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inSolidarity, Winter/Spring 2018

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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.

Click here to download inSolidarity, Winter/Spring 2018

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 reply to those that seem to reflect a misunderstanding of the union and its policies.

Elected members of the inSolidarity Committee:
Craig Hadley, editor, Local 5109
Glen Archer, Local 719
Maria Bauer, Local 376
Skye Butters, Local 287
Katie Sample, Local 499
Laurie Tarto, Local 292

Ex officio members:
Tara Maszczakiewicz – Executive Board Liaison
Timothy Humphries – OPSEU Communications

Special to this issue:
Hervé Cavanaugh
Howard A. Doughty, Local 560
Joe Grogan, Retired, OPSEU Region 5
Tracy MacMaster, Local 561
Shantelle Marcoux, Local 586
Theresa O’Connor, Local 266

Please send mail to: inSolidarity, c/o Editor,
OPSEU Head Office, 100 Lesmill Road,
Toronto, Ontario M3B 3P8
Email: craig22@gmail.com

A note from the editor

Welcome to our 2018 winter/spring issue of inSolidarity!

Inside this edition, you’ll find a collection of work crafted by members, activists and inSolidarity Committee members.

As with all OPSEU committees, the inSolidarity team is an elected body of writers committed to furthering communication through OPSEU’s quarterly magazine. Each elected member brings their unique experiences and skills to life through the written word in this member-driven and member-produced publication.

The committee was elected at OPSEU’s Editor’s Weekend held last October. If you attended, you’ll likely remember the weekend fondly, as many attendees felt the 2017 biennial event was one of the best OPSEU has hosted. You may also remember the record amount of members who ran for the committee.

As the elected editor, I’d like to thank all those who attended, those who ran for committee positions and the candidates who were elected to a two-year-term.

As we head into warmer weather, we’re reminded that spring is a time for renewal, growth and expansion. The same can be said for the labour movement and activists at OPSEU.

We renew our commitment to the campaigns that won sweeping gains for both unionized and non- unionized workers under the Employment Standards Act. We renew our commitment to the hard-fought CAAT-A contract battle on college campuses that united the labour movement to stand against government- imposed back-to-work legislation. We further grow OPSEU’s “We Own It” campaign, which has raised awareness across Ontario on why “Public is Better.”

As a union, we continue to organize new workplaces, giving a collective voice where there wasn’t one in the past.

OPSEU welcomes 20,000 college support workers

Tracy MacMaster, Local 561, CAAT Support Divisional Executive

In January 2018, the power of solidarity was made clear, when after 50 years with no rights, 20,000 part-time college support staff across Ontario were certified into OPSEU.

The resources, energy and effort of thousands of part-time workers, full-time OPSEU members, activists, staff organizers and volunteers across the labour movement finally gave part-time support staff a voice in the workplace and a chance to better their working conditions through collective bargaining.

It’s a time to celebrate, but there are huge tasks in front of us.

Challenges and opportunities: 20,000 precarious workers bargain a first contract

Part-time college workers are currently the poster-children for precarious employment. Zero job security, no guarantee of hours or scheduling, and a bargaining unit made up of at least 50 per cent student workers (who naturally move on to other workplaces) have created a highly contingent workforce. The goal of collective bargaining is to address these shortcomings and improve working conditions.

The chair of the college support staff division, Janice Hagan, says the first priority is a first contract. “We’ll be at the table by April, and the goal is to have a good deal as soon as possible.”

Andrew, a part-time employee at George Brown College, hopes for improvements to wages and scheduling. “To give full availability for 24 class hours a week, you basically have to be free all day long,” he said. “Because of cuts, many can only do this job as a side gig for a few hours a week, and turnover has increased. That means the quality of the service has decreased.”

He added that improving working conditions for part-time staff also improves services for students and contributes to student well-being by providing decent student jobs.

Collecting the information to set demands is a primary focus right now. Reaching 20,000 members who are new to the union has created some unique challenges. OPSEU has responded, first of all, by leveraging the power of technology and social media. With the employer stonewalling on access to college email in an environment with high turnover, OPSEU activists have been spreading the word of upcoming bargaining meetings and demand surveys through Facebook. Teletown halls are in the works. An app to provide immediate updates on the status of bargaining and keep people connected is also being rolled out.

In addition, across the province, newly minted composite locals have united part-time and full-time college support to tackle a tough employer. Meetings are happening, both on and off campus. Existing stewards are recruiting new activists to get the word out.

The same employer that forced a five-week strike against faculty will be sitting across the table from the bargaining team. Once again, the power of solidarity will be at work to better working conditions for everyone.
The challenge, much as it was during the organizing drive, is reaching people – this time to drive bargaining and get them what they need. If you know a college student, talk to them about what’s happening with part-time support staff in their school. Know a part-time college worker? Send them to the OPSEU website to get them signed up with a union card and contact information about their local.

The hopes of 20,000 precarious workers are riding on the practical application of our solidarity. Together, we can get this done.

Labour Reads

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, by Thomas L. Friedman

New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas L. Friedman explains in plain language how the world got to the state it’s in by examining how the world – “the Machine,” as he puts it – works.

Friedman’s premise is that the pace of technological, societal and environmental change, and society’s ability to adapt to them, are mismatched. Three driving forces are accelerating simultaneously and having an impact on each other: technology, globalization and the environment.

