment insurance, maternity and parental benefits, and so on.

While it can be tempting to view these hard-fought rights as immutable, neoliberal policies that increasingly resemble those of fascist regimes are becoming more commonplace. We must be unyielding in our commitment to the rights of workers. We must inspire each other with our own stories of activism.

These are the stories I want to tell. With my headphones on.

Sharing local success: Inclusive communication strategy fosters long-term member engagement

Christina Chrysler, inSolidarity Committee

Trying to connect with members during collective bargaining is always a challenge, but during the COVID-19 global pandemic the task seemed almost impossible. Forced to connect virtually, and eventually facing a possible strike, one local communication team’s crash course in free online platforms resulted in unprecedented engagement. More than two years on, it’s still working.

Logo text: slc faculty LOCAL 417

Members of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 417’s executive committee (LEC) knew that connecting with their college faculty membership during collective bargaining was going to be difficult, especially since a majority of members work on short-term contract. In anticipation of this, they formed a communications committee and devised a potential plan for canvassing their campuses and connecting face-to-face with their membership in the period leading up to negotiations.

All of this planning became moot when pandemic lockdowns forced their membership to work from home. The team recognized that they would need a strategic approach if they were going to effectively support, engage, and represent their membership. They needed a new plan.

Led by then Communications Officer (now Local President) Christina Decarie, a strategy was developed to ensure a positive, balanced approach to virtual member outreach that included email and free social platforms. A communication process began that considered where members lived online as well as their level of comfort with union activity.

When asked how impactful this campaign was in increasing member engagement, Decarie stated, “It was essential. It not only allowed us to communicate quickly and directly with members, but the establishment of a private Facebook group fostered relationships between members and empowered members to support each other directly rather than relying solely on LEC members.”

As Decarie noted, the local used a private Facebook group, but it also shared information on a public Facebook page, and began producing a weekly Friday Digest that was emailed directly to members as well as a monthly “feel good” newsletter. Wherever possible, members outside of the LEC were encouraged to contribute skills and knowledge. During the height of bargaining, for example, the local’s Twitter account was monitored and run by a member of the local, while the private Facebook group offered fulsome discussions between members.

“We engaged in conversation and exchanges rather than treating communications as a one-way street,” shared Decarie. “We also recognize and are respectful of the various ways people feel comfortable engaging with their union. We have members who are vocal and are comfortable with conflict. We have members who are not comfortable with conflict, see the value of the union, and engage in a quieter way. We have some members who do not want to be in a union. And everything in between. The union needs to serve all those engagement styles.”

Now, more than two years after the communications strategy began, members are more active than ever – virtually unheard of in non-bargaining times. “Members feel empowered, and this keeps them engaged,” said Decarie. “I think they also see value in engaging with the union—they have received support or valuable information. The union has made a positive difference in their work life.”

The local still distributes a weekly Friday Digest to share important information from the LEC and OPSEU/SEFPO, and has continued to produce the ‘feel good’ newsletter, which is now quarterly.

When asked why communications like those used by Local 417 are important for labour groups and locals, Decarie responded, “People need their unions more than ever. And unions are all of their members, not just the leadership. Without all members, the union isn’t a union.”

Wanting to develop a communication strategy for your local? Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Have a plan and know your limits. It may be unrealistic to have something go out to members weekly, or even monthly. That’s okay. Once you decide on a timeline, stick to it. Consistency is key. Part of planning may include looking at the entire year ahead and identifying key topics that you want to address at specific times. This makes developing content and delegating tasks to other stewards much easier.
  2. Be factual without being overly negative. Most people aren’t looking for conflict, especially people working on contracts. This does not mean leaving out information that affects them negatively. It means leaving personal commentary out of the information you present where possible.
  3. Include ‘calls to action’. Encourage members to do something like sharing the newsletter or article with coworkers, signing a petition, or attending a meeting.
  4. Limit the platforms you use. Design programs like Canva and Mailchimp, or social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat are all free to use – but you don’t have to be on everything. Pick one or two that you feel comfortable using consistently.

The world is in crisis: What can I do?

Marilyn Ott, inSolidarity Committee

Imagine that you are trying to sit comfortably somewhere, perhaps in your favourite seat in your home, while your neighbour is cold, hungry. You move in your seat. You re-adjust your TV set, and turn up the fireplace, reach for your favourite snack on the coffee table. No matter what you do, you still cannot get comfortable. The movie you’re watching does not seem that interesting. You cannot get something off your mind. You are concerned for your neighbour.

What is a humanitarian crisis? And how can you help? A humanitarian crisis could be anywhere in the world, where there is an event, or several events that hamper the wellbeing, health or safety of a community. It could be in terms of food, housing, shelter, conflict, weather, health issues, or just a lack of basic services, brought about by nature, political issues, environmental issues and/or health issues.

There are many organizations that help many different causes. You can choose to do something locally, or far away. You can choose to volunteer with a donation of money, goods, your time, or your talent. The key is to get involved, and to do something.

