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inSolidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU stewards and activists, volume 23, number 3, autumn/winter 2016

inSolidarity - volume 23, number 3, autumn/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:

Verne Saari – Editor, Local 659
Katie Sample – Local 499
Craig Hadley – Local 5109
Scott McAllister – Local 250
Stacy Dowden – Local 112

Ex officio members:

Felicia Fahey – Executive Board Liaison
Timothy Humphries – OPSEU Communications

Special to this issue:

Nicole Beaulieu, United Way Sudbury and Nipissing Districts
Brenda Clapp, OPSEU Provincial Executive, Retirees Division
Howard A. Doughty, Local 560
Carole Gregorcic, Local 606
Joe Grogan, Retired OPSEU Region 5 member
Tracy MacMaster, Local 561
Jessica Sikora, Local 586

Please send mail to: inSolidarity, Verne Saari, c/o Timothy Humphries, OPSEU Head Office, 100 Lesmill Road, Toronto, Ontario  M3B 3P8, 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 Board Members.

Changes for the inSolidarity team

Farewell, Virginia – and thank you!

At our summer inSolidarity meeting, our editor, Virginia Ridley, announced her resignation as editor and as a member of the inSolidarity committee, citing the many other things she wished to accomplish. And so we bade a reluctant farewell to Virginia.

The shoes left by her vacancy will be difficult to fill. She brought so much to our committee by way of her organizational skills, intuitive intelligence, and charming disposition. We have definitely lost a strong part of our committee.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish her much success in all her endeavours. Thank you, Virginia! You have helped shape this publication in so many ways.

We have, however, gained a new member: Scott McAllister. Scott hails from Region 2, where he is a member of Local 250, which is a multi-unit local, and is employed as a paramedic in Kincardine. He has been an OPSEU member for 25 years.

Scott was elected as first alternate at our last Editor’s Weekend in 2015 and, therefore, was called upon to join the committee to fill the vacancy. If first impressions hold true, we may expect great things from him. He has an energetic, yet relaxed, manner that reveals a true enthusiasm for the labour movement and for people in general. 

In closing, I also wish to add that I was made editor of inSolidarity by acclamation.

Just seeing those words in print makes me feel that I have some major hurdles to overcome – yet it also comes with a true sense of excitement for what lies ahead. I am thankful for the opportunity to contribute to inSolidarity in any way I can.

In solidarity,
Verne Saari

Corrections: It’s a Woman’s job, too!

Angela McCool, Local 234

Being a female working as a correctional officer (CO) in a male jail and a male-dominated environment doesn’t go without its challenges.

Most women are not born with the upper-body strength a man has. Therefore, we have to work harder to get it. It's definitely a barrier as a female, because sometimes, when there is an altercation with inmates, male officers will jump in front of us for fear that we’ll get hurt or we can’t handle ourselves. They usually mean well, but in reality, male or female, if you can't handle yourself in an altercation, being a CO is not the job for you.

Female officers normally can’t perform strip searches on male inmates. Some male officers view female officers as being “useless” because of this. But male officers are also not allowed to perform strip searches on female inmates.

Some women are viewed as being “fire starters,” because they are assertive verbally. This could possibly be due to lack of strength, to appear more dominant, or a lack of self-esteem. Women who act like this make it much tougher for the female COs who don’t.

In an all-male maximum security jail, it’s evident that altercations are going to happen between inmates. When working directly with inmates, you have to be in good physical shape and be ready to respond mentally, physically, and emotionally to any type of emergency, at any moment. The only thing some inmates have to do all day is to work out. You should be a step ahead of them at all times – physically and mentally.

Male officers, for the most part, are more dominant and masculine, whereas some females have to be more communicative. This mixture adds to a more cohesive daily routine. The differences in personalities in corrections are, for the most part, what makes your day run better.

When just starting a career in corrections, it takes awhile to find your groove. Every officer has a certain way they want you to do things, but in reality, you can't be a follower. You have to find your own niche, while still acting professional and following the rules and regulations that are expected of you. If we all worked the same, we would be robots.

The ICIT (Institutional Crisis Intervention Team) is a corrections tactical squad. Being a member of the team requires specialized training within the institutions to respond to institutional emergencies. There are a small number of female COs on numerous ICIT teams around the province, while the Vanier Centre for Women (a jail) in Milton consists of an all-female officer team. This all‑female ICIT team is the only one in the province and, indeed, North America.

The male and female ICIT officers all have the same training. The testing consists of the same physical and written test. You must be in superior shape physically, mentally, emotionally, and professionally to be on this team. You are held to the highest standards to be, and continue to be, a member on these teams. For anyone to segregate us as “women” on ICIT is degrading. We are all equal members in grey.

Sexism, however, does still exist in corrections, as it does all over the world. Little by little, I hope that diminishes. The most sexist thing overheard by one of my partners was a male officer stating that he felt corrections made the biggest mistake when they got rid of the horses at the old Guelph correctional facility and brought in women. I often wonder if he also thinks this about his own mother who brought him into this world, his own daughter, or his wife who gave birth to his children.

That way of thinking is out the door. Welcome to 2016.

Solidarity Works! Organizing part-time support staff in Ontario colleges

Tracy MacMaster, Local 561 steward, part-time college workers regional co-ordinator

During the last 10 days of June 2016, thousands of part-time support staff at 24 Ontario community colleges had the opportunity to go to the polls to vote to join OPSEU. How did part-time college support staff in communities spread out over two million square miles get to this moment? Solidarity, perseverance – and a whole lot of pizza.

The power of solidarity

College support staff do a wide variety of jobs: secretaries, IT specialists, aircraft mechanics, janitors, library technicians and lab monitors. Any function that is not faculty or management is performed by support staff. Full-time workers are protected through their OPSEU union contract – 40 years of collective bargaining have brought decent wages, benefits, and the right to make our voices heard when there is injustice in the workplace.