He looks back to 2007, when technologies like smartphones, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn were emerging. With new technology being introduced every five to seven years, regulations and laws cannot be amended fast enough. He cites political and societal flux in the US, Europe and even developing countries. He captures the collective feelings of insecurity and of constantly playing catch-up. All this gets in the way of our ability to maximize the benefits of daily innovation. The alternative is to push back against technology.

He challenges the reader to dare to be late – to “relearn learning.” What he’s referring to is lifelong learning as a way to govern in a smarter way and operate commercial institutions in a more agile way and increase society’s ability to adapt to change. Take risks, and if you fail, recover quickly and try gain! Work together, and our institutions will have our backs! Dare to be optimistic!

How to change the world? Focus on social innovation in the community. Friedman uses the narrative of his hometown, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, to illustrate this. Healthy communities are inclusive communities. Create lifelong learning opportunities and create public spaces. Rethink the power of many, as opposed to the power of one. Build floors under people. Build trust in a shared and better future.

His simple wisdom is that the things you cannot download – like person-to-person interaction – are what build our collective capacity for resilience and increased productivity in the age of acceleration. And they may be the solution to the social and health problems in our global society.

Thomas L. Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. New York: Picador; Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2016. 546 pages. ISBN: 978-1-250-14122-4

Provincial Women’s Committee report

Carol Mundley Bennett, Local 500

Over the last nine months, OPSEU’s Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC) has been working hard to bring to light the plight of women everywhere. This work is only possible as a result of continued support and commitment. With this support, the door has been opened a bit further to ensure that women and girls, not only within this province, but also globally, can enter – and to ensuring women are empowered by having access to the resources and tools that are essential to their success.

What is PWC’s mandate?

  • to promote, educate and empower women to become leaders
  • to advocate for all women throughout the province
  • to raise awareness of issues affecting women and girls locally and globally
  • to lobby government to ensure our objectives are met regarding the gender pay gap, equal pay for equal work, employment equity, universal child care, violence against women and girls, and discrimination faced by women and girls

Who are we?

The work of the PWC can only be possible with mutual respect, support, commitment and dedication to improving every woman’s life within our union. But it’s obvious we can’t merely stop with our union, as we have an obligation to all women – now and future generations – to lobby government to do more and to make legislative changes.

So we have an obligation to support initiatives across the union and the community at large. Membership engagement and building capacity throughout the union in every local and region will be part of those necessary first steps.

We encourage open, honest dialogue and communication where fostering constructive feedback is welcomed and accepted. We respect the differences that make us the people we are. We work collaboratively to address and resolve issues. We share knowledge and build allies and networks.

Everyone has an opinion and has something to offer, so we start with people where they are. These are the traits and fibre that make the union what it is. We build trust and respect for all women, regardless of age, race, ancestry, socio-economic status and education.

2017 was a very busy year

Provincially, we participated in events that highlighted issues affecting women and girls throughout the seven regions. As such, we helped plan, host, support and/or participated in:

  • Pride celebrations, including the Trans and Dyke parades, and barbeques at regional offices
  • memorials and rallies for missing and murdered Indigenous women
  • tenant rent and affordable housing rallies    injured workers rally at Nathan Philip Square in Toronto
  • the anti-racism/anti-Islamophobia event at Queen’s Park
  • various picket lines throughout the regions to show support and solidarity regionally
  • day of action at Queen’s Park to lobby the government to address issue of violence in the workplace
  • Leafletting Festival to bring awareness of the effects of privatization on women
  • Labour Day parade and marches
  • Annual Family Fun Day
  • 2017 PWC Conference – Regional Action Plan
  • Regional Women’s Steering Committee: “Sisters of the Round Table”
  • “Women Won’t Forget” vigil regionally
  • Basic Income Forum at OISE
  • Winter coat and toy drive
  • local shelter support, providing toiletry kits and Tampon Tuesday
  • Pre-Women’s March breakfast and signage
  • Women’s marches and rallies regionally
  • Gender Pay Gap Summit in Toronto
  • International Women’s Day (IWD) breakfast, rallies and marches on March 3 and 4 regionally
  • IWD workshops across the regions with keynote speakers including, but not limited to, Marie Clarke Walker
  • IWD “buy a tulip,   support a shelter”
  • IWD flag raising
  • Check out our 2018 events!
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work Coalition (March 23 and 24)
  • Gender Pay Gap Campaign (April 10 to May 13)
  • Domestic Violence against Women and Girls Campaign (pending approval)
  • Environmental Justice Campaign (pending approval)
  • Women’s Conference and Workshop (Region 3)
  • Annual Family Fun Day
  • Labour Day parade and marches

Labour Reads

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Class Privilege: How Law Shelters Shareholders and Coddles Capitalism, by Harry Glasbeek

Except for a few law students and fewer lawyers, books about corporations by elderly law school professors aren’t at the top of many people’s lists of “great reads.” Harry Glasbeek’s Class Privilege is (or should be) an exception. Glasbeek writes with passion, precision and humour. He has a point of view. He is on a mission—a worthy one.

Many of us, when we ponder the causes of economic injustice, social inequity, political alienation and even personal mental health issues, focus on the dominant institutions in our society—the major financial, commercial, industrial, resource and communications industries that profit from our labour, abuse their authority and escape tax collectors, safety regulators and even the criminal law. They are the “limited liability corporations,” which have the ears of politicians and senior government officials. Their influence is ubiquitous and their arrogance is palpable.