The Humanitarian Coalition is a Canadian organization This organization opens doors for Canadians to help during humanitarian disasters. It is an alliance of 12 different organizations, working together in different communities, providing options to donate during humanitarian disasters. The members of this coalition work together with the government, individuals, businesses, and the media. All are in good standing and are reputable charities.

If your local is thinking about helping out somewhere – do some research. Find a local charity or larger charitable organization that aligns with your local’s values and get connected with them.

Kingston ferry workers sound alarm at Region 4 Equity conference just days after near-miss incident

Christina Chrysler, inSolidarity Committee

Just off the shores of the St. Lawrence, where the river meets the mouth of Lake Ontario, the Wolfe Island and Glenora ferries provide vital transportation services to residents and tourists alike. As with most industries, these services have found themselves in the midst of a staffing crisis, the result of which has repeatedly threatened public safety. An incident in February 2023 almost resulted in tragedy.

At the OPSEU/SEFPO Region 4 Equity conference held in February 2023 in Kingston, representatives from Local 428 who represent Wolfe Island and Glenora ferry workers, spoke of profound understaffing and the resulting safety concerns.

Just days earlier, on the night of February 8, the Wolfe Island Ferry shifted away from the dock as drivers and pedestrians attempted to disembark. One pedestrian narrowly escaped falling into the water and being pinned between the dock and the boat. A dump truck nearly entered the water as well. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) has been tight-lipped about their investigation surrounding the event, but some fear this is a result, at least in part, of an ongoing manufactured staffing crisis. The MTO is responsible for running the Wolfe Island and Glenora ferry services that so many depend on.

On several separate occasions in 2022, staffing shortages resulted in the Wolfe Island ferry being cancelled for up to 12 hours at a time, trapping residents and visitors on the Island with no way to leave for work or emergencies. The fifteen-minute service on the Glenora ferry was also cancelled last summer (at the height of tourist season) creating hours-long line-ups and delays for passengers. In total, 3 dozen disruptions occurred in 2022.

In comparison to the rest of the marine industry, MTO ferry workers are drastically underpaid, causing major recruitment and retention issues. Rather than address the issue directly, the MTO has opted to contract out ferry work to Reliance Offshore, and out-of-province, private temporary staffing agency.

These temporary, non-unionized workers receive minimal job training in comparison to permanent staff. As if the risk of harm to workers and the public wasn’t enough, Reliance Offshore charges two to three times as much per hour as ministry staff earn – adding insult to (potential) injury. Ferry workers’ compensation was limited by Bill 124, whereas external agencies were not.

In October 2022, members of Local 428 held information pickets to educate the public on the issues impacting services. Though public support was seen as high, MTO has refused to act. In December 2022, Jennifer French, MPP for Oshawa and NDP critic for transportation and infrastructure, presented a petition with over 900 signatures supporting the Ministry of Transportation workers on the Glenora and Wolfe Island ferries. In April 2023, even more petitions were presented at Queen’s Park by NDP MPP and Labour Critic Jamie West.

“The Ford government has created a staffing crisis on the ferries by paying our members far less than the industry standard,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick in an article released on the OPSEU/SEFPO website. “The situation at MTO is just one more example of how forcing Bill 124 pay cuts on public sector workers for three years during massive inflation has harmed the public services we rely on every day. Enough is enough! It’s time to pay fair wages, invest in hiring permanent MTO ferry workers and improve ferry services and safety.”

The distance between union members and Pierre Poilievre is, alarmingly, shorter than you may think

Lorinda Seward, inSolidarity Committee

The populist alt-right movement in Canada, with the aid of corporate media, pushes the narrative that current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal Party he leads, have gone “so far to the left”. This is a thinly veiled attempt to situate Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party of Canada as the more moderate alternative.

A cursory review of policies supported by the Liberals indicates that this is demonstrably untrue. At best, the Liberals hover at middle of the road politics and, at worst, play for the team of neoliberal capitalism. This opens the door for Poilievre to sell himself as the saviour of the working class.

Worsening economic conditions are currently weighing on the minds of our members, and arguably, most Canadians. Workers have seen their wages stagnate, grocery and gas prices skyrocket, and have experienced income instability, all of which is driving fear and anger. Pierre Poilievre’s messaging prioritizes these problems and proposes “common sense” solutions. Moreover, Poilievre provides a common enemy – government bureaucrats and financial elites. As union members, this starts to sound familiar.

Canada is facing an economic crisis, but Liberals continue with their paternalistic, we-know-better attitude, which is starting to have a negative effect on the party. An Ipsos poll done at the end of 2022 showed that 54 per cent of Canadians thought that Trudeau should step down. While the same poll showed NDP leader Jagmeet Singh enjoying a huge lead in approval among Canadians (53 per cent to be exact), the NDP’s support of the Liberal Party has come at a cost — compromising their position as the party that supports the working class.

Enter Pierre Poilievre.

Poilievre and the alt-right movement are not stirring up anger; they’re reflecting it. Canadians are angry. Workers are angry. Union members are angry. This anger is justified, and Poilievre is positioning himself as the only one who sees it, and the only one who will actually do something about it.

