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inSolidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 23, Number 1, Winter 2016

inSolidarity, Winter 2016

Editorial Policy

The content and editing of this newsletter are determined by the committee. We want members to feel ownership of inSolidarity and view it as independent of any particular segment of the union. Content comes from our base of activists, staff and other labour sources. Where an article has a byline, the views are those of the author and not necessarily the views of OPSEU. While we welcome your contributions, we ask that these be constructive. All articles should be signed and include Local number and should contribute positively to the welfare of OPSEU. We encourage thoughtful discussion of all related issues and reserve the right to edit for libel, length and clarity, and to reply to those that seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the union and its policies.

The elected members of the editorial committee for inSolidarity are:

Virginia Ridley – Editor, Local 116
Lisa Bicum – Assistant Editor, Local 125
Katie Sample – Local 499
Craig Hadley – Local 5109
Verne Saari – Local 659

Ex-officio members:

Felicia Fahey – Executive Board
Liaison Greg Hamara – OPSEU Communications

Special to this issue:

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560
Dan Brisson, Provincial Francophone Committee
Cheryl Dickson, Local 248
John Qubti, OPSEU Communications
Shauna Weston, Local 607
Shelley Minns, Local 582
Greg Snider, Disability Rights Caucus
Janice Martell, Local 604

Please send mail to: inSolidarity, c/o Virginia Ridley, OPSEU Head Office, 100 Lesmill Rd., Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8. Contact at: insolidarity@opseu.org

We are also your elected members of Informed Newsletters for OPSEU/Bulletins informés pour le SEFPO. If you require any support, advice or start-up information concerning newsletters, please contact one of the executive members.

Cultural assimilation

Katie Sample, inSolidarity

Cultural assimilation was a hot topic of debate during the 2015 federal election. I found myself in countless conversations with my right-leaning friends and family that echoed a similar message: “I have no issue with immigrants as long as they assimilate to Canadian culture.”  My friends’ and my family’s definition of Canadian culture, however, included what most reflected their own values and traditions and not what represents Canadian citizenship and culture as a whole.

For me, the act of cultural assimilation is in direct conflict with the ever-growing, evolving framework that defines Canada. Our home as we know it today is a country that contains different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds; so much so that we as a nation define ourselves as multicultural.  This fact, however, gets lost in people’s fear that by absorbing other cultures and traditions, they will somehow lose their own. Yet the whole purpose of multiculturalism is adding to something greater, not taking away from it. 

In 1971, Canada was one of the first countries to adopt the “multicultural” label, and by 1982 it was recognized in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Act sets out what it is we expect of ourselves and the image we choose to project to the rest of the world. Multiculturalism is a philosophy and understanding that recognizes our Canadian heritage is a cultural mosaic. It speaks of the importance to uphold and honour the legacy of our indigenous peoples and recognizes under the law that every Canadian (born or landed) will have “equal opportunity with other individuals to make the life that the individual is able and wishes to have, consistent with the duties and obligations of the individual as a member of society.”  It is this duty and obligation that puts to rest the argument that by including all races, religions, languages and traditions we can, as a nation, be inclusive while still honoring and protecting the rights of conventional Canadian traditions. Our civil and criminal laws that shield us are not superceded by the Multiculturalism Act; the Act is an extension of those protections.

Canada is a diverse country and our diversity should be preserved and enhanced in all areas that our society values: economic, social, cultural, and political. So how is one able to assimilate to such a place, a place that by our own definition and creation is that of different beliefs, cultures, religions, and traditions? I conclude that the act of immigration represents a form of assimilation; it has made us who we are today. It means enjoying your own individual freedoms regarding cultural traditions all the while honouring and respecting others to do the same.  Our diversity is the backbone of Canadian culture and it is diversity that is the first step in Canadian “assimilation.”

Je parle français – I speak French

Dan Brisson, président du Comité provincial des francophones

Tout a débuté avec le Caucus francophone du SEFPO, crée en 2000, mais reconnu officiellement en 2001. Dix ans plus tard, soit en 2011, sur le plancher du Congrès du SEFPO, il fut adopté que le caucus francophone devienne le Comité Provincial des Francophones du SEFPO. Ce dernier, avec ses 7 représentants élus dans leur région respective, a officiellement vu le jour à la fin du Congrès 2013.

Suite au succès de la première conférence francophone de 2015, une campagne est mise en place cette année afin de promouvoir la fierté francophone au sein du SEFPO. Pour ce faire, nous sollicitons l’engagement de tous les membres francophones du SEFPO et désirons travailler avec eux pour construire un avenir plus ouvert sur la francophonie.

Nous vous attendrons en grand nombre lors du dîner de notre assemblée générale du Comité Provincial des Francophones au Congrès du SEFPO 2016. Gardez l’œil ouvert pour le numéro de la chambre.

Pour plus d’information, visiter notre site web (http://opseu.org/information/provincialfrancophone-committee), notre page Facebook (Comité provincial des francophones du SEFPO) ou rejoignez-nous sur Twitter @ CPfrSEFPO.

Je parle français … et soyons-en fier.

Our efforts to establish a full-fleged OPSEU Francophone Committee started more than 15 years ago in 2000 with the creation of the OPSEU Francophone Caucus. It was officially recognized by the union in 2001. Ten years later, in 2011, on the floor of the OPSEU convention, a motion was adopted that would see the Francophone Caucus became the OPSEU Provincial Francophone Committee. The committee, with a single representative from each of OPSEU’s seven regions, was officially recognized at the 2013 Convention.

Following the success at our inaugural Francophone Conference in 2015 in Ottawa, a campaign was launched this year to promote francophone pride inside OPSEU. To succeed, we are asking for support from all OPSEU francophone members. We aim to work with them to build a future more open to the French-speaking world.

We anticipate a large group will attend our opening night dinner that follows the general meeting of the Provincial Francophone Committee at this year’s convention.

For more information please visit our website (http://opseu.org/information/provincialfrancophone-committee), our Facebook page (Comité provincial des francophones du SEFPO) or follow us on Twitter @CPfrSEFPO.

I speak French … and we should be proud of it.

You are not alone: Together we will make a difference

Cheryl Dickson, Local 248

Let me introduce you to the Unity Run (formally known as Blarney Run), a relatively new event on the annual labour calendar. This event brings awareness and support to first responders and their issues of post-traumatic stress disorder, occupational stress, depression and suicide prevention. Our message is: “You Are Not Alone – Together We Will Make a Difference.”

This year’s Unity Run is scheduled for May 14, 2016, at Coronation Arena, Macklin Rd., in Hamilton. Sadly, since 2013 we have had to make some changes to the event (then known as the Blarney Walk/Run) as a result of the deaths of several first responders by suicide. We are now recognizing all first responders (paramedics and others, like correctional officers, 911 workers, firefighters and many others). We’ve changed the name from the Blarney 6.93 km Walk/Run, to the to the Unity Run. The distances will stay the same: a 6.93k walk/run and a 10-4k run. Each kilometer of the 10-4k run will be in memory of a first responder who has died by suicide.