Of course, our criticisms are limited, for most of us don’t really understand how corporations work and how they appear to manipulate public policy and public opinion. We are left feeling anxious, resentful, sometimes infuriated, but mainly helpless—impotent in the struggle against a “system” run by billionaires, now abetted by both “establishment” and “populist” politicians promising change, but producing next to none.

That’s where Harry Glasbeek comes in. He addresses the actual means and mechanisms whereby corporations exercise direct power and avoid responsibility when they commit crimes and misdemeanours in the relentless pursuit of unfettered power and wealth.

Glasbeek, however, is no mere pamphleteer. He is Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. He knows his stuff.

Harry Glasbeek is also unafraid to go beyond academic abstractions. He is willing to name names as he explains how corporations promote their own interests against the public good. He explores classic cases of corporate malfeasance, including the massive Bre-X fraud; the Westray mining disaster; the rail disaster in Lac Mégantic; the tobacco companies that lied about the medical effects of cigarettes that cause, according to World Health Organization estimates, four million deaths annually; and the fossil fuel giants that ignore human rights and despoil the environment (now funding fake science in the effort to deny anthropogenic climate change).

When you finish reading Class Privilege, you’ll be no less incensed, but you’ll have a much better grasp of exactly why – and you may feel more confident knowing what to do about it.

Class Privilege is a meticulous, elegant, witty exposure of corporate wrongdoing – not as the exceptional acts of a few “bad apples,” but as the norm. It shows that corporations are legally designed as “criminogenic” entities. They are prone to compulsive criminal behaviour, because the law devises regulations that may occasionally penalize offenders (fines are the “cost of doing business”), but rarely criminalize them. Only when we become familiar with how the game is rigged will we be able to force rewrites of the rules.

Glasbeek relates that lawmakers in England and Australia have taken tentative steps towards imposing corporate responsibility. The next phase will come when executives and shareholders are held criminally liable for human deaths and environmental degradation. Knowing the devils and the details will help us as individuals and trade unionists to impose controls on the corporate structures that have ravaged the people and the planet with relative impunity—so far.

Oh, O’Leary!

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

I was watching, a few years back, the now cancelled CBC show The Lang and O’Leary Report, which covered the business and finance world as it relates to Canada. As the title suggests, it starred co-anchors Amanda Lang and Kevin O’Leary.

I always felt that, of the two hosts, it was Lang who would put a human side on the news she reported. O’Leary, on the other hand, seemed, to play the foil by always taking the role of the corporate bad guy and appeared to relish his role as some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge/Gordon Gecko hybrid.

What makes one particular episode stand out in my mind was a report by Amanda Lang that CCM Canada, in business since the late 1800s, was moving its bicycle manufacturing operations out of Canada and setting up in Indonesia. The response from Kevin O’Leary was disturbing to me.

O’Leary offered that if he was shareholder in CCM, he would have been upset that they hadn’t made this move years earlier. He also expressed his concern that they shouldn’t have chosen Indonesia but, instead, should have moved their operations to China! This, he opined, would have seen lower wages and cheaper production costs.

O’Leary seemed almost gleeful that Canadian workers were being displaced. His overwhelming love of profits at any cost was in clear focus on this particular show. For her part, Lang noted that Canadian workers were losing their jobs. It seemed O’Leary couldn’t care less.

As a child, I remember seeing the rows of CCM bicycles displayed at the local Canadian Tire. Seeing the distinctive CCM shield affixed to the front of all those bikes made them a Canadian icon in my mind.

As an adult consumer, I wondered whether we would see a drastic decrease in the price of Indonesian-produced bicycles. Of course not. The prices will remain relatively the same. Any savings realized by this enterprise would translate directly into corporate profit.

This situation isn’t new. It’s been happening for decades for one reason or another – but primarily for profit. Ontario has seen manufacturing jobs move overseas at an alarming rate since the 1970s. Where now we seem to take for granted that televisions are made in Asia and nowhere else, we forget that RCA used to manufacture them in Midland.

I remember when I used to travel into Cambridge and pass the now closed Inglis Manufacturing plant, where washing machines and dryers were made. Savage Shoes, Kaufman Footwear and Greb Kodiak were all thriving Ontario factories in their day.

In my region, pulp and paper mills are being idled while offshore paper manufacturers and recyclers ply their wares here.

While our auto assembly plants in Oshawa, Windsor and Oakville struggle to remain viable, the Big Three continue to invest in low-wage, low-tax zones in Mexico. They’re still willing to sell us their products at the same prices, however.

I understand that companies look at cheaper labour in other countries. I get it that those countries are cheaper in no small part due to their dismal records on human rights, labour rights and low or non-existent health and safety standards. But Mr. O’Leary, do you have to be so damned happy about it?

Fast-forward to January 2017, when O’Leary was campaigning to be the leader of the federal Conservatives. Before bowing out of the race, he was being interviewed one Sunday on CBC radio when he offered this: “I’m running on three things! Jobs, jobs and jobs!”

It turned out that nobody was buying his garbage – no matter where it was manufactured.