An Abacus Data report published in February 2023 asked, “If a federal election were held tomorrow, which of the following parties would you vote for in your constituency?” 36 per cent of private sector union members indicated they would vote for the Conservative Party of Canada (compared to 34 per cent for the Liberal Party of Canada) and 34 per cent of public sector union members would vote for the Conservatives (compared to 26 per cent for the Liberals).

Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, reminds us that Poilievre was a member of a conservative government that reduced access to health care, forced austerity on the general population, passed anti-labour legislation, and helped wealthy corporations pay even less in taxes. “Pierre Poilievre has used populist rhetoric to hide away his real agenda. But his long track record of attacking workers’ rights and siding with profitable corporations over everyday people makes clear the kind of leader he would be if he gained power,” she said.

From the election of Donald Trump in the US to Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, to Narenda Modi in India and to what feels like the inevitable election of Pierre Poilievre here, one thing is clear: middle of the road politics is not working to combat the rise of alt-right populist movements. We need a populist movement on the left to rival the one on the right. The Liberals and their middle of the road, neoliberal politics need to get out of the way. We need to fight like our lives depend on it – because they do.

In his film, The Usual Suspects, Christopher McQuarrie took creative liberty with a quote from French poet Charles Baudelaire saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”. Let’s not let Poilievre’s greatest trick be convincing union members and working-class Canadians that he’s on our side.

Reflections on the Ottawa occupation and the culpability of elected officials

Joe Grogan, Retired OPSEU/SEFPO member, Region 5

Whether you are for or against mandatory vaccinations, few can explain the actions of key elected politicians at all levels – but especially the Mayor of Ottawa, the Premier of Ontario and the Prime Minister of Canada. In my view, they must be held to account for their failure to deal in a timely manner with the various demonstrations that were originally linked to vaccines for truckers.

Vaccinations should NOT have been a flashpoint for conflict since the purpose in requiring them was the health and safety of drivers and all members of the community. However, some opportunists used that initial issue to cause havoc and anti-social behaviour. The responsibility for that havoc does not rest alone with the participants but also with our elected leaders. Why the delay in dealing with the flashpoints in Ottawa and elsewhere?

In the second week of the Ottawa protests, former Ottawa police chief Peter Sloly pleaded for 1,800 additional police officers to handle the demonstrators. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson also said that to protect the community and the city, more help was required. Why didn’t Premier Doug Ford act? Instead, he delayed until Friday, February 11 to declare a state of emergency in Ontario. Is this an example of leadership and accountability?

Likewise, why did Trudeau wait until Monday, February 14, 2022 to invoke the national Emergencies Act? Why did he wait until serious incidents had occurred on the Alberta/U.S. border in two places, in British Columbia and in Quebec? Is this an example of showing leadership and accountability?

Why, prior to the Ottawa conflict, was there no attention given to security reports from the RCMP that there were dangerous groups who were taking over the original dispute based in Ottawa and elsewhere and using it to destabilize Canada? Given Canada’s massive investment in the security establishment involving organizations such as CSIS, RCMP, OPP and other law enforcement agencies, why did these enforcement agencies fail to send warnings before everything erupted?

Trade unionists believe in the rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights and property. Why were some union leaders invisible in this situation and why was there no position taken on the original issue – the mandatory vaccines and the disputes that broke out across the country?

Government actions at the federal and provincial levels have confused, frustrated, and hurt all Canadians. Free trade and government cutbacks; preferential treatment for politicians in regards to their occupations and pensions; double standards in the application of the needed COVID-19 protocols; the unfettered application of the digital revolution causing massive job changes and restructuring; uneven and unfair income taxes; health, education and social services turning people into funding units; the housing crisis; the uncertain job future for youth; precarious employment for all; and Canada’s racist history, especially with regards to Indigenous peoples. All of these, and other factors, have seriously damaged our society. The dispute over mandatory vaccines for truck drivers was a strong catalyst to send everyone the message that people simply cannot and will not take it anymore.

It is easy to understand why people become confused, frustrated, and angry; under difficult circumstances, they can be easily misled and manipulated by forces internal and external. However, flouting the rule of law is not the answer. Those who should first face the music are our elected politicians at all levels who have been totally irresponsible with respect to governance; they have not shown the needed leadership or accountability. Trudeau again will find excuses to put the blame on others when he and others in his government are responsible for neglecting their duty to legally and responsibly protect and represent the Canadian people.

If Trudeau and Ford had done their jobs properly, there would not be a need for Emergency Laws which are highly intrusive and dangerous. Both politicians are culpable and deserve condemnation. The courts will look after those who acted in a destructive way in the chaos that the politicians caused. In turn, we as citizens must hold accountable both Trudeau and Ford.

At all levels, we need politicians with honesty and integrity. We do not need smug, self-serving, egotistical people who are ruining the lives of Canadians, while destroying our country.

[Note: This article was written before the release of the Emergencies Act Inquiry final report, which can be read at]