Please participate in this year’s walk/run by registering at: unityrun.org

OPSEU organizing precarious college workers

John Qubti, OPSEU Communications Officer

Precarious work has recently received a lot of attention in the media, but OPSEU has been campaigning for years on behalf of workers across the province.  For more than a decade, for example, the union has championed the right of part-time college workers to unionize and to gain better wages and benefits, improved job security, and access to pay equity.

Part-time workers at Ontario’s 24 colleges have many different jobs: some are long-time support staff, others are student teachers, or student workers. But all of them have one thing in common:  they go to their jobs each day without many of the workplace safeguards that apply to other workers in the province.

The Ontario government passed legislation in the 1970s that prevented part-time college workers from organizing. Thirty years later, in 2007, the McGuinty government passed Bill 90 which gave part-timers the right to unionize. OPSEU promptly launched a campaign to do so. The Liberals responded by spending millions of public dollars on lawyers to stop votes from being counted.

“We signed more than 10,000 union cards,” recalls OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas, “but the government threw every legal obstacle they had at us, and the votes never got counted. Since then, literally thousands of part-time workers have asked OPSEU to launch another campaign. This time, the Liberals’ costly legal tricks won’t stop these vulnerable workers from obtaining the justice they deserve.”

In September 2015, OPSEU once again launched a far-reaching campaign to organize thousands of part-time college support workers.  Working with divisional executives, locals and hundreds of members, OPSEU has again organized effectively and thousands of additional cards have been signed by part-timers.

Support staff DivEx chair Marilou Martin described the plight of part-time staff this way: “The situation of Ontarians doing precarious work is appalling. College part- time workers have no paid sick time, no paid vacation time, no drug benefits, no job security. It’s a system that takes blatant advantage of part-time workers.”

Thomas added: “By joining OPSEU they can plan their lives and go to work with some security, knowing that if they’re treated unfairly, they have a union that will fight for them. Part-timers have been getting the short end of the stick. It’s high time they got a fair shake.”

A new and exciting feature of the campaign is “Level Up!” a fun and interactive game where college workers can learn more about their workplace through articles and quizzes. Players can earn badges and points to win prizes including an iPad and a FitBit. To play, visit:   http://www.levelupnow.ca/

Part-time college support workers can apply online for membership to OPSEU directly via www.collegeworkers.org.

Part-time workers are also encouraged to check the Facebook group: facebook.com/SignUpOPSEU to receive updates on the campaign.

Labour updates

A miscellany of news and information about organized labour, social justice and progressive movements in Canada and abroad

Thatcherism roars again under Tory PM David Cameron

In what amounts to the greatest threat to organized labour in the United Kingdom since the rule of Margaret Thatcher more than 30 years ago, the current Conservative government of David Cameron has tabled sweeping changes to the country’s labour laws that would significantly weaken unions in the public and private sectors.

Under the proposed Trade Union Bill, employers will be able to break strikes by bringing in agency workers to replace strikers. This could have big safety implications, lead to weakened public services, and would undermine the right to strike.  The bill also proposes huge restrictions on peaceful picketing and protests. Picket supervisors will have to give their names to the police – raising concerns about blacklisting – and will need to carry a letter of approval from their union.

There are lots of other proposals in the bill, including powers to restrict the ability of unions to recruit and represent members in the public sector, restrictions on how unions use their resources, and lots more unnecessary red tape.

Taken together, the bill fundamentally undermines the rights for unions to organize, negotiate and strike in defence of their members at work.

If this bill passes, the right to strike will be under threat. That will upset the power balance at work and undermine good industrial relations. Ordinary workers won’t have any power to stand up to their bosses – even when they’re being unreasonable. And that’ll mean worse pay and conditions for everyone.

To learn more visit: https://www.tuc.org.uk/about-bill Source: Trade Union Congress

Trudeau recommits to repealing anti-union bills C-377 and C-525

In late January, MaryAnn Mihychuk, minister of employment, workforce development and labour, announced that the federal government would move ahead with an election promise to repeal two anti-labour laws brought in by the previous Harper government.

“Our government recognizes that unions play an important role in protecting the rights of Canadian workers and in helping the middle class grow and prosper. That’s why we’re proud to be pursuing our commitment to help restore a fair and balanced approach to labour relations in Canada by repealing Bills C-377 and C-525,” Ms. Mihychuk said.

“It was heartening to hear first-hand that Prime Minister Trudeau intends to honour his campaign commitment to repeal laws C-377 and C-525,” said James Clancy, national president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). “Those laws would have hurt millions of Canadians, and it is important that they be repealed as soon as possible.”

Source: The Hill Times

First time since Diefenbaker, a PM meets with the CLC

Marking what both sides hope is a new turn in Ottawa’s relationship with organized labour, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian Labour Congress met on November 10, 2015 — the first time in almost 60 years that a sitting prime minister had spoken to the CLC’s leaders. The last time was in 1958; John Diefenbaker, a Conservative, was prime minister.

The meeting, held six days after Trudeau was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister, took place behind closed doors at the request of his office. CLC president Hassan Yussuff explained that some of his colleagues “can be very tough at times.”

The event was private so that a “full and frank discussion” could be had, Trudeau spokeswoman Kate Purchase said. Reporters were asked to leave and escorted out.

“There is no question that a lot of our members and some in the leadership support the NDP … that’s the reality of who we are,” Yussuff told The Huffington Post Canada. “But equally so, elections come and go, and the broader question is now that the election is over, how do we work with this government and have a respectful relationship?”

Source: Huffington Post Canada

Reject the TPP (TransPacific Partnership): Canada still hasn’t signed – you can stop the TPP

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland hasn’t made up her mind yet on whether Canada will sign on to the TPP with consultations still underway. Organized labour in Canada is solidly opposing the tentative deal. Our environment and jobs needs must be protected. The TPP is:

  1. Dangerous: It gives multinational corporations and super wealthy investors special powers to sue us in shady tribunals for unlimited damages if Canadian governments make decisions to put our health, economy and environment ahead of their expected profits.
  2. Lopsided: It subjects Canada to US-style intellectual property laws that could strangle Canadian innovation, cost us hundreds of billions, and put us in a permanent underclass that keeps us dependent on exporting resources.
  3. Costly: From raising the price of our medicines to threatening open Internet access and costing thousands of good jobs across the country, the TPP would hit all of us in our day-to-day lives.

Source: Toronto and York Regional District Labour Council

145 Years of Labour Advocacy – choose the slogan!

The Toronto & York Region Labour Council was founded 145 years ago on April 12th, 1871. This year we are celebrating the long and vibrant history of Labour advocacy with an anniversary Gala on May 13th, 2016 and a partnership with Heritage Toronto to highlight the histories of the garment district on Spadina and the growth of workers organisations.

Follow us on Twitter @torontolabour and on Facebook/labourcouncil for updates.

We would like you to HELP CHOOSE a SLOGAN from the choices below!

  • Working Together for Justice
  • Standing Up for Justice
  • Speaking Up for Justice

Email kkulendiren@labourcouncil.ca with your choice of slogan

“Squaw”: normalizing and perpetuating violence against indigenous women

Shauna Weston, Local 607

As an indigenous woman, stories have always been an integral part of my life. Stories facilitate learning and the sharing of our traditional knowledge. So when I asked my dad about the word “squaw” he shared a story about my deceased auntie, her partner, and my uncle. During a visit, her partner stated he was going to visit the “old squaw’s” grave. My uncle grabbed and held him against the wall by his throat and uttered, “Don’t you ever refer to my sister like that again.” There were some other choice words spoken but the gist of this story is that the term “squaw” is never acceptable.