‘Cannabis product specialist’: Getting a job at the Ontario Cannabis Store

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

With cannabis scheduled to be legalized and sold through the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), I was curious to learn what qualifications would be required to work for this new government outfit. I was also curious to see what compensation would be attached to ensure the socially responsible retail sale of marijuana.

While I’ve never worked for a dispensary, I do have 12 years’ retail experience working for the LCBO. That experience includes safeguarding a potentially dangerous substance known as alcohol. Without giving it much more thought, I applied online for the position of Cannabis Product Specialist.

The position was looking for people who:

  • are at least 19 years of age
  • have a deep understanding of the commitment to social responsibility
  • are passionate about customer service
  • have retail sales experience
  • are quick learners with an ability to retain and learn product knowledge
  • have strong verbal and written skills
  • have math skills
  • have a high school diploma

I imagine the company tasked with recruiting these workers was pleased with my resume, as I received a call right away. The phone interview started with the recruiter asking if I was 19 or older. Maybe this recruiter had overlooked my resume, or maybe they’ve been inundated with minors looking for work. Anyway, with a confident chuckle, I answered resoundingly, “Yes, I’m over 19.”

The next question was about my salary expectations. I answered that I was flexible but had an expectation that the wage should be in the ballpark of what a Beer Store or LCBO worker makes. After all, retailing marijuana is more on par with selling alcohol – not grilling burgers or selling T-shirts.

To my surprise, the recruiter stated the compensation would be minimum wage. After a few more standard interview questions, the recruiter reminded again, the position pays minimum wage.

This got me thinking. Cannabis has always been widely accessible illegally, and in a matter of months, it will fall into the same legal category as alcohol and cigarettes. All three of these products are dangerous, especially in the hands of minors. It’s odd that the Ontario government finds it acceptable that marijuana caretakers will be paid the provincial minimum. As Comedian Chris Rock once said, “You know what it means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss is trying to say? ‘Hey, if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.’”

While this line stirs laughter, there’s really nothing funny about a government that pays its adult staff the legal minimum with the expectation of “a deep understanding of the commitment to social responsibility.” As a voter, taxpayer and, most importantly, a mother, I expect anyone responsible for handling a controlled substance will make a wage that reflects the important work they’re doing.

Sex workers

Morgen Veres, Local 487

There’s a conversation that’s slowly gaining traction in our media and communities around sex workers. It’s a difficult one, with many aspects to consider.

There’s stigma. There’s current and historic criminality. And there are individual attitudes and emotions about sexuality.

There’s also a world of difference between adults who choose to negotiate for sexual services and those who are forced into sexual service. Treating sex work as if were the same as sexual trafficking ignores the realities of both – and endangers those engaged in it. When sex workers struggle for basic employment rights, we lose an ally in the fight against human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a terrible human rights violation. It can involve abduction, deception, force, threats and other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation. Sex trafficking appears as the most recognizable and, often, the most egregious form of trafficking, but it is far from the only one. Men, women and children are trafficked for many purposes, including farm labour, the drug trade and sweatshops. What they have in common is that they’re brutal and degrading.

It’s not unfair to think that sex work can be exploitative or dangerous. But that is true of many types of employment. The sex workers’ rights movement has been vocal in insisting that sex work is just another legitimate type of labour. However, we often hear from the mainstream media that sex work is inherently risky, exploitative and inherently violent.

This one-size-fits-all approach tends to dominate the debate. The sex work industry is diverse and includes escorting, street hustling, stripping, massage parlours and webcams. The positive aspects and rationale for individuals choosing to enter the sex industry are often drowned out by people’s misunderstanding of the profession.

There continues to be mistrust between authorities and sex workers. In a criminalized context, the industry, and those working in it, have no recourse to labour protections, such as unionization, WSIB or employment standards. Surely all workers deserve employment protections and equality.

If sex workers are recognized as legitimate workers with protection and resources, it puts them in a safer, protected industry. It creates an ability to identify workers who have been forced, versus those who have made a free choice. With trust rebuilt between sex workers and the law, sex workers can offer resources and help to the trafficked.

Many obstacles stand in the way of sex workers’ right to safety and self-determination. This includes the legal system, the state, religious groups, and anti-sex-work feminists. A key goal of sex worker activists is to improve sex-working conditions, but self-organization is impossible when sex work is regarded as merely another form of slavery.

When laws against trafficking get misapplied to sex workers, resources are wasted and sex work is driven underground. This exposes sex workers to an increased risk of violence and denies them legal protection against assault or access to medical, legal and educational services.

Nor should puritanical views on sex be used to ignore the plight of people engaged in what’s often been called the oldest profession. In many ways, sex workers are friends to the friendless, counsellors to the wounded and educators in sexual health and sexual function.

It’s time to stand with Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and others in calling for the immediate decriminalization of sex work. It’s time we all joined together, in our diversity, to defend the vulnerable and marginalized and free our society of human trafficking and violence.

Francophone Conference 2017: Franc-ly French

Shantelle Marcoux, Local 586, and Hervé Cavanagh, Local 466

The Francophone Conference that took place in June 2017 was a real success! Much was accomplished, and activities took place at a breathtaking pace!

On the agenda were indoor and outdoor activities, workshops, round tables and even the possibility for participants to express themselves in unconventional ways. At the end of these three days, participants were exhausted, but they could all feel a new energy.