Part-time workers do the same jobs, but without membership in the union, their working conditions are vastly different. Excluded from large sections of the Employment Standards Act, even the basic rights most Ontarians enjoy are unavailable to them. Part-time contracts at the colleges typically involve four‑month terms, no job security, no benefits, and wages that are half of full-time workers’ doing the same work. The situation is bad for part-time workers and dangerous for full-time workers – large groups of vulnerable employees in the workplace make us all insecure.

Clearly, something needed to be done, and Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) members stepped up.  With the full support of OPSEU’s Convention and Executive Board, CAAT Support members worked closely with organizing staff to reach thousands of part-time support staff across the province and sign them up with OPSEU.

A new kind of organizing

Two kinds of part-time workers exist in the colleges. The first are regularly employed, working 24 hours or less at a multitude of jobs: mechanics, secretaries, student advisers, library techs, and IT folks – any job that is not teaching or management. This group wants a union because they have little to no protections in the workplace: no access to basic rights like vacation pay, stat holiday pay, regulated breaks, or overtime; and despite long service, no recognition of their status as inside employees when full-time work comes up. They stay, because they value working with students, and/or they hope to land a full-time job. But they know a union will improve things for them enormously.

The second category is student workers. Students are mostly low-income, OSAP-eligible students, whose jobs are offered as a tuition offset. They do typical student jobs – peer tutors, lab monitors, student ambassadors – for days or weeks at the beginning or end of each semester. This group is keen to join the union in response to what they see as injustice: they see a fundamentally unfair gap between part‑time and full-time working conditions, and want to be recognized as real employees when full-time jobs open up upon graduation. 

How to reach huge numbers of workers on short, erratic shifts, with different needs and relationships to the workplace? A model of local activism, supported and reinforced by excellent staff organizers, tackled the problem. In the spring of 2015, a local co-ordinator was chosen from the stewards at each college, and stewards were trained to have organizing conversations. On September 1, 2015, we launched the campaign and started signing cards. Local meetings were held, and in many colleges, members voted to support the campaign with time and money from their local resources. Staff organizers provided coaching and signed cards, and ran events alongside local stewards.

With so many people to reach, creativity was key. “Staff appreciation” events bringing part-time and full-time workers together were held in campus union offices, in rented student spaces – in the case of two Toronto colleges and out on the sidewalk. With plenty of snacks, including pizza, and the chance to win a prize, the events were high-energy fun, and lots of cards were signed. Members brought their part-time co-workers, or covered desks so they could come. Word spread with each event. Finally, we had enough cards to file, and in June 2016, the vote was held across the province.

Your solidarity is needed

Since the last ballots cast in June, the employer has put up multiple barriers to opening the boxes and counting the vote. The hopes of thousands of college workers have been put on hold while the College Council drags out legal proceedings. Every day, local stewards and members get asked when the boxes will be opened – with no firm answer.

OPSEU members from every sector may need to come to the forefront to get the votes counted. Stay tuned for ways you can help. With our members moving forward together, we will get justice for college workers.

Labour Reads: Boiling Point

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Maude Barlow has been a potent force in Canadian public policy debates for over 25 years. National chairperson of the Council of Canadians, cofounder of the Blue Planet Project, and prolific blogger (canadians.org/blogs/maude-barlow), Barlow has authored almost 20 books on issues from the original North American Free Trade Agreement to medicare, education, and our uneasy place in “fortress” North America.

Apart from our dwindling Canadian sovereignty, Barlow’s main interest is in the universal human right to clean water – a matter that Canadians have both tremendous resources contribute to and tremendous responsibilities to protect.

Of particular concern to Ontarians is the current exploitation and degradation of fresh water supplies. The Wynne government is up to its neck in giveaway deals with private bottled-water corporations, the top 10 of which are sucking almost 20 million litres of water a day, 365 days a year from groundwater sites. Apart, perhaps, from private golf courses, the most visible of the big water hogs is Nestlé Canada. But plenty of others pay next to nothing for this precious resource – and then sell it back to us in expensive, ecologically unfriendly plastic bottles.

But the “water apocalypse” doesn’t stop there. Maude Barlow meticulously maps out its devastating consequences across Canada, now that climate change is already altering our environment and bringing drought and declining water tables to North America. She shows how tarsands bitumen threatens the Great Lakes, fracking endangers water safety, and trade deals open our country up to international lawsuits – if and when we decide to adopt lawful measures to protect our environment and freshwater reserves.

Barlow acknowledges that the current federal government is at least rhetorically better than the Harper government, which gutted environmental regulations, gagged federal scientists, and pandered to mining, construction, and energy industries. But she suggests that the Liberal governments in Ottawa and, particularly, at Queen’s Park are succeeding only in talking the talk – while walking the walk with eco-profiteers all the way to the international banks.

Boiling Point is a book that should make us boiling mad and get us to join with Indigenous, environmental, and other activists in safeguarding an already endangered legacy. We have no proper inventory of fresh water, no national drinking water or sewage disposal standards, nor even a plan to restore and improve on the fisheries, navigable waters, and environmental protection laws that Harper tore down. With many water extraction permits due to expire in 2017, Premier Wynne shows little interest in tough negotiations with Nestlé and other gluttonous water barons. Barlow gives us more than a wakeup call. She gives us a call for action – now!

Maude Barlow, Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis. Toronto: EWC Press. 2016, 312 pages. ISBN: 9781770413559.

Lines in the sand

Scott McAllister, Local 250, inSolidarity

Their roots grow deep and can be found in biblical writings.

“As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead. A man from Samaria then came travelling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him and went over to him. He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.”

They are a selfless people, with little thought of personal gain. Silent but confident leaders, they sacrifice without any expectation. Their hearts beat with compassion. They are driven by the simple act of helping someone in need.

They stand in the gap, a Good Samaritan who exemplifies the public servant.

Laws of the land are named after their actions.

In Ontario, the Good Samaritan laws offer protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are, or are believed to be, injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated

In the midst of war, they are considered the angels of mercy. The Geneva Convention stands firm in asserting that anyone knowingly firing at one of these clearly identified individuals is guilty of a war crime.

These people are paramedics.

Today, paramedics are being metaphorically fired upon as they face some of their toughest battles to date. The field of battle is political.

Police. Fire. Emergency medical services (EMS).