“Squaw” is the polar opposite of the Indian princess/Pocahontas stereotype. The Indian princess was characterized as an indigenous woman who was considered to be easily “assimilated” into settler culture and conformed to the virtues of the ideal white, middle-class woman. “Squaw,” by contrast, was stigmatized as uncivilized and incapable of rescue. The word “squaw” paints vivid stereotypical images of an indigenous woman who is dirty, lazy and easy to degrade and sexually exploit. Since colonial contact, this stigma continues to normalize the dehumanization of indigenous women and girls, leaving us vulnerable to all forms of violence (Aboriginal Justice Inquiry Of Manitoba 1999, p. 479). This stereotype and stigma “justifies” our perceived inferiority within Canadian society constructing us as inherently rape-able.

Words are powerful, and the term “squaw” is particularly potent and entangled in a historical hurt which allows indigenous women to be viewed as disposable. The intersectionality of oppression experienced daily by indigenous women is profound. Gender, race, class and colonialism simultaneously have an impact on our shared experience and reinforce our sub-ordination. When you include sex work and/or addiction, it escalates your disposability (e.g. Cindy Gladue,  R v Picton.)

The colonial, racist, sexist, and classist ideologies fabricated by this stereotype have a dual function by:

  • increasing/maintaining the risk of violence for indigenous women;
  • determining how society responds to the violence and upholds the unworthiness and blame-worthiness of indigenous women and the violence experienced.

In addition, the “squaw” stereotype is also supported by statistics. In 2009 the General Social Survey (GSS) showed that close to 67,000 or 13 per cent of all Aboriginal women aged 15 and older had been violently victimized. Indigenous women were almost three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to report having been a victim of a violent crime regardless if the violence occurred between strangers or acquaintances, or within a spousal relationship (www.statcan. gc.ca). By combining all forms of violence, this survey established the following facts regarding indigenous women:

  • They are three times more likely to be the targets of violent victimization than non-Aboriginal women.  
  • The majority of victims are between 15 and 34 years old.
  • The violence experienced is not an isolated event, as more than one third were victimized two or more times.

I am a correctional officer

Shelley Minns, Correctional Officer, Local 582

Overcrowded jails, staff shortages and outdated facilities: these are just some of the issues that make up the crisis in correctional services in Ontario. Meet Shelley Minns, an OPSEU member who took the social media world by storm when she posted her experiences as a correctional officer on Facebook. While Shelly’s story may not be for the weak at heart, her story tells the story of those employed inside jails.

Looking back over the past 16 years…

I have had my thumb dislocated, two fingers broken, a fractured skull, dislocated knee cap, bone fragments broken off that are now freely floating in my right knee and left elbow, three fractured ribs, toenails imbedded so deep in my foot they had to be lasered off, split lips, bruises, surface abrasions, smoke inhalation, chemical poisoning, urine and feces thrown at me, and blood spat on my face and in my mouth which entailed blood testing, and months of waiting to find out whether or not I had contracted a communicable disease.

I am trained in CPR, first aid, pandemic training, suicide awareness and prevention, the use of MSA and fire extinguisher equipment, the use of a spit hood, PPSE and defensive tactics. I am only equipped with handcuffs and oleoresin capsicum foam. Inside the walls of a jail I am a first responder of every sort.

I have to run–not walk–into the unknown. I have saved lives. I have performed CPR. I have seen men die. I have performed first aid. I have laid in another’s vomit to provide stability for a broken collarbone. I have used my fingers to plug the puncture holes in an inmate’s body. I have literally held together someone’s face. I have had to look for someone’s ear on a floor. I have used my body as a shield for others on countless occasions. I have had to help cut someone down who had attempted suicide. I have had to look them in the eye as they cried and asked why I stopped them. I have had to comfort someone charged with assault causing death but who had the mentality of a four-year-old, and who needed comfort because soft surfaces scare him. I have had to hold down someone because they kept ripping their catheter out. I have watched men eat their own feces.

I have had to wade through toilet water, floods, urine and feces to feed people. I have had to enter smoke filled areas to evacuate people. I have had to sift through garbage dumpsters and dirty laundry for weapons and contraband.  I have had to sift through toilets filled with feces, looking  for weapons and contraband. I have stood in a 4×8 space with murderers. I have stepped into an elevator alone with six sexual predators. I’ve walked into an area, alone, with 20 to 30 murderers, rapists, gang members, terrorists, child abductors and an assortment of other unsavory types. I have jumped between opposing gang members to stop violence. I have had to lock my co-workers in with murderers and gang members who were trying to escape and riot, so I could protect the public. I have seen co-workers attacked and assaulted too many times to count. I have lost co-workers to suicide, disease, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I have been followed home twice. I have stood in front of a sex offender while he repeated my child’s name and what school she attended.

I work compressed work weeks and 12-hour shifts inside concrete walls on concrete floors. My base salary is $68,000 a year. I’ve been doing this for 16 years, and I have reached my top level. The average person works 2,080 hours a year, yet I average 3172 hours a year and have for more than a decade because, even though the cost of living has gone up, I have had a zero per cent wage increase over the last five years and am 30 per cent behind others in my field. I get six sick days a year without penalty and three discretionary days. I have a Factor 90 before retirement, on an average of 34 years of servitude.

I have unique needs as a first responder and they must be better addressed by my employer. I want my pension and benefits to be left alone because my body is abused daily and my family has suffered enough and will undoubtedly suffer more.

I want a fair wage increase for the risks I take every day with my life, and for the duties I am obligated to perform, and because I damn well have earned it and deserve it.

I am someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s wife, and someone’s mother.

I am a correctional officer for the province of Ontario. I am a peace officer and an employee of the Crown.

OPSEU president gets first-hand glimpse of the “crisis in corrections”

Greg Hamara, OPSEU Communications Officer

A vicious cold wind was blowing onshore off nearby Lake Superior. The skies overhead were leaden and menacing. The snow underfoot cracked loudly.

Conditions inside Thunder Bay and District Jail that day were only marginally better.

It’s where OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and an entourage of union correctional officers and prison supervisors found themselves in mid-December. World War I had scarcely ended when the now-decrepit jail opened for business in 1920.

Thomas had made an emergency visit to the facility to express his solidarity with correctional officers only days after a handful of inmates had triggered a small riot inside, taking a jail guard hostage in the process. The officer was released after a couple of hours. The disturbance would go on for another 12 hours, leaving behind damaged utilities and garbage scattered everywhere on the wing.

When Thomas visited the facility the inmates responsible for the uprising were still in lockdown. The garbage had yet to be collected. Trays containing rotting food cluttered floors outside cells. Damage had only been partially repaired. The formal investigation was ongoing.

Welcome to the state of Ontario’s prison system in the early 21st century. OPSEU has dubbed the conditions a “Crisis in Corrections.” It’s a correctional system marked by chronic overcrowding and understaffing. Authorities struggle to treat hundreds of inmates across the province who suffer from mental illnesses and substance abuse. Lockdowns can last for days, fuelling tension and stress for inmates and guards alike.