However, before the conference wrap-up, these 70 participants had a chance to express themselves by answering a survey. Here are the impressive results of this survey:

  • Almost two-thirds liked all the scheduled activities.  
  • Almost half of the participants liked all discussion activities.  
  • 86 per cent of participants say they acquired new communication tools.
  • 88 per cent learned something new.
  • 88 per cent feel more comfortable starting a conversation in French.
  • 89 per cent had the opportunity to broaden their network.
  • 90 per cent say the conference met all their expectations! And that’s not all!
  • 93 per cent liked the way it was facilitated.
  • 95 per cent liked the food.
  • 96 per cent want to share their experience with their local.
  • 98 per cent liked the facilities.
  • 98 per cent felt able to participate and…
  • 100 per cent want to return to the next conference.  

There you go! Numbers don’t lie! The conference was a phenomenal success. Everyone intends to return.

Thank you to all for this conference. We look forward to seeing you soon!

My mother

Theresa O’Connor, Local 266

My mother, Dolores O’Connor, taught me that social justice begins with each one of us. She didn’t have to travel across the world to teach me about it: she shows me every day. She shows it in the acts of kindness she does every day. She’s very selfless.

My mother is in her 80s, and she’s been this way for ever. Let me give you some examples.

Mom never asked for anything, and she wasn’t one to preach at us kids. She was a woman of action.

Our home was always open to people from all walks of life. Sunday dinners could be for 12 or 20 – it never mattered.

I recall her taking in a young boy when his single mother was unable to manage him, and it was either our home or reform school. My mother had 10 children of her own. She remained friends with the mother until she passed away and sat at the bedside of the boy when, as an adult, he became ill with cancer and passed away.

Many people will tell you that they have had her cabbage salad or cupcakes or date squares at a meeting or church event or following a funeral. Even now, she will invite the person she pays to cut her grass to come in for coffee and cookies. If he says he can’t, she gives him a plate of cookies for later.

My mother befriended people whom the rest of the world would cast aside. When the psychiatric hospitals were closing everywhere, she became the refuge for many people.

She has sat at the bedside of many as they passed away. She has cleaned the floors and washed the clothes – but never for money.

She would bring food to people who were hungry or unable to care for themselves. There was one woman who, maybe 16 years ago, was confined to her home and wouldn’t leave it for two years. But she would allow my mother in.

Well, for two years, every single day, my mother arranged to bring her meals. Often they would go uneaten, due to her illness, and often she would refuse my mother entry, but Mom never relented in her persistence to offer kindness. To this day, she continues to have her over for meals several times a week. I think it’s not just the body she feeds, but the soul.

My mother has been serving meals to the homeless at the soup kitchen for 20 years, since she retired.

She’s been providing one-to-one volunteer supervision and friendship to a woman who requires specialized care for 20 years, including connecting her with her family and having them stay with her so they could visit. She drove this woman eight hours away to her father’s funeral last winter.

My mother continues to send money overseas to people who are in need, even though she’s on a fixed income and has never met these people – and never will.

These are only a few examples, but believe me when I say the list goes on for ever.

My mother is the most selfless person I know, and she has done all of this while raising 10 children. She taught social justice by her actions.

It’s because of her that I have chosen a partner who’s kind. For I see this as the most important characteristic in a person. She continues to teach her message of social justice through kindness to my children as they witness her doing this every day. I do my part, but no one does it better than my mom. My children have turned into very kind, generous and socially conscious people because of her.

I celebrate my mother, not just at Mother’s Day, but every day by doing random acts of kindness in her honour. I invite you to do the same in honour of a cherished parent.

Labour Reads

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now: The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages, by Annelise Orleck

lmost 40 years ago, “futurist” Alvin Toffler wrote that human history consisted of three great “waves.” First, the agricultural revolution transformed us from nomadic hunter-gatherers and scavengers into agriculturalists. Then the Industrial Revolution carried us into the era of cities, steam power, and mass production. Now, he said, we’re surfing the third wave of information, computers and high technology.

Another perspective focuses on work and workers. Agriculture brought slavery and peasantry. Industrialism created wage labour and the urban working class. The third wave features de-skilling and precarious work. That, at least, is Annalise Orleck’s message in a brilliant new book, We’re All Fast-Food Workers Now. “All,” of course, is slightly hyperbolic, but the idea rings true.

Automation replaced factory and retail workers, telephone and elevator operators. Very soon, there will be self-driving taxis and long-distance trucks. Worse, most remaining jobs will be part-time, ill-paid and short-term. Law clerks, airline workers and adjunct professors already suffer insecure employment, exploitative wages and few benefits.

It’s happened before. Two centuries ago, desperate but ill-fated Luddites demanded that factory owners share the benefits of increased productivity equitably with working people. The owners refused and dissidents paid for their dissent on the gallows. Resistance today might bring a different outcome.

Highly skilled people are being reduced to low-paid, unstable work in the “gig economy.” They have been written off by Canada’s multimillionaire finance minister. But they’re fighting back.

Orleck explains the systemic problem and shows why and how the workforce is being re-engineered, from the local Walmart to Wall Street, and from Cambodia. to California to Canadian cities, suburbs and farms.

She argues that the trend is not inevitable. It won’t be easy to a turn the trend to the advantage of people over profits, but it can be turned.

In 40 compact chapters, she gives glimpses of the slave shops that supply our fashion industries to the fields that produce our food. She reports from many lands about successful unions that have reorganized against irredeemably unfair economic arrangements.