These are allied agencies and comrades-in-arms. Each begs the question, “Why do you what you do?” Each profession is unique. Each is territorial by nature. They’re proud, not of themselves, but of their craft. Each warrior is ready to defend their identity.

In 2003, lines were drawn as a fire-medic model was considered for the City of Owen Sound. The battle of identity had begun. With strategic information, rallies, and strong OPSEU support, the motion was eventually defeated.

But the battle of identity continued.

In 2015, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association – the firefighters’ union – submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care detailing a plan to initiate drug therapy – already provided by their paramedic counterparts. No decision has yet been issued.

The summer of 2016 saw Chatham-Kent fire chief Ken Stuebing submitting a proposal to assume control over EMS operations. Again, with outstanding OPSEU support, the motion was defeated, but not without the Ontario government promising to consider the fire-medic option.

The past 20 years have seen the paramedicine landscape grow in skillsets and responsibilities. From the supervision of their respected service, to being an extension of a physician’s hand, to the laws governing the Ministry of Health, paramedicine is one of the most regulated professions in the medical field today. Yet, on October 8, 2016, the television news magazine W5 aired “911 Roulette,” challenging the integrity of paramedic skills.

In the midst of political turmoil, paramedics will stand for their profession. And in this field of battle they will continue to do what they do best – caring for others, and answering the 911, call for help – even as they are being fired upon.


Verne Saari, inSolidarity editor, Local 659

I had awoken that morning in Quebec City to the booming sound of loud rock and roll and whistles, with the odd bleating of a horn in front of my hotel. Curious, I exited the front doors to have these sounds, louder now, wash over me. Then I saw the police. Undeterred, curiosity drove me to step onto the sidewalk.

At first, I thought maybe there was a street party going on but then remembered that it was 7:30 in the morning. (I’m kind of slow – especially in the mornings.) Then it came to me like an epiphany! I was witnessing the beautiful happening of a very well-organized labour demonstration.

There were flags of many different Quebec unions throughout the crowd. Buses numbering upwards of 50 were occupying two lanes of the other side of the street. Cube vans were handing out food packs and flags to the people lining up before them. Porta-potties numbering to 20 were neatly lined up near the curb.

As I passed the barricades whilst nodding at the police standing in line in front of them, a small voice in my head reminded me of how police in Quebec have dealt with demonstrators in the past, and I resolved to keep my head up and eyes open. I walked towards the crowd, literally feeling a strong sense of unity. I had some time that morning to spend and could not think of a better way than supporting my fellow union brothers and sisters.

One of the demonstrators looked at me and his eyes dropped to the OPSEU logo on my chest, mine to his CUPW logo. He spoke to me in French. All I understood was frère. “Frère” I knew to mean “brother.” He extended his hand in a welcoming handshake which I grasped without hesitation.

It’s important to note here that I speak very limited French. The gentleman speaking to me spoke very little English. Yet we were brothers. We did not share the same mother. However, we did share our commitment to the labour cause. I wore my OPSEU jacket, he his CUPW jacket. We both had one common denominator that allowed us to bridge a language barrier – that being our union activism.

I looked at him and asked him what was going on. He looked around and yelled to another guy standing nearby and waved him over. This fellow walked up to us, eyeing me a little as his cohort explained that I spoke basically only English. He turned back to me and smiled. “We’re demonstrating against the provincial government trying to ‘mess’ (verb replaced due to unacceptable language for print in inSolidarity) with our pension.”

Now this was something I could definitely support. I instantly began to think how I would feel if my own Ontario government were trying to “mess” with my pension – no “messing” way! Keep your greedy hands off of my retirement income!

My new friends handed me a flag and motioned me towards the milling crowd of activists. I proudly and confidently waded into the melee. Eyes looked at my jacket logo, and I soon had more pats on the shoulder and back than I could count. Smiles and high-fives came in abundance. I held that flag as high as I could and waved it back and forth.

This gathering also had a flatbed set up with the loudest speakers one could imagine. It also had two large video screens placed up on small towers so that all could view them. Photos of Quebec politicians were changing up slowly, interspersed with pictures of union members at work and at previous rallies. It all seemed kind of surreal. After about half an hour, I realized my commitments were about to begin.

Reluctantly I went back to the truck that had the flags stored in it and returned mine. I walked backwards towards the barricades while my eyes drank in the scene I had just embraced. It was a solid, warm feeling I carried away.

I turned away in time to cross back over the barricade line while again looking at the line of police. Their eyes also looked at the logo on my jacket and the one nearest me smiled and nodded while saying “Solidarité?” in the form of a question. I nodded and smiled. My verbal response was only “Oui,” but it was said with much pride and conviction. He smiled and I wondered if it was a smile of contempt or one of actual understanding.

I realized it really didn't matter. I knew what was right for me, and damned be the judgers, if that's what was going on. I returned to my own union educational and began my day of learning with a great feeling inside. That was a good day…

Attawapiskat Northern Youth Tour

Derek Armstrong, Local 606

It started with a news item in April 2016: youth were taking their own lives in a far northern community called Attawapiskat. I just couldn’t stop thinking: what if these youth had mentors, some inspiration, some words
of wisdom to lift their spirits and show them there’s so much to reach for in this world?

I contacted an old friend, Dakota House. He and colleague Scott Ward offer a mentor and leadership program called Going M.I.L.E.S., which they take across Canada, particularly to northern communities.

I knew they would be a perfect fit for what I had mind: taking a team of inspirational artists – artists who have worked with youth in remote and isolated communities – up to Attawapiskat. More than anyone else, they
would have a real sense of what these youth were going through.

Another artist I wanted on this venture was my friend and award-winning singer-song writer Shy Anne Hovorka (Barlett), from Thunder Bay. Shy-Anne had included youth in her music and had also toured far-north communities, sometimes travelling the ice roads to share her gifts.

To round out the group, I brought Sean Watson on board, a magician from Winnipeg who has his own stories of growing up and uses his experiences to empower youth.

So the team was assembled. Now I had to pay for the tour.