“The conditions inside this jail were even worse than I ever imagined,” Thomas told a news conference outside the jail after his two-hour tour. At his side was Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs. Built for 62 inmates, the facility now warehouses as many as 120 or more at any given time.

“We’ve been asking the province for a new jail since 2002,” the mayor told reporters and a crowd of more than 50 correctional officers and supporters huddled together in minus-15 degree temperatures. “And in all that time nothing has happened.”

Thomas’ visit to the jail on the shores of Lake Superior was the first of three that he would tour over the next seven days. Four days later, on December 18, he found himself at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, and a few days afterwards, at Toronto South Detention Centre. While the physical conditions inside those facilities didn’t match what he witnessed in Thunder Bay, they, too, are jails plagued by similar operational problems.

Elgin-Middlesex has been a centre of roiling problems for years. Lockdowns are routine. Overcrowding is commonplace. Violence flares on occasion. On the day Thomas toured the facility the women’s wing was staffed by only two correctional officers, half the authorized minimum level.

The OPSEU president was furious that Deb Matthews, the MPP for London North Centre and deputy premier, had declined his invitation to join him on the tour. He told reporters afterwards that as chair of management board, Matthews has the authority to recommend to cabinet emergency funding when needs are clearly evident. In the case of Ontario’s prisons, OPSEU has called for $100 million to ease the crisis in corrections.

Problems of a different sort have plagued Toronto South Detention Centre since its opening in 2014. Built at a cost of more than $700 million by a public-private partnership (P3), the correctional facility, Canada’s second largest, can accommodate 1,650 inmates. But less than half that number currently occupy the facility due to flawed design, engineering and operational issues. The centre’s infirmary and gymnasium remain closed and its mental health assessment unit did not become operational until after two inmates died in custody in February 2015, one by suicide and another due to a drug overdose.

Regardless of which facility he toured, Thomas made the same point repeatedly: the fault for the crisis in corrections rests squarely at the doors of Queen’s Park.

“I don’t blame the local supervisors alone” he said in Thunder Bay. “They tell me their hands are tied by a ministry that refuses to acknowledge there is a real, serious problem in the system. The supervisors don’t have the resources to fix it.”

In the face of a correctional system clearly distressed, the provincial government’s response has been slow.

But in a surprising announcement on March 21, Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said an additional 2,000 correctional officers would be hired over the next three years. Clearly, OPSEU’s campaign had delivered results.

While pleased with the announcement, Thomas said he remained cautious.

“I’ve got a lot of questions about this,” he said. “Are these new hires going to be full-time permanent, or casual? Will new officers get training in dealing with inmates with health issues? What about programs for the mentally distressed and substance abusers?”

OPSEU members support each other

Craig Hadley, inSolidarity

While many of us were shopping and preparing for the past holiday season, correctional officer Murray Butler was starting his shift at the Thunder Bay Jail.  For Butler, the night started like most others, but what transpired changed his life, the lives of his co-workers, and drew public attention to a correctional system marked by profound dysfunctionality.

At about 8 p.m. that night 70 inmates took control of the protective custody wing, demanding prescription drugs and cigarettes. They used officer Butler as their bargaining chip.  After hours of negotiations Butler was safely released, leaving an entire floor trashed and the life of an OPSEU member forever changed.

“In our profession, it’s hard not to think about situations like these happening, but they do,” said Mike Lundy, president of Local 737. “As a division, there are 7,000 corrections officers aware of the dangers we face every day, and situations like these bring us together like a family. Unfortunately the public doesn’t know or care.”

And that’s exactly what happened following the disturbance in Thunder Bay.  Fellow correctional officer Andrea Clark, of Local 135, (Windsor South West Detention Centre), began a “Go Fund Me” account that sought to raise enough money for officer Butler to take a vacation with his family. The support was overwhelming, as thousands of OPSEU members and others donated more than $21,000 to the cause.  An additional $11,000 was raised through local donations and T-shirt sales in support of Butler.

“Officer Murray Butler is a genuine, good person. The kind of guy you are proud to consider a friend.  It’s amazing to see how supportive the correctional division and OPSEU have been,” said Lundy.

“It has been a very tough and emotional time in my life. I am humbled and touched by the support
OPSEU members support each other across the entire province. I have started my road to recovery and am looking forward to my trip to the Dominican Republic, made possible by the kind contributions and support from so many of you. Thank you to all,” said Butler.

Labour reads: The Arrogant Autocrat: Stepehn Harper's Takeover of Canada

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

inSolidarity isn’t normally the place to find a celebration of Canadian entrepreneurs and business executives, but Mel Hurtig is no normal corporate hero. He’s among the last of a breed — a bourgeois nationalist and one of a smattering of successful bankers, merchants and industrialists who believed that Canadians could be independently prosperous, and that patriotism and capitalism could and should co-exist. This unlikely group insisted, however, that excessive foreign ownership in the Canadian economy was unnecessary and that it undermined and distorted Canada’s growth potential.

Business-friendly nationalists like Liberal Walter Gordon were soon marginalized. Most gave up or gave in. Hurtig, however, remained vocal. A former bookstore owner, he sold his retail outlets at age 40 and started Hurtig Publishers. Its most impressive product was his own Canadian Encyclopedia into which he poured $12 million of his personal fortune. At 59, he sold the publishing business and turned to writing and political activism. Now, at 83, he has added The Arrogant Autocrat to an impressive inventory of increasingly angry books that includes, The Betrayal of Canada (1991), Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids (2000), The Vanishing Country (2002), Rushing to Armageddon (2004), and The Truth About Canada (2008).

The “arrogant autocrat,” of course, is Stephen Harper. Before he fades from memory to become just a bad dream, it’s well worth reading Hurtig’s
critique — if only to ensure we don’t repeat the Harper mistake. The book isn’t thick or tremendously scholarly (though Hurtig’s research is meticulous and scrupulous), but it soundly and succinctly illustrates why Canada’s 22nd prime minister failed on every file: the economy, the environment, foreign policy, social policy, political ethics and, ultimately, democratic governance itself. It is also a revealing document from a man who has made an incredible political journey.

An early supporter of Pierre Trudeau, Mel Hurtig was a Liberal candidate for Parliament in 1972. He quickly found, however, that he was ill-suited to the compromise, if not the corruption, of “bigtent parties.” Along with Peter C. Newman and Abe Rotstein, he co-founded the Committee for an Independent Canada in 1973, and the more radical Council of Canadians in 1985. He created the short-lived National Party in 1993 and supported the NDP in last year’s election. Some say that people mellow with age, drifting inevitably toward conservatism.

Mel Hurtig’s achieved the opposite. He’s spent a lifetime courageously communicating his insights, hopes and fears. He should inspire us to remain true to our passions and principles, and not to forget the damage that neo-liberal ideologues like Stephen Harper can do. Mel Hurtig, The Arrogant Autocrat: Stephen Harper’s Takeover of Canada. Published by Mel Hurtig Publishing, 2015, 154 pages. Available at Chapters.Indigo.ca. ISBN 978-0-9940-9010-2.