In the Anglo-American democracies, public sector unions are leading the way towards reorganizing and repurposing the labour movement, often with teachers at the forefront. As I write, university lecturers in Great Britain are striking against unjust austerity measures. In West Virginia, school teachers have just won an historic strike against anti-labour legislation. At York University, teaching assistants are striking for liveable wages. Last fall, OPSEU’s academic employees in Ontario colleges struck for five weeks in what may be the first job action ever where the number-one demand of unionized teachers, librarians and counsellors was employment equity for their part-time colleagues.

This book is both a fine resource for people wanting to understand what’s happening in the world’s workplaces, as well as an inspiration for those eager to push back against short-sighted visionaries who don’t understand that long-term stability and prosperity can’t be sustained by ruthless exploitation. Even Henry Ford knew that to sell automobiles, working people needed to be able to afford them.

Orleck’s good news is that the “race to the bottom” isn’t the only option. However, it will take courage, commitment and co-ordination to humanize the callous global economy that threatens to wipe us out, as the third wave crashes on the rocks of economic and environmental reality.

Bill 148: “Some exemptions apply”

Laurie Tarto, inSolidarity

he Changing Workplaces Review is an independent review with a mandate to create better workplaces for Ontarians. It takes into account over 300 public consultations in 12 cities across Ontario and made 173 recommendations.

Changes to both the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and the Labour Relations Act (LRA) were suggested “to improve security and opportunity for those made vulnerable by the structural economic pressures and changes experienced by Ontarians in 2015.”

The ESA sets out the minimum standards for workplace conditions and for safe and healthy workplaces, both non-unionized and unionized. The effective date of the amendment is January 1, 2018.

Changes in this amendment that affect unionized employees include:

equal pay for equal work
on-call pay and scheduling provisions
personal emergency leave

Unfortunately, the new provisions are not for everybody. They depend on the existing collective agreement of the union and can also depend on the sector or even the size of the employer.

In unionized workplaces – where an amendment has a transition period, and the issue is already covered in the collective agreement – if there’s a conflict between the collective agreement and the ESA, then the collective agreement stays in force until the collective agreement expires, or January 1, 2020, whichever is earlier.

As for the provisions regarding equal pay for equal work, if the collective agreement that is in effect on April 1, 2018, allows for pay differences based on employee status or assigned employee status for temporary workers, and there’s a conflict, then the collective agreement stays in force until it expires or January 1, 2020, whichever is earlier.

Temp help agencies must pay an assigned employee not less than the pay of an employee for the same work, in the same establishment requiring the same skill under similar working conditions.

For new on-call pay and scheduling provisions, a three-hour rule for minimum pay for three hours at the employee’s regular rate will come into effect on January 1, 2019. This replaces the current three hours’ pay at minimum wage. When there’s a provision for minimum payment in the collective agreement on January 1, 2019, and there’s a conflict, then the collective agreement stays in force until the collective agreement expires or January 1, 2020, whichever is earlier.

If an employee is on call and doesn’t work, or works less than three hours, the employee is entitled to three hour’s pay at their regular rate. If an employer cancels the scheduled work shift or on-call shift with less than 48 hours’ notice, then the employee is entitled to three hour’s pay at their regular rate.

As of January 1, 2019, an employee has the right to refuse an on-call shift, unless it is an emergency or for continued delivery of essential services, when the request is made less than 96 hours (four days) in advance.

A new provision will give an employee the right to request a change in schedule or location of work after one year’s service and to receive the reason for refusal in writing.

Under section 4, the government does not have to pay employees vacation pay or holiday pay for certain job types, including public architects, engineers, accountants (or those studying for those professions) municipal employees and teachers. (Click here for the full list of exemptions.)

Crown employees have been protected by ESA minimum standards as of January 1, 2018.

Workers in sectors under federal jurisdiction, such as airlines, banks, radio and television stations and interprovincial railways are not covered under the ESA.

Bill 148 also makes amendments to the LRA, including employees’ right to form unions and to bargain collectively. These changes took effect on January 1, 2018.

Regulation 502 entitles all workers to 10 personal emergency leave days annually, and the first time must be paid. Previously, an employer had to meet the requirement of 50 workers or less for this to apply.

However, auto workers represented by Unifor – Canada’s largest private sector union – already have vacation days in their collective agreements that exceed the minimum in the ESA.  As such, they are exempt from the new regulations.

Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Growth, said the exemptions “balances the rights and needs of workers with ensuring the auto sector remains competitive in what’s become a fast-changing economy.”

Unifor employees counter that workers in their industry shouldn’t have to use their vacation days for sickness or family sickness. To this end, Unifor has collected online signatures to petition Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn.

The special advisers who wrote the Changing Workplaces Review also recommended that 83 existing exemptions be reviewed by a sectoral committee process. For example, regulation 285 has exemptions
for the construction industry, the minimum wage and other policy issues. They said exemptions should be fair, focused, balanced and workable, but acknowledged the workplace has changed significantly, and the justification for many of these exemptions is now questionable.

Help! I have a bad boss

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

ou dread going to work and haven’t been sleeping well. You pull into the parking lot at work and start feeling nauseous. You get sweaty, have heart palpitations and can’t seem to keep calm. You have fear and panic about what the day may bring. You have thoughts about just packing it in and giving your notice.