I set up at Gofundme account. But I knew it wouldn’t be enough. So I drew up a list of companies and organizations, and started at the top. I sent countless emails to CEOs, leaders, and politicians to inform them of our endeavour and seek their help.

Included on this list was our own President Smokey Thomas. Smokey shared with me that Attawapiskat was on the agenda, and a donation was approved that proved extremely helpful. I want to thank Smokey, First Vice-President/Treasurer Eddy Almeida, and Jeff Arbus for their support.

We also received financial support from Porter Airlines, Air Creebec, Mosaic Entertainment, and Holiday Inn Timmins. Combined with Gofundme, we raised 75 per cent of our costs.

A further challenge was co-ordinating the schedules of the four artists, but we finally agreed on the week of August 15-19. The community knew we were coming, and on arrival in Attawapiskat, we were greeted
with enthusiasm and requests for photos and autographs. People spread the word we were in town.

One challenge we faced was to learn that one of the community elders had just passed away. While this didn’t cancel the Creefest activities, it did alter the schedule. We worked fast with the youth and festival committees and got a new time slotted. We wanted our time with the youth, but we respected the grieving process that the community had put in motion.

On Thursday morning, we went to work with the teens. Using Facebook and word of mouth as the only source of mass communication, we attracted an eager bunch of young people, had a lot of fun, and managed to talk pretty much one on one.

As we neared noon, we had everyone leave with a mission to bring at least two other people back with them that afternoon. We weren’t we surprised when we returned from our break to find nearly two hundred waiting for us. As we set up our equipment, music blaring of an inquisitive tune enticing others to come check us out.

It wasn’t long before chairs were filled, and even parents enjoyed the show from the bleachers in the rear. It was then that I really felt what this was all about.

The group of four entertained for two hours straight and brought countless smiles roars of laughter from everyone. And when the show was over, this talented group of people dragged me onto the stage to let the community know I had helped make it happen. I couldn’t have been more proud of this team.

The trip was more than I ever could have expected. I want to thank  every single donor and every sponsor for their generous help.

WE DID IT! We made a difference. We could see it in the smiles.

There will soon be an active website showing more of this wonderful community and the Creefest celebrations that followed our show. Please feel free to contact me to ask for the link.

Note: Derek Armstrong was awarded the Rainford Jackson Education and Development Fund award at OPSEU Convention 2017.

Decent work a fight for everyone

Jessica Sikora, President, Local 586, Region 5 Representative, Provincial Young Workers

On October 1, 2016, thousands of people from every corner of Ontario – unions, community groups, faith groups, and workers of all stripes – took to the streets of Toronto. OPSEU members turned out in big numbers from far and wide, proudly flying our uniquely colourful flag throughout the high-energy crowd. The message from all attendees was loud and clear: we are unified in the fight for decent work, and together we will make it fair!  

The Fight for $15 and Fairness is a provincewide, community-led campaign with its roots in the Workers Action Centre. Its sister campaign, Make It Fair, is spearheaded by the Ontario Federation of Labour. As unionists, we fight on behalf of our members for living wages, reliable hours, respect at work, equal pay, barrier-free access to organizing, and good-faith collective bargaining. Make it Fair is a decisive show of solidarity with every worker in Ontario. If we work together to raise the floor for all workers, we allow unions to break the ceiling.  

Unsurprisingly, employers claim that the current legislation is serving them just fine. In fact, they are seeking even further exemptions from the Employment Standards Act (ESA). But as well as these laws are serving employers, they are failing workers. Part-time, contract, and temporary agency work is rising rapidly. These jobs are disproportionately held by young workers, female workers, workers of colour, and workers with a disability – causing us to lose ground on equal pay.

And at the bargaining table, employers gloat, “There are plenty of people out there who would do your job for less” – openly showing disrespect for the bargaining process. We’ve seen multiple newly formed bargaining units forced to labour action just to win a first contract.

At the same time, the fight for a $15 minimum wage has become a truly international movement. Workers in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York have won legislative commitments to raise the minimum wage to $15 over the coming two to five years. Fast-food workers across the United States have seen unprecedented gains from unionization drives and tying their bargaining demands to the Fight for $15 campaign. In Japan, they are fighting for 1,500 yen an hour. And here on Canadian soil, Alberta announced an increase to a $15 minimum wage by 2018 and the full elimination of reduced‑wage categories, like liquor servers.

Shrewd political observers are also making a connection between $15 and Fairness and Ontario’s election, anticipated in the spring of 2018. The final Changing Workplaces Review report will be released just in time to mean that these issues are fresh as we head to the polls.

Kathleen Wynne and her government have deep disapproval ratings across the province. The Ontario NDP has made a public commitment to many of the Make it Fair demands, including a $15 minimum wage, card-check certification, and first-contract arbitration. Add all those factors up, and it becomes clear that workers’ rights will play a bigger role in the coming election than they have in many years.

The Rally for Decent Work was not peak of this fight. We are barely getting started. We showed the Ontario government that workers are loud, strong, and united in the fight for decent work for all. But now we must take this fight back to our home communities and keep up the pressure. Approach your Labour Council and offer to help Make it Fair. Visit makeitfair.ca for resources. Check out 15andfairness.org to find a local chapter and learn how you can spread the word in your faith and cultural communities and to your friends and family. Contact your MPP and tell them why your family needs these changes.

This fight isn’t just about our jobs. It’s about our values as a community. It’s about taking a stand that no person should work 40 hours a week and still live in poverty. That no group of workers should unionize, only to have to strike for 8 months to get a first contract. This is a fight for all workers. Let’s remind the Government that they have an opportunity to do the right thing.  And if they don’t, they they they will have to answer to thousands of Ontarians – first at the ballot box in 2018, and then when we take to the streets.

First Biennial OPSEU Indigenous Conference

Indigenous Circle

OPSEU’s first biennial Indigenous Conference, which ran from September 30 to October 2, 2016, at the Nav Centre in Cornwall, was by all accounts a huge success.

The conference theme chosen by the Indigenous Circle, “reconciliation with Indigenous communities,” is needed now more than ever. The conference was OPSEU’s promise as a labour union to make this a reality.