Profile: James Clancy looks back on a lifetime in organized labour

Greg Hamara, OPSEU Communications Officer

James Clancy eases his lanky frame into a well-upholstered chair inside the brightly-lit boardroom of the National Union of Public and General Employees Union (NUPGE) and fixes his gaze on the outdoors.

“I really prefer doing most of my work from here,” he remarks casually. Stacks of papers and a laptop clutter the head of the table where he has parked himself. “I find my own office too dark.”

Sure enough, a quick visit to his private office a few steps away reveals a space where the lowhanging branches of evergreen trees outside the window dim the natural light. James Clancy thrives on the achievements that brightness can deliver over the gloomy outcomes cast by darkness.

It’s a philosophy that has served Clancy well for close to 40 years as a public sector union activist at the local level, three terms as president of OPSEU and, for the past 26 years, president of NUPGE.

In August, Clancy, 65, will retire, leaving behind his private office and the boardroom from where he led one of Canada’s largest unions and one of which most Canadians – indeed, most unionized public sector workers in the country – have little or no awareness.

With its head office in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean, NUPGE is self-described as a “union of unions.” Modelled as a federation, the National Union, as it is sometimes called, takes direction from the leadership of all provincial “components” (and a handful of other affiliates) who primarily represent unionized government employees, like OPSEU. All provincial components, with the exception of Quebec, are members. (The Alberta Union of Public Employees is not a component, but the 35,000-member Health Sciences Association of Alberta is).  Today, NUPGE represents more than 360,000 members across Canada, with more and more smaller, private-sector unions choosing to affiliate.
Profile: James Clancy looks back on a lifetime in organized labour
inSolidarity ~ Winter 201617

Funded by two per cent of each component’s annual revenues, NUPGE focuses its work primarily on national issues and public policies. Examples of this include federal-provincial transfer payments, national standards for health and social programs, tax policies, the Canada Pension Plan, legislation respecting workplace health and safety, and changes to Employment Insurance, among others.

Eloquent and articulate, Clancy’s voice is seldom heard in the national or provincial news media. That task typically falls to the leadership of the components. If it frustrates him, Clancy doesn’t let on. As NUPGE president his primary task has been to “herd the cats” and keep their attention and strategies focused on domestic issues that affect all Canadians. NUPGE has been there to push for a national child care program; anti-privatization of public services; pension and retirement security; remedies for post-traumatic stress disorder among dozens of other campaigns he’s directed during his term in office.

He takes satisfaction that over his quarter century as president, NUPGE has grown in strength.

“I’m proudest that we have knitted together the NUPGE family. Thanks to the work of a lot of people we’ve become one of the strongest and most-respected unions out there. I think, in the process, private sector unions have gained a deeper understanding of what public sector unions can do.

“At the same time, the experience has taught me how difficult it can be to build unity in the labour movement. We haven’t been helped when labour itself is under attack by all sides.”

Throughout it all, Clancy has been a recognized leader in making the country a stronger and better place for working people, unionized or not. He’s had plenty of critics along the way, but few will fault him for the passion, energy or commitment he’s brought to the job.

Building the common good became his life’s mission and one he adopted early.

James Clancy was born in Kingston, Ont., in 1951, the middle of seven children to John and Joan Clancy. The couple met in London during the Battle of Britain; John was a paratrooper with the Canadian army, and Joan was an ambulance driver for British forces. The family relocated to Ottawa shortly after James’ birth. John became a career officer with the military, serving in Korea and Cyprus, and from several bases across Canada. Joan, meanwhile, became the homemaker, raising a large family often in the absence of her husband whose military service saw him stationed in scattered locations.

From each, recalls Clancy, he learned the value of public service.

“They both held the view that if people were prepared to spill their blood for their country in a time of war, then the least we can do in return is reward them by spending on the common good.”

To be active is to be well informed. From a young age Clancy discovered he enjoyed an appetite for news and the current affairs that were unfolding around him during the volatile 1960s.  By 12, he was reading the respected British newspaper, the Guardian. He counted U.S. president John Kennedy, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela among those he most admired and respected.  He absorbed the social gospel as taught to him by his Jesuit teachers in Ottawa.

“As I grew older I quickly discovered how the real world works,” he says. “Rule by the rich, for the rich.”

He graduated from Carleton University in 1975 with a degree in political science and found himself driving a dump truck in the nation’s capital for the next year.

His transition from truck driver to employment with the Ontario Public Service was audacious.

“I had a few days off and drove down to Toronto to spend some time with buddies of mine. We were watching Monday night NFL football at the Monarch Tavern and a friend of mine happened to mention that he had a job interview next day for a position with the Ministry of Community and Social Services. He wasn’t interested in the interview and he didn’t really want the job. He said I should go in his place. So I did.”

Clancy showed up next day for the interview before a three-member panel. The ministry was looking for an income maintenance officer. Plans were slowly underway to divest the services of the massive psychiatric hospital at 999 Queen St. West in Toronto. There was a demand for new staff to monitor incomes for displaced patients.

“I got to the interview and made it clear right from the start that I wasn’t my friend, so-and-so,” says Clancy. “I gave them my name and said I was interested in the job and I was here to be interviewed for it. The panel wasn’t amused, to say the least. In fact one of them remarked my move was ‘highly unusual.’”

Clancy was eventually hired for the position at an annual salary of $14,400, working from an office on Eglinton Ave., in mid-town Toronto. It took several years before he finally gained a permanent position with the Ontario Public Service, along with a not-too-subtle reminder that he should steer clear of union activities. His ascent through the elected ranks inside OPSEU would be rapid.

He immediately became active in Local 533, representing about 120 members in the ministry.

It was a period of rapid growth inside the OPS with the Progressive Conservative government of the day, under Premier Bill Davis, expanding the province’s social safety net in ways that haven’t been witnessed since. It was also a period of abrupt transition for OPSEU.

“Those were turbulent times for the union,” recalls Clancy. “The fight was still on for elected control of the union and away from the habits of the old Civil Service Association of Ontario, and I got in on the ground floor.” In the struggle for a union built on democratic principles, he found inspiration in the leadership of figures like Jake Norman, Jim Tait, Art Lane, and others.

It didn’t take long before Clancy was elected president of his local – he’s not exactly sure of the year, it could have been 1977 or ‘78 – and he quickly set about putting his labour ideals into place. Unwaveringly, they’ve guided his activism for the past 40 years.

Clancy likens his approach to a three-legged stool that is supported by collective bargaining, campaigns, and organizing. Each relies on the others. If one cracks, the other two are likely to collapse.

There’s more to the Clancy approach.

“I’ve discovered the key to success starts with listening to people as much as you talk to them. You’ve got to get a feeling of what’s happening to them, in their working lives and in their communities. You’ve got to drive public policy to meet the needs of people and the clients we serve. As trade unionists we have to marry our interests as workers with the interests of the public we serve. Do that, and negotiations will take care of themselves.”

His activism drew him into conflict with senior management at the ministry. They failed to renew his contract on a couple of occasions (it would be several years before he landed a permanent post); another time he opted to go on unpaid leave-ofabsence to work on an OPSEU campaign.

“I guess there were times when I pilloried ComSoc for what I saw as their failure to put their clients first.”