These are all signs that you may have a bad boss! A boss can make or break a workplace. Bosses have varying styles of management, but a bad boss can cause chaos and poison in a workplace.

So what makes a boss bad? Here are some signs that your boss is bad.

Isolation

You’re at work, alongside a group of co-workers, and your boss walks in. Your boss has a big smile and walks up to the group, high-fives a couple of your co-workers and asks them how their weekend was, yet completely ignores you, perhaps not even acknowledging your presence. A bad boss will isolate some employees.

Exclusion

A big project is coming up, and your boss is setting up a plan. They’re getting input from your co-workers, calling them into the office one at a time or in pairs. You overhear your co-workers talking about the project and possible overtime they may get. They see you coming, get quiet and split up. You walk into the office and see the binder with the name of the project on it and ask the boss about it.

They tell you it’s “nothing much” and “don’t worry about it,” then shuffle you out. The following week, you notice that the boss’s favourites all have 10 hours of overtime, even though they’ve not been with the organization as long as you have. Bad bosses will find ways to keep you out and hamper your progress in the company through exclusion.

Favourites

The bad boss will pick people as their favourites. The favourites are usually employees who will do anything to keep the boss happy in exchange for better scheduling, overtime and other advantages. The favourites will tattletale on co-workers. The favourites are not the best workers, but the bad boss will cover up for their mistakes and shortfalls. Bad bosses make the workplace feel like high school – and you’re not a part of the cool group.

Discipline

You show up at work, and your boss calls you into their office. They ask you about an incident that happened last week. You have no idea what they’re talking about, since you can’t recall the incident. The boss pulls out a letter from a co-worker and asks you again if anything happened last week. The letter is hand-written by one of the boss’s favourites. They advise you that your co-worker has filed a complaint. The complaint is full of lies.

Bad bosses use discipline inappropriately. They pick and choose whom to discipline and whom not to. They make up lies to match the discipline they want to impose on someone. They use their favourites to help pass the lies off as discipline. They seek out a worker to use as a scapegoat for a problem caused by the boss or even a favourite.

Overwork

You show up at work and your boss gives you a list of things to do. The list is lengthy, but you set out to get it done. Part-way through the day, you’re tired and still have a list of things to complete. As you walk past the lunchroom, you notice the boss and your co-workers all having lunch together, laughing and talking. The lunch is a big spread provided to the workplace by a regular client. They all see you but don’t invite you to join in the lunch.

Bad bosses don’t care if you’re overworked: they’ll assign you more work than the others. And they’ll set you up for failure.

No recognition

You complete an assignment that has gained huge recognition from outsiders. Clients, customers and vendors are awed at the assignment you completed on your own. Your boss ignores the fact that it was your idea and that you completed the project, and takes the recognition on as their own. The boss receives an award from the superior for your assignment, but yet again, they ignore your success.

To cover up the fact that the project was yours, your boss decides to find an error in another aspect of your job and yells at you loudly so everyone else can hear. He ends up suspending you for a couple of days over this small error.

Tempers

Bad bosses usually have large tempers. They can come off as being calm and organized, but when something doesn’t go the way they want, they lose their mind and yell and scream at people. They make targets to blame and will often yell at them so others can hear.

It seems no matter what you do, you’re failing miserably at work. But the pattern only started when the bad boss arrived at your workplace. You realize the boss is a bully.

How to handle a bad boss

The best way to handle them is to first recognize they’re a bad boss. Here are more steps to make your workplace a better place:

  • Handle the bad boss like a project. Be methodical in how you behave, perform and strategize. Most important of all, document incidents, take notes and try to stay unemotional.
  • Even when little things happen – nasty glares, sarcastic remarks, etc. – document them.
  • Don’t let yourself be isolated. Find a co-worker you haven’t talked to in a while and strike up a friendship.
  • On the other hand, the less you talk about your story to others at work the better. This will help build a well-organized case.
  • Display self-esteem. For example, pay attention to your appearance and hygiene.
  • Protect your personal information.

If the bad boss’s behaviour continues, and you have a well-documented case, go to your union representative. They will help you. Don’t go to HR, as they’re an ally of the employer and will defend management.

Most important of all, take care of your health. Visit your doctor, tell the doctor what has been happening and how it has made you feel. Medical professionals can help you deal with mental and physical symptoms that come with dealing with abusive situations.

OPSEU equity groups: Where do I fit in?

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

Look at all the people around you, whether at work, in the community or at any public gathering. You’ll probably notice that no one is the same.

You may see some obvious things, such as the young and the old. There may be people of colour. There may be persons with visible disabilities. Perhaps less obvious may be people’s sexual orientation. We’re all different.

You may ask what all this has to do with membership in your union. The answer is very simple: there’s a place for you in the union.

Embedded in its structure are various equity-seeking groups. They promote, advocate for, educate and allow more effective communication both inside and outside their respective memberships. They also allow for more direct and focused communications with OPSEU’S Executive Board.

OPSEU’s laws and policies give these groups certain rights, for example, putting resolutions forward on the Convention floor.

Some groups provide regional and central conferences, while others target local membership areas. These groups take the form of either committees or caucuses.

A committee is made up of members elected at regional election meetings held every two years. A caucus consists of members appointed by existing groups and may be drawn in at any time, without elections.