Reconciliation means learning ways of relating with one another that undo Canada’s colonial legacy. OPSEU demonstrated this in the manner in which this conference was organized. The Indigenous Circle made it very clear from the beginning that this would be an Indigenous conference rooted in traditional ceremonies and teachings.

The conference was organized by Indigenous members in conjunction with the youth and elders of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne. Together, throughout the weekend, elders, organizers, speakers, workshop facilitators, and performers invited Indigenous people and settlers to come together to engage in a process of education, healing, and reconciliation. Conference participants accepted this invitation.

The conference opened on Friday evening with a ceremony in Kanien’kéha – the traditional Mohawk language – that included Ohenten Kariwatekwen, the traditional Mohawk Thanksgiving Address. The opening ceremony was led by Rakwirahes Pembleton, a 13-year-old member of the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne who is fluent in Kanien’kéha.

Participants were welcomed to the territory by Chief Louise Thompson and received greetings from Gareth Jones, Regional Vice-President for OPSEU Region 4. The evening closed with incredible musical performances by Inuit throat singers and two members of the Métis Fiddler Quartet that included Métis jigging and a celebratory spirit among participants.

Saturday morning began with a traditional smudge, followed by an inspiring presentation by Senator Murray Sinclair that brought tears as he painted a portrait of the impact of the residential schools and colonialism on Indigenous communities. His presentation was followed by a rousing call to action by Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, First Indigenous Chair for Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) at Lakehead University. Participants reviewed many of the 94 TRC Calls to Action and were informed of ways OPSEU members could implement them both at work and in their union.

The afternoon included a powerful Sharing Circle on Truth and Reconciliation, where all participants were invited to share. The circle was led by elders Della Adams and Eddie Gray of the Akwesasne Traditional Medicines Program. The sharing circle included honest testimony from many residential school survivors that moved the hearts of participants to action-based on empathy. All were challenged to see their place in the history of colonialism and take action to create ways of relating that can undo the legacy of colonialism and move us towards real reconciliation.

Saturday evening included more singing and dancing led by Bear Fox and the Akwesasne Women Singers, who effectively used song to tell the story of the lives of Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. Members of the Indigenous Circle and others joined with the Akwesasne Singers in traditional drumming to complete the evening activities.

Responding to Senator Sinclair`s challenge that “education is key to reconciliation,” the weekend also included three workshops on Indigenous history, human rights, and restorative justice. They were facilitated by Indigenous Circle members, workers with the Akwesasne Community Justice Program, and representatives from the Canadian and Ontario human rights commissions.

The weekend closed on Sunday at noon with a traditional closing led by elder Brian David, who was present for the entire conference.

OPSEU’s commitment to truth and reconciliation also includes:

  • a campaign to make June 21 a statutory holiday in the province of Ontario and then throughout all of Canada;
  • a two-part course entitled “Indigenous Journey: Walking Together” to educate members on the history of colonialism and its impact on Indigenous communities, and offer a way forward towards healing and reconciliation;
  • a partnership with Food Share Toronto to work with northern Indigenous communities to establish their own food markets to provide healthy and affordable food to remote communities; and
  • participation in the 2017 World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education and a commitment to international Indigenous solidarity.

Krista Maracle, Chair of OPSEU’s Indigenous Circle, reminds us that Indigenous communities already know what an effective strategy of healing and reconciliation would look like. “They just need partners to help make it a reality,” she said. “This conference was about OPSEU stepping up to be such a partner.”

As with any conference, OPSEU’s first Indigenous Conference’s real success will be determined by the changes and new energy it brings to the union. OPSEU members have already been challenged by President Warren (Smokey) Thomas to play its part in the truth and reconciliation process by adopting the Truth and Reconciliation Report’s recommendations within our collective agreements.

“Recognizing that Indigenous workers face discrimination at work,” he said, “it is crucial for us as a union to participate fully in dismantling the barrier that maintain a labour market that continues to be racially segregated. We are in this for the long haul.”

Precarious Work

Erin Hogan

Premier Wynne, Premier Wynne, please hear our cry!

Right now, thousands of workers in a daily struggle to get by.

Elevated number of vulnerable workers hovers near forty per cent, while

Changing workplace employment makes it ever harder to pay the rent.

Aboriginal people, women and youth, are but a few,

Recent migrants, single parents and disabled struggle too,

In hopes of a job with benefits, sick days and scheduling practices that are fair.

Overtime pay, training and full-time employment, all seem increasingly rare.

Unions, like OPSEU, continue to fight for what’s right,

Supporting a workforce and creating a future more bright.

Workers, for now, continue to toil multiple jobs for low pay.

Ontario citizens deserve more than precarious work in this day.

Rights for workers shouldn’t be for just the few,

Kathleen Wynne, the time for legislation protection is overdue.

Each year, CAAT-S locals raise $4,000 to create four student scholarships. This year, Erin Hogan won with her poem, Precarious Work (see The CAAT Support Division scholarship below).

We Own It! mobilizing training

Carole Gregorcic, Local 606

September 26 kicked off the beginning of the We Own It! campaign. Twenty-eight member organizers, along with supporting Executive Board Members and staff representatives from across Ontario, came together to create and put together a message to bring back to their communities. It was supported at OPSEU’s 2016 Convention and is now going at full force to eliminate privatization and sell-offs that the government is putting forth.

This is OPSEU’s largest campaign yet, and the preservation of our public services was the centre of discussion for the week.

Training was kicked off with National President of NUPGE and leader in activism, James Clancy. His reputation preceded him as he presented the group with how a strong public service can be built and preserved.  Privatization has failed us in historical events and the trickle-down effect on these issues affect everyone, he said, especially the most vulnerable in society. The message is clear. We need to do something about this NOW!

Throughout the week ,we heard different testimonies from politicians, other area mobilizers, and colleagues about how privatization affects their lives and their workplaces. The group is comprised of members from several walks of life and backgrounds, but one thing in common is that everyone has a passion for the work they do in public service. None of us wants to move on to leave the public service destroyed for the upcoming generations to deal with. Everyone shared the same vision to see their work carried out efficiently and effectively. Because privatized, big businesses lack that vision in the grand scheme of things.