By 1982 Clancy found himself on OPSEU’s executive board and two years later he was elected president, defeating three challengers – Ron Martin, Ev Sammon and Lane – by a margin of eight votes on the third ballot. At 33, he had become the youngest person ever elected to lead a major Canadian union.

Under his stewardship, OPSEU rapidly widened its footprint. It was a period marked by “tension” as he cajoled, pushed, dragged and challenged the union to start organizing in the broader public sector, starting with paramedics, the Children’s Aid Society, legal clinics and a few others.

“I got a lot of push back from our members in the OPS,” he says. “They couldn’t understand why all of ‘their’ dues were being spent on organizing these other groups. The fact was, we needed their money; we couldn’t have grown the BPS without it.”

It was also period of almost frantic mobilizing as OPSEU sought to organize the unorganized working in units considerably smaller than the giant, the OPS.  The victories kept adding up: child treatment workers, psychiatric nursing practioneers, community college employees, health care professionals and many others.

“There were times during the ‘80s when we had five major campaigns happening simultaneously. I was blessed with staff and activists who understood the importance of campaigning around contracts. No other union in the country could match our record on wage settlements and new contracts. There were times when I felt I was operating from the deck of an air traffic control tower. I found out that you can’t land every plane at the same time, but we tried.”

Eventually, the frenzy of the times caught up with Clancy and exacted a ferocious toll on his health. On Easter weekend in 1988, during his second term in office, the 37-year old OPSEU president suffered a massive heart attack while on Salt Spring Island off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

He was rushed by air ambulance to Royal Jubilee hospital in Victoria where doctors, “paddled me back to life.” After three weeks in the intensive care unit, his doctor asked him: “Have you thought about doing something different in life?”

He hadn’t. To accommodate his months-long convalescence, the union delayed by one year, to 1989, its election for president. Clancy was re-elected handily.

His six-year term in office was marked by other significant events; some political, some personal.

In 1985, after more than 40 years in office, the mighty Big Blue Machine of Ontario politics, the Progressive Conservative Party, was brought to its knees by voters. Although the Tories won more seats than the Liberals (52 to 48), Bob Rae and the New Democratic Party had little interest in supporting a continuation of PC rule; they began negotiations to reach a legislative pact with David Peterson’s Liberals that would keep the Grits in power for two years. In the 1987 provincial election the Liberals steamrolled to victory with a massive majority.

Looking back on those historic times in Ontario, Clancy carries a certain fondness for the policies Davis put into place.

“Bill Davis was seen by many as a type of father figure. He viewed public service as a calling. Under Davis, we really witnessed an expansion of public service. The PCs were successful because they built from the bottom up.

“David Peterson? He was the first premier to treat public service as a business. Enough said.”

Closer to home, the mid-80s marked the time when Clancy first met Debbie Champ, the woman who would go on to become his life partner and the mother of their three children.

The occasion was a labour convention in Saskatoon where Clancy was scheduled to speak. Afterwards, Champ, a nurse practioner in the Saskatchewan correctional service at the time, took the opportunity to share her opinion on what the OPSEU president had had to say.

“She came up to me after I’d finished and challenged me on some of the things I had to say. She displayed a certain chutzah that I found refreshing. Our conversation continued over the course of the convention and then some more.

“She’s was and is a feminist and an activist and I have learned plenty from her over our years together.”

That same spirit of destiny can’t be said of Clancy and the surprising election of the NDP to Queen’s Park with a majority government almost 26 years ago. On the same day that NDP leader Bob Rae was elected premier – September 6, 1990 – Clancy started his new job as president of NUPGE having earlier stepped down as OPSEU leader to take a run at becoming the next head of the National Union.

No one can be certain how the history of the NDP government might have unfolded differently had Clancy, a lifetime supporter and member of the party, remained at the helm of OPSEU during the NDP’s term in office. He certainly would have vigorously opposed Rae’s decision to drop an election pledge to introduce public auto insurance. He would have argued that the NDP should introduce some form of proportional representation to our electoral system.

Most of all, would Clancy have made a difference on Rae’s decision to impose the infamous Social Contract  on public sector workers – a move that enraged unions like OPSEU and CUPE, but found support with many private sector unions? (A quick history lesson: Faced with a $12 billion deficit in 1993 and looking for ways to reduce it, the Rae government unilaterally opened collective agreements in the public sector and imposed 12 unpaid days of leave on all provincial public servants earning more than $30,000 annually, including OPS members, teachers and nurses. The move was quickly dubbed, “Rae Days”).

Clancy avoids a clear answer to the question, but observes the government and the unions of the day resembled, “two ships passing in the night.” He adds: “No question, the Social Contract was a huge disappointment; you don’t build prosperity on the back of austerity.”

Austerity. In Clancy’s worldview the move to impose austerity measures by neo-liberal governments in western Europe and North America didn’t begin with the Great Recession of 2008. It doesn’t coincide with economic
downturn of the early1990s. Its roots can be traced to the Thatcher-Reagan axis of the early 1980s and their mutual assault on public sector workers. Today, its grip is as tight as ever and its target is still the same: public services.

Public sector unions are squarely in austerity’s crosshairs. Not surprisingly, he says, there is a direct relation between the attack on organized labour and the alarming growth in social and economic inequality.

“You can divide the post-war period into two, distinct eras,” he begins. “We had the period between 1945 and 1980 where incomes grew and where we witnessed, in Canada, an expansion of government programs like the CPP, Old Age Security, GIC supplements and public health care.

“Now, let’s look at the past 35 years. Canada is three times wealthier than we were in 1980, but what have we experienced? More inequality. More mental health illnesses; lower life expectancy in marginalized groups; more crime; lower levels of civic engagement and social mobility. In the process, the state has become more authoritarian and public trust breaks down. It’s perfectly captured by the sentiment, ‘I don’t have a workplace pension, so let’s take yours away.’”

Against this roiling background, Clancy singles out the unprecedented attack by neo-liberals on organized labour. Since 1980, he says, Canadian jurisdictions haves adopted 225 labour laws – but, over the same 35-year period, 217 labour rights have been repealed by provincial and federal governments. “Why are we surprised, then, when income inequality has increased by about 20 per cent since 1980?”

Despite his gloomy assessment, Clancy remains the same irrepressible optimist he was the day he walked into his first job interview with the Ministry of Community and Social Services in place of his friend almost 40 years ago.

“We’re in the final throes of this 35-year experiment,” he concludes. “Unfettered capitalism is in its death spiral. People are desperate. There’s something boiling just beneath the surface. I believe we can still build a better place using our common wealth for our common good.”

Labour reads: No-Nonsense Guide

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Between the Lines (BTL) is a scrappy little Canadian publisher which boasts of “challenging the mainstream since 1977.” The claim is valid. BTL has published more than 250 hard-hitting books covering issues from forestry to food production, and from film to high finance. Each one combines the highest editorial standards with a radical commitment to speaking truth to power. More importantly, however, this roster of titles meet the needs of the temporarily and only partially powerless as labour activists become increasingly engaged in promoting social change and by building alliances with other progressive organizations.

Almost 40 years ago, as a former contract employee of the Ontario Department of Mines, I purchased BTL’s first book, award-winning writer Jamie Swift’s The Big Nickel: Inco at Home and Abroad. It was a brilliant exposé of one of Canada’s largest mineral extraction companies. From its start-up in 1902, with funding from the likes of US banker J. P. Morgan and Carnegie Steel, through its often bitter labour relations and hideous environmental record, Inco was an iconic Canadian story and remains so, even after its acquisition by Vale, the giant Brazilian mining company. I admired BTL at the time for being the first to put Swift in print and I’ve had no reason to change my mind ever since.

One of BTL’s finest contributions to Canadian culture is its “No-Nonsense Guide” series. With an inventory of more than 40 titles, these small, cheap, but well-written pocket-sized books provide a basic introduction to fundamental and often controversial issues that affect us all. Some top scholars, journalists and activists have contributed volumes on globalization, climate change, indigenous peoples, science, religion and dozens more. Not least among them is a rigorously fact-based and clearlywritten primer, The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food by Wayne Roberts, a former OPSEU staffer and author of a history of our union titled, Don’t Call Me Servant: Government Work and Unions in Ontario 1911-1984.

The complete inventory of No-Nonsense Guides can be found on BTL’s website (www.btlbooks.com). Selling for about the inflated price of two mid-winter cauliflowers, they give union activists with broad interests in current events and social change a solid footing upon which to expand their knowledge as a foundation for healthy and wellgrounded political action.

How do we perceive ourselves after a disability?

Greg Snider, Disability Rights Caucus and Chair of Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Group
John Rae, OPSEU Retiree and member of OPSEU’s Disability Rights Caucus

I was camping last year when I observed my friend Steve taking down a tarp he had put up earlier. I was struck by the human ability to find ways to complete a task. You see, my friend only has one arm and had to untie a knot above his head, a task – even with two arms – I find frustrating. He accomplished this task with seeming ease.

As a person with a disability myself, I understood the skills involved in finding less traditional ways to get a task done.

In a world where a person can learn to tie knots with one arm, a person who is blind can move throughout his community with ease, and a person who is deaf can communicate with the world around them, we should ask ourselves: why do 80 per cent of persons with disabilities continue to face unemployment or under employment?

It seems that we live in a world where the skills one develops through overcoming barriers is not recognized. In today’s ever changing market, these should be valuable and fully transferable skills and yet a community of people who use these skills on a daily basis is largely ignored.

Perhaps some of the fault can be laid at the foot of the person with a disability for not recognizing their own strengths. This seems to be rather unfair since many people with disabilities have grown up with a greater understanding of what they didn’t have than what they have.  Let’s be clear: I am not talking about focusing on the ability and not the disability.

I am talking about a unique, enhanced, or more practiced ability. I don’t recall ever looking at how I got things done and saying that is a unique problem-solving skill that is a transferable skill.

The larger problem is that the world around us, and in particular those who do hiring, do not recognize these unique abilities.  Worse yet, they avoid a community of people they feel come with limitations – people who would not meet their perceived needs for maximum flexibility.

But is this true? Is anyone able to provide maximum flexibility? Is a person with a disability able to provide the same flexibility, but in a different way? Or, in a different area of ability? I think we are able, and we bring different abilities to the workplace.

Regardless of the employer’s legal duty to accommodate an individual’s disability short of undue hardship, ultimately, success in the workplace still seems to come back on the worker with a disability to see his or her unique ability to adapt, to share that ability with others (especially employers) and most importantly, to take pride in the skills he or she has unique to others, and to believe in themselves. Is this entirely fair?

It is time both employers and unions did more to recognize the variety of transferable skills that workers with disabilities possess, and to do much more to bring this group of skilled and enthusiastic workers into the mainstream of our society.

McIntyre Powder Project:  challenging a broken WSIB system

Janice Martell, Local 604

The McIntyre Powder Project is a social justice project founded in the spring of 2014 by myself, an OPSEU member of Local 604, Elliot Lake (see Member Profile, page 18). McIntyre Powder is a finely-ground aluminum dust that workers in the mining and other silica-dust producing industries were required to inhale prior to every work shift as a condition of employment. McIntyre Powder was developed, produced, patented, and marketed by mining executives from McIntyre Porcupine Mines in Timmins as a prophylaxis (preventative) measure against silicosis (a lung disease). It is caused by inhaling crystalline silica molecules, which cause scarring and hardening of the lungs and which can eventually lead to death. Read: high compensation costs for mine owners.

The theory was that inhaling aluminum dust deeply into the lungs, would surround and prevent silica from settling into that vital organ, thereby preventing and causing silicosis. The aluminum dust was dispensed in an airborne cloud via a compressed air system in the mining drys (where mine and mill workers changed into work clothes), or in specially-constructed chambers.

The McIntyre Powder aluminum prophylaxis program ran from 1943 until 1979-80 in Canada, the United States, Belgian Congo, Western Australia, Mexico, and Chile. During its lifespan, tens of thousands of workers were exposed to aluminum dust inhalation. The long-term health impacts on workers exposed to McIntyre Powder aluminum dust is unknown, but there is reason for concern. Clinical literature and research studies indicate that aluminum is widely accepted as being a neurotoxin. A 1990 study by Sandra Rifat and colleagues of Ontario gold miners exposed/ unexposed to McIntyre Powder found statistically significant cognitive deficits in the exposed group. A 2013 longitudinal study by Dr. Susan Peters and colleagues of Western Australian gold miners who were exposed to McIntyre Powder found that aluminum dust did not protect miners from developing silicosis and that there was some indication of possible increased risk of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease for exposed miners.

Despite these research findings, there has been no comprehensive investigation into the long-term health impacts on workers who were exposed to aluminum dust under the McIntyre Powder program. This makes it extremely difficult for individual workers to successfully pursue a claim for compensation for occupational exposure to aluminum dust.

My father, Jim Hobbs, was one of the miners required to inhale aluminum dust for a two-year period when he worked at Rio Algom, a Quirke 2 mine in Elliot Lake. He has idiopathic Parkinson’s Disorder, meaning Parkinson’s of unknown origin.

In 2011, I initiated a WSIB claim on behalf of my father for occupational disease related to his Parkinson’s and aluminum dust exposure. The claim was denied. WSIB cited a standing policy which states that neurological disorders are not occupational diseases when they’re claimed to be related to aluminum exposure.

I established the McIntyre Powder Project to raise awareness of the McIntyre Powder aluminum dust program, to seek compensation for those with health issues related to inhaling aluminum dust, and to challenge the injustices inherent in the WSIB system that prevent workers from succeeding with occupational disease claims. I have done extensive research and created a voluntary registry for exposed workers (or their survivors) to document health issues. To date, 139 names have been added to this registry, about one-quarter of whom have neurological disorders, and half of whom have respiratory health issues. I am working collaboratively with the United Steelworkers, Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers, and other organizations to document health issues in exposed workers more formally through a McIntyre Powder Intake Clinic, which is scheduled for May 11-12, 2016 in Timmins. The goal will be to stimulate further epidemiological research to evaluate disease rates in this population and secure compensation where warranted by elevated disease rates.

For more info: McIntyre Powder Project on Facebook, or www.mcintyrepowderproject.com.