Our mission is simple: engaging people to start the conversation about how they want to see their public services and getting them involved. We need everyone on board. Our grandparents founded the public service and worked hard at building it strong. We want to keep these grassroot values and fight for them.  They’re there for everyone: young, old, rich, and poor. This is what we’ve all grown up to believe. We need to continue this great work and keep preserving and keeping them strong. If you haven’t reached out to the local We Own It! mobilizer in your area, please do so today and help support the fight. They can be contacted through your OPSEU regional office.

We need everyone on board. Start creating your own ripples in your own neighbourhood and social circles, and talk about it. Let people know about the campaign. I have a feeling you’ll see a lot of us around in the near future. Hope to see you soon!

Second-class only: French-language services (FLS) at ODSP

Shantelle Marcoux, FLS caseworker, union steward, Local 586

I came to work for the Ontario Public Service in April 2011 as an FLS caseworker with the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). To get the position, I underwent a battery of language tests. And this is where the inequalities between unilingual caseworkers and FLS caseworkers begin.

You see, as an FLS caseworker, I bring to the job position an extra set of skills. But I’m not remunerated for them in any way, since the employer believes I’m doing the same work – “just in French.”

I’m one of four FLS caseworkers in my office. But there used to be five. There’s been no FLS support worker in six years. In other words, there are no FLS services for francophone clients at reception or on switchboard – the first point of contact for them.

So how are French-language services provided? Not well in our office. When francophone clients call the general phone line, they are directed to an FLS caseworker – there is no triage at switchboard, as is done for unilingual caseworkers.  At other times, francophone clients are not even offered FLS services: they have to complete an intake in English with an anglophone support worker.

Often FLS caseworkers must prepare their own welcome packages with French forms and documents, or search for the various documents needed to support our work. FLS caseworkers can wait months for the French version of new or modified forms and documents. We lack the administrative support our unilingual colleagues enjoy – and this has a direct impact on the FLS caseworkers’ caseloads and clients.

The FLS team is rarely at full complement. There have been long-term absences due to medical leaves, leaves of absences, and maternity leaves. The FLS positions are not filled in a timely manner. My own caseload has gone up about 30 per cent this year. The absences and redistribution of work are keenly felt as we attempt to take on more casework to compensate during stretches of absenteeism.

During the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) training and implementation in 2011, the FLS manager scheduled all FLS staff on the same training days – meaning there would be no FLS services available to francophone clients!

As a union steward and an FLS caseworker, I’ve asked ODSP managers for work and staff supports on numerous occasions – only to be turned down countless times. Further, our current FLS manager, while a “francophile,” has no idea what it means to belong to a French-speaking minority in English Canada.

The FLS staff is continuously struggling for the same work and staff supports that are expected by, and provided to, the anglophone staff. At ODSP, we are treated as second rate workers in the workplace. It’s unfair and it’s unconscionable.

Member profile

Region 4
Name: Marlene Rivier
Local: 479
Job Title: psychological associate
Length of time as an OPSEU member: three-year stint in the OPS, then 17 years since organizing my workplace.

What type of volunteer work do you do in your community?

I volunteer my time as an exec member of Labour Council, as chair of the Ottawa Health Coalition and president of my NDP riding association.  I have sat on the boards of community agencies, such as Family Services of Ottawa. I am not on any boards right now but help out with fundraising events for such agencies. Most recently, I chaired the annual telethon for the beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa with my two sisters. Before that, I lined up sponsors for special fundraising events for Planned Parenthood Ottawa, and before that, Match International. Also, each year I fundraise with Team Solidarity for the AIDS Walk for Life, which funds a range of agencies that support people with HIV and AIDS, and annual campaigns for the Ontario Health Coalition.

When did you become a community activist/volunteer?

I began my volunteer work as a teenager, working with children with developmental disabilities, and have pretty much continued throughout my life.

Why do you continue to be involved?

There are so many needs in our community and so much important work to be done that relies on volunteers.

Who is the most inspirational person in your life?

I am inspired daily by people in my community who have so little and face such long odds and live their lives with courage, dignity, generosity, and remarkable goodwill.

What do you want others to know about the organizations you volunteer for?

All of these agencies perform important functions.  In a society with greater commitment to equality, better social supports, and more comprehensive health care, many of them would not need to rely on charity as much as they do. They need our support now and are very rewarding to work with.  We need to work together to promote the kind of social and political change that will properly fund such agencies and assure all members of society a decent standard of living.

What does it mean to be a trade union activist?

Joe Grogan, retired OPSEU member

Family members and friends often ask me why I call myself a trade union activist and why I get engaged in so many issues. I’ll try here to offer some reasons why I see myself as a trade union activist – my ideas and thoughts are highly personal.

In my view, it comes down to believing in, and acting for, the causes associated with social justice and equality. In my case, it’s also related to the belief that we’re all responsible, in some way, to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.

Another important influence was the organizing cry of the South African Congress of Trade Unions in its fight to overthrow apartheid: “An injury to one is an injury to others.” Or, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”

My father was a union activist in the Textile Workers Union of America and a factory worker in a carpet manufacturing plant in South Parkdale, and later a custodian in a Catholic primary school, while my mother was a full-time mom. So some life lessons I learned in a spontaneous, unconscious way.

Some of the influence is also rooted in the reality that my parents were Irish Catholic immigrants who left Ireland in the 1920s when it was struggling with many conflicts and attempts to become a country independent of Great Britain. This helped me to have a gut feeling about oppression and the struggles for human dignity, especially as these relate to “newcomers” to Canada.

All of these influences, as well as my own personal educational experiences, have helped me to see many issues that others ignore or just don’t see. Being a union member became a priority, since being in a union was, and is, seen as a means of promoting the concerns of the working class, while trying to create a decent living for one’s family and neighbours.

Seeing the Vietnam War for what it was, it meant for me a struggle between the American empire and the people of Vietnam, fighting for their own political and economic independence and throwing off the chains of colonialism. This helped me be a trade union representative: as an OPSEU steward and an OPSEU health and safety representative for academic employees at Humber College for over 10 years (while retaining an interest in college-and education-related issues after my retirement in 2003).