Member profile: Janice Martell, crisis counsellor

Greetings to my OPSEU family!  My name is Janice Martell, and I have been president of Local 604 in Elliot Lake since September 2014.  Our local is a composite local comprised of three units:  an Ontario Public Service unit of 20 members from eight different ministries, and two Broader Public Service units: 12 members from a women’s crisis shelter and 11 members from a nonprofit counselling centre, where I am employed as a counsellor.  My unit joined OPSEU in the autumn of 2013 following a 32-day organizing campaign I initiated. I was supported by talented and supportive OPSEU staff and by several of our own members.

Unionizing has provided our members with a place to address issues of fairness and equity.  Personally, unionization has connected me with dynamic people engaged in meaningful work – my OPSEU family!

For as long as I can remember, there’s been a fire in my belly on issues of injustice, thanks to my roots. I was raised by a blue-collar family in Massey, Ontario, a small community 70 km west of Sudbury.  My father was a miner, and my mother worked as a medical receptionist.  They believed in family, hard work, and personal responsibility.  I embraced those values, and thrived on passionate ideals about life and creating a better world. Being vocal about social justice probably made me the weird kid in school. As life unfolded, my idealism turned to cynicism.  Sarcasm crept in, along with apathy and worst of all, complacency. 

Then June 23, 2012 happened.  On that date a portion of the roof of the Algo Centre mall in Elliot Lake collapsed, killing two women, one of whom – Lucie Aylwin – was my former colleague and an OPSEU member.  That event and its aftermath jolted me out of my complacency and compelled me to find my voice again: to care less about what others think and do what I know to be right.  That process has been transformative.  At first it felt overwhelming as I recognized that I cannot tackle every injustice in the world.  So I decided to pick three.  I chose three things that I really care about and want to contribute to – one big project that I would champion, and two others that I would contribute to in some way.  My big endeavour became the McIntyre Powder Project (see related article, page 14), which has both consumed me and bonded me to other mining families and their struggles with occupational diseases.  The two other areas of interest that I chose are reconciliation with indigenous peoples, along with supporting first responders who suffer from trauma.

I still feel overwhelmed at times, yet I also feel energized and grounded, and a growing sense of purpose, connectedness, and clarity.  My involvement is healing and worthy, and it keeps complacency at bay.  Some day when my children ask me about life, I will tell them this:  Pick three things you care about and find a way to contribute to them.  It will change you in ways that matter.

Health care in Code Blue

Verne Saari, inSolidarity

As I compose this article, it is with a strong sense of foreboding of what the future holds for our health care system in our province and in our country. The headline above refers to the fact that our health care system is struggling to breathe, let alone carry a strong rhythm. “Code blue,” as any health care employee will say, is when a patient is not breathing properly, has a faint or erratic heart rhythm, and is on the brink of unconscious collapse.

In a hospital setting it is a call for assistance that is responded to by health professionals who converge on the Code Blue patient’s location. This group might include doctors, nurses specially trained in critical care, respiratory therapists, diagnostic imaging technicians, and laboratory technicians. In a Code Blue call, the patient is in a dire condition.

The patient in this case is our public health care system, and unless more care is provided this patient does not stand a good chance of recovery.

I am a frontline health care worker employed in laboratory collections at a large regional hospital in Northern Ontario. Every day I see the effect that a lack of proper funding is having on our system. I have heard from hundreds of patients and their worries about our health care system. Most recognize there is a problem. They also realize the constraints placed on health care employees, given the lack of proper funding from our provincial government. Most patients acknowledge that nearly every employee will go out of their way to assist them on their road to recovery, and to show a genuine respect for their well-being. They also understand that we are all working as hard as possible to make certain their stay as positive as possible.

Our management teams have incepted plans for efficiencies and costing. As a strong believer in publicly-funded health care sometimes I cringe when I observe the consequences of these programs. I also understand there is a huge cost associated with health care. I see the “big picture.”  Our provincial health centres have become incorporated Ontario businesses. This process has “divested” the government of the financial burden to cover cost overruns and hospital budgeting.

Most people don’t understand how their hospitals are operated and funded. They understand even less about finding efficiencies.

The financial information is available. To learn for yourself how funds are allotted to Ontario hospitals, go to health.gov.on.ca.

One example is how patients have to endure many hours, and sometimes days, on a stretcher in an emergency department due to a shortage of available beds.

I believe that this specific problem is a direct result of the shortage of “alternate level of care facilities” in our province. These are centres that should provide patients a more advanced level of care than found in a typical retirement facility. In their absence we are failing our elderly population and in turn failing ourselves.

Again, it all comes comes down to money. Our government tries to provide these services efficiently; taxpayers complain about tax increases.

Our government aims to achieve a balanced budget because we as voters and taxpayers have supported a platform that today’s provincial Liberal government promised us.

The federal Liberal government has pledged to revive the national health care accord with the provinces and territories at a time when health care in Canada finds itself in crisis. It’s a noble goal. Is it achievable?

Perhaps it’s time that taxpayers own up to the fact if we want a modern and efficient public health care system, we have to pay more. What’s the alternative? That we die earlier? Most of us do not have the financial means to seek private treatments and medical care. More of these oncepublic services have been privatized due to the
ongoing cuts that we see happening to our public system.

Regrettably, I see dark times ahead for Canada’s publicly-funded health care system. It is a system that was put in place decades ago to help all Canadians access medical care. Let’s not lose what we already have. There are in rallies happening regularly in almost every major city organized by the Ontario Health Coalition in unity with many major unions. So pay attention to your local TV news and newspapers for a rally in your area, or visit the OHC website at ontariohealthcoalition. ca for information on public gatherings that send a strong message to our provincial government: Let`s keep healthcare alive and in public hands!

We are like snow

Verne Saari, inSolidarity

Union activists. Oft maligned. Found everywhere. Spread all across our country. Some people embrace us while others could do without us. Individually, we all differ. Collectively, we are strong.

In a way we’re much like snow. Anyone who has shoveled snow or who has rammed their vehicle into a snowbank can testify to the strength of snow in its collective form. We’re told that each snowflake has it’s own individual shape; so, too, are union activists who bring something different to the table. Different skill sets; different views on issues; different levels of public speaking skills. Different solutions to different tasks.

Some people would like to shovel us to the side of the road, away from view. One heap that eventually melts away. Much like the way municipalities deal with their snow load.

Union activists blanket our beautiful country. The only difference is that union activists are not seasonal. We do not melt away once our season turns to spring. We may all take our muchanticipated vacation during the summer months  (if one’s seniority allows it), but eventually we return to our activism.

Another comparison to snow is that we never quite go away. Snow melts, which becomes water, which becomes rain through the evaporative process, and then endlessly washes over our planet. It never vanishes.

We recognize the sheer mass of snow. Most of us have probably witnessed a shed roof or old building collapse under its immense weight. If all union members were active in the same way all the time, imagine the strength we might enjoy, bundled together in one place.

Snow exerts pressure. Unions do the same, on employers and governments. Considerable money is spent to remove snow, similar to the way governments and corporations spend to foil us.

We are necessary. Without unions, workers would have few rights, poor pay and no benefits. They would not enjoy the level of safety in the workplace as they rightfully expect in a union shop. Workers would be subject to deplorable working conditions. Thankfully we have representation to ensure that our workplaces are safe and that conditions are generally acceptable. Can you imagine what it might be without these safeguards? Could you imagine a Canada without snow?

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