During the period 1969 to the present, I was engaged in and supported the development of our union from the Civil Service Association of Ontario to the 1975 provincial body we now have in OPSEU. Even prior to the union connection, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 by the United States helped me to see the connections between multinational corporations’ interests and American foreign policy throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and, yes, here in Canada.

The fights against free trade agreements during the 1980s corresponded to our fights for equal pay for work of equal value, stronger health and safety legislation, protection for injured workers, diversity in the workplace, and the need for stronger human rights laws – plus the efforts to protect the Canadian Constitution and the related Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Over the last 20-plus years, trade union activists have resisted, and will continue to resist, the subtle and not so subtle attacks of corporations and their government allies on workers, our unions, families, and communities. The current fight against precarious employment is an important priority for our efforts.

Some who read this piece will know that, since the late 1970s, corporations here in Canada, England, and the United States have orchestrated many plans to prevent and reverse the proper march of economic and political progress of workers by such schemes as work “restructuring,” “intensification” (doing more with less), and of course the massive use of information technology to empower employers and their managerial classes throughout the world. Other new union members and employees may not be aware, in particular, of this recent history of employer and government actions. Some have not heard of Maggie Thatcher or know of the influence of Ronald Reagan and his buddy Brian Mulroney.

From my perspective, being a trade union activist often means swimming against the tide – with no assurance that our efforts will always bring forth the results desired. It often means taking on causes that are based on solid values and principles of justice – even though we may know that the efforts will produce an unwanted defeat.

Consequently, in spite of many mountains to climb and to move, including the occasional inertia of the union bodies in which we are involved, we must have courage and the ongoing support of colleagues, families, and friends – even when those we love do not fully understand.

It means being engaged in issues affecting our own communities, be it the roads that need repairs or the continuing battle to hold elected politicians to their promises and to point out the contradictions between words and action, when this applies. It means, at the same, trying to find time every day to read the newspapers and other publications. Being informed is a life-long struggle.

It also means facing the reality that raising questions and promoting actions to protect our unions and the environment brings us attention we don’t desire. In fact, it means that sometimes we’re monitored by forces that protect our unjust economic and exploitive economic and political systems. The computerized systems we all use can be both a blessing and a danger.

Trade union activists are not in the fight to promote themselves or earn those big bucks. We are engaged because we have to be. This mean to continue resisting the depersonalized and alienating actions of corporations, governments, and employers that try to treat people as know-nothing consumers of a dehumanizing corporate culture.

Very often, trade union activists are called “radical.” My 1982 Funk and Wagnall's dictionary defines the word radical in this way: “….proceeding from or pertaining to the root or foundation…” In other words, so-called radicals are persons who go to the root of things and situations to discover and explain what might otherwise be hidden or less than obvious.

If you’re called a radical, please consider it a compliment and a badge of honour, not a negative label. Words do have importance and reflect a particular historical context, as well as an ideological perspective. As Michelle Obama recently said, “When they go low, we go high.” These words should also apply to trade union activists in our responsible, important efforts at work, in the union, and in our local communities."

There are many personal reasons for being a trade union activist. My comments reflect in part how I see the world. Hopefully, they will confirm you in your own efforts to make the world a better place for ALL.

The CAAT Support Division scholarship

Katie Sample, inSolidarity, Local 499

As the world of employment and education moves continually in the direction of greater student debt and precarious work upon graduation, the CAAT Support Division was inspired to address this problem head on. Not only are they raising awareness, but they are raising funds to better help students bear the burden of high tuition paired with limited living- wage jobs.

At the 2015 Convention, the CAAT division, through generous donations by their locals, provided raffle prizes and sold tickets to OPSEU members to raise funds towards scholarships for students in their colleges. “The CAAT Support Division recognized that students were bearing the cost of education in this province and as workers in the college system, we wanted to find some way of assisting them,” said Marilou Martin of CAAT.  They raised enough money to give out four $1,000 scholarships in January 2016. The applicants were asked to either write an essay, poem, a song, or make a video with the theme of precarious work. Applicants were judged on their ability to identify what the issues were and ways to address them.

At Convention 2016, the OPSEU members in attendance were treated to the work of one of the four scholarship winners. Erin Hogan, a student at Algonquin College enrolled in the program of Construction Engineering Technician, read her award-winning poem appropriately titled Precarious Work.  Erin identified with the topic after looking for part- time work during the summer months . “I realized just how hard it was to find employment, not only for a student, but for adults as well.”

She expanded on this thought with the common fear that most students face now regarding their future employment. “My generation is typically graduating without the prospect of a full-time job with security and benefits, things previous generations had expected. It is terrifying right now for a lot of college students who are going thousands of dollars into debt to pursue a higher education that may never get them the type of employment they need to live comfortably. This won’t change until jobs stop being outsourced and companies are incented to improve their hiring and employment practices.”

Precarious work is an ongoing issue for all workers in Ontario and a regular topic among OPSEU members, particularly the Provincial Youth Workers Committee.  It is well recognized that this continual decline in living-wage employment is one that all current and future generations have to focus on in order to build a stable and balanced Ontario, both economically and socially.

Congratulations to CAAT Support Division (and ticket-buying OPSEU members) for their contribution to this important issue.  At Convention 2016, another $3,000 was raised for scholarships, and it is intended that this will be an ongoing annual fundraiser for the future of Ontario and students like Erin, who plans to open her own company that also encourages other females to pursue careers in the skilled trades, once she has gained some practical experience in the field. Our job as labour activists is to ensure that decent jobs and experience is available to her and all other inspiring and ambitious young workers.  The fight against precarious work will continue.

2016 Human Rights Conference

Katie Sample, inSolidarity, Local 499

In late fall of 2016, OPSEU held its Human Rights Conference. OPSEU members from across the province gathered to discuss and participate in workshops on human rights.  Goals and objectives of the conference included, but were not limited to: misconceptions surrounding migrant workers, immigrants and refugees; taking a proactive role in human rights work in our union, workplace, and community; questioning leaders and policies that disadvantage, criminalize, and exploit racialized communities;  gaining better understanding of the importance of our human rights work in building a union strongly connected to advocacy for human rights and global solidarity; and being able to speak confidently about what we learned in both our personal and professional community.  These objectives were reached through workshops and knowledgeable guest speakers.  

As an active member in OPSEU myself, I have had the privilege of attending multiple different OPSEU events, and this conference was one of the more personal and touching events I have been to thus far. Participants came to actively listen to speakers who are considered experts in their field, like Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission; Syed Hussan, an organizer with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change; and political artist/performer Mohammed Ali Aumeer. Moreover, participants came to listen to each other and share their own personal experiences and observations of the gaps that still exist in our society in equity and human rights.

A workshop that was held regarding privilege was simple in planning and inspiring in delivery. Participants were asked a series of questions relating to gender, race, religion, education, disabilities, family status, and income.  If that particular privilege applied to them, they were to select a bead to be placed on a thread in order to make a bracelet.  When the list of questions was completed the group was asked what their feelings were about their bracelet, if they were surprised by the outcome, and what realizations had the biggest effect on them.  It was during this exercise that I witnessed first hand the raw and real impact privilege had on our community.

People cried and comforted each other regarding the huge gaps that still exist in our society surrounding privilege. And those that were fortunate to have a full bracelet recognized their role in being an ally to all those who were lacking beads and the importance of building up our communities to truly offer equity for all.  Privilege is easy to overlook if you have it – and near impossible to overcome in society, if not recognized.

The final day of the conference on November 20 was aligned with the Transgender Day of Awareness. On this day, our own OPSEU member Morgen Veres delivered a beautifully personal, yet inclusive, tribute to those that have been murdered as a result of transphobia. With humour, care, and moments of true tenderness, she openly expressed both the courageous victories achieved and the challenges that are still faced in the transgender community. It was a moving and fitting conclusion to a successful OPSEU event of solidarity and the continual need for advocacy for human rights.

A part partnership still going strong…

Nicole Beaulieu, Director, Labour Community Sevices United Way Sudbury and Nipissing Districts

Like many others, the United Way/Centraide Sudbury and Nipissing Districts has a long-standing relationship with the labour movement. In fact, it has been around since the very beginning. Ron McDonald, a past president of United Steelworkers 6500, helped start the United Way in Sudbury, Ontario.  Once United Way received its charitable status in 1982, the union approached the company (then known as Inco) to start the very first workplace campaign in support of the community. This campaign raised $317,000 during a trying time in Sudbury’s economic history.  It was a pivotal partnership that helped get the United Way off the ground and encouraged workers in many different sectors to start donating in support of the entire community.  

This relationship has grown over time, and the United Way/Centraide now receives many donations and support from unions and workplaces across our catchment area and across Ontario. Workers understand that it takes a collective effort to make a difference. When workers are struggling, their friends and families are struggling, and when the economy is difficult, everyone comes together to help each other out. That’s what being a community is – that’s what this partnership is all about: everyone coming together as a collective for the betterment of the community as a whole.

The generosity received from labour, our other partners, and individuals in the community helps the United Way invest in programs that are needed the most. These programs target solutions towards root causes of social issues, like poverty, mental health, domestic violence, and graduation rates, just to name a few.

Some examples of the difference our community in Sudbury made in 2015 include:

  • 1,674 children were able to attend camp, recreation, arts, and culture or sports.
  • 251 children and youth were able to access mentorship and homework assistance.
  • 23,363 seniors were provided transportation, assisting them in keeping their independence.
  • 1,382 safety plans were developed for women dealing with domestic violence.
  • 64,978 meals/food assistance were provided to those in need.
  • 6,638 income tax returns were filed, enabling low income earners to access other economic supports.

This is an amazing impact that we made happen together. As the new Director of Labour Community Services for the United Way/Centraide Sudbury and Nipissing Districts, I am excited to work with all of you at OPSEU to make sure that we continue to tackle these complex social issues and make a difference right here at home. I would like to ensure that the partnership between labour and the United Way is inclusive, innovative, and impactful.  I would like to build upon the current relationship and expand it to be even stronger for our community. Therefore, moving forward, if there is anything that you are working on that you imagine United Way can help implement, please reach out at labour@unitedwaysudbury.com, as I would love to hear from you. There are United Ways situated in many different communities across the province and I encourage anyone to contact their local United Way to see how they can help make a difference as well.

Looking forward to another 30 years of improving lives one day at a time!

Are you retiring? Would you join the Retirees Division?

Brenda Clapp, OPSEU Provincial Executive, Retirees Division

First, go to the OPSEU website. Complete a copy of the application and forward same to OPSEU head office with the applicable $10 membership fee. Ask your local: you may already have a bylaw that pays the $10 fee for its retirees, entitling them to a lifetime membership.

You will begin to receive a copy of the Autumn View, published four times a year. These publications are filled with terrific articles keeping our retired members across the province up-to-date and in touch.

The OPSEU website (Retired Members Division) provides you with the current bylaws, brochures, application form, change of information form, and a complete list of the retired members division executive listed region by region.

Our brochure covers a multitude of topics ranging from Area Council to Labour Council, pensions, benefits, as well as monitoring any policy changes affecting our retired members.

Social media are a tool we use to exchange ideas. New to Facebook as of August this year is the OPSEU Retired Members Division – Region 7 group that I created with some assistance from EBM Ed Arvelin. This group is used to communicate events, such as meetings, elections, rallies, campaigns, and general information. It also provides a list of the OPSEU Region 7 local executive and the goals of the retired members division.

Last but not least, our most recent group to join Facebook is the OPSEU Provincial Retired Members Division, which I created to enhance communication through networking. Once again, this group is used for the same reasons as mentioned above, but with a broader audience.

Remember to call upon our division when you want letters to the editor sent to newspapers or need rally, picket, or strike lines strengthened. We can form parts of committees approved by OPSEU and work diligently within our communities, regionally and provincially, to make a difference.