OPSEU provides resources, including staff, to the following committees:

  • Provincial Women’s Committee: represents members self-identifying as female.
  • Provincial Young Workers: represents members self-identifying as being under 35 years of age.
  • Provincial Francophone Committee: represents members with French-language requirements.
  • Indigenous Circle – represents members self-identifying as First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
  • Provincial Human Rights Committee: an overarching group with a mandate to assist or advocate for all manner of personal rights, from labour rights to human rights to women’s rights, etc.

OPSEU also provides resources and staff to the following caucuses:

  • Rainbow Alliance arc-en-ciel: represents and supports members from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, asexual, pansexual, queer, questioning and two-spirited communities.
  • Workers of Colour: represents and support racialized members.
  • Disability Rights Caucus: represents members with disabilities, as defined under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

A union is only as strong as its membership. By recognizing, supporting and encouraging engagement from our members in these groups, our union grows. We make our organizing department’s job that much easier when we can “sell ourselves” as an organization that cares for all of its members.

Member engagement is likely to improve, and when enough members get together on campaigns or other exercises in solidarity, we can effect dramatic results.

The grassroots group in Region 7, Sisters in Seven, is a prime example. Through the efforts of several members of the region’s Women’s Committee came a core group of volunteers to assist community groups in Thunder Bay. There’s no formal initiation or membership requirement, but through the visibility of the members doing good, others have joined.

A similar chapter is now operating in Kenora. They show that we’re a force, not only in our workplaces, but also in our communities. They make people want to be involved. Every union strives for this kind of sell.

OPSEU is one of the few major unions to have seen continued membership growth over the last several years. A big part of that is because we care about our members. All of our members.

OPSEU has a place for you, too! Contact our Equity Unit at 416-443-8888 or toll-free 1-800-268 7376.

Ontario Federation of Labour Convention 2017

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

The 14th Ontario Federation of Labour’s (OFL) Biennial Convention was held November 20 to 24, 2017. This marked the OFL’s 60th anniversary.

The OFL represents 54 union affiliates and one million members.

The theme of this year’s convention was “Power On.” After a temporary absence as a member of the OFL, OPSEU’s presence was felt strongly – and the power was on, with 158 delegates from OPSEU in attendance.

The convention was opened by OFL President Chris Buckley, Secretary-Treasurer Patty Coates and Executive Vice-President Ahmad Gaied. The leaders were re-elected during the convention to carry on their leadership until the next convention in 2019.

The leaders celebrated, not only their re-election, but also several strong campaigns organized by the OFL and community organizers, such as the “Fight for $15 and Fairness” and “Make it Fair.” Delegates held a rally, and marchers celebrated the passing of Bill 148, which made large strides in overhauling the Employment Standards Act.

Delegates at convention also had the privilege of hearing from Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Stephen Lewis, Ontario NDP leader for most of the 1970s and currently a broadcaster and public speaker. These special guest speakers were powerful and provided attendees with a feeling of support and strength for the labour movement.

The days were also spent debating and voting on several resolutions. One that caught the special attention of many was a resolution carried by delegates to get one million votes for the NDP during the upcoming Ontario provincial election.

There were resolutions about what to do, now that Bill 148 has passed, and it was unanimously agreed to keep fighting for $15 fairness. The need to keep fighting has been proven by Tim Hortons’ attack on workers after the new minimum wage was implemented. Tim Hortons and several other companies have systematically taken away many worker benefits after having to raise the wages of their poorest employees.

The labour movement, when working together, can and must make many positive changes for all workers – unionized or not.

On the last day of convention, delegates watched a short film on the sixth decade of the OFL. It demonstrated that the OFL has brought many unions together and made many gains over the decade.

The Ontario Federation of Labour brings unions, activists and workers together to make huge gains for working people and works to ensure that employers are liable when it comes to the health and safety of workers.

If you have never attended an OFL convention, I urge you to do so. You will feel empowered. Power on!

At what price, privatization?

Glen Archer, inSolidarity

When I moved to Kenora, I was introduced to John. Over the next 10 years we became fast friends.

John had retired as a paper mill worker after 35 years of service. Now he was enjoying darts in the cold season and golf in the warm.

John would talk of his wife Irene and her famous Ukrainian cuisine. According to him, nobody could make better perogies than Irene – a claim validated by many people over the years.

If you visited their home, you’d see a collection of golf balls, prominently displayed in a wooden showcase of his own creation and Irene’s collection of salt and pepper shakers. On the walls were plaques recognizing John’s dedication to the Kinsmen and Knights of Columbus, as well as family photographs.

If anybody has memories of grandparents in a house with pine panelling and shag carpet, they’d recognize John and Irene’s place. They were your prototypical grand-parental, retiree types.

All that John and Irene were came to an abrupt and violent end on November 13, 2012.

They were heading home from Thunder Bay and encountered an early snowstorm. Snow was accumulating on regional roads at an alarming rate.

According to police reports, John lost control in the slush and snow. His car ended up being thrown from the ruts in the snow into oncoming traffic, where he collided with a minivan. John and Irene were killed instantly.

You may ask what this has to do with the cost of privatization.

It’s become painfully apparent that if the roads had been maintained by publicly funded and operated crews of the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), there wouldn’t have been that kind of accumulation of snow on the roads in the first place. The roads would have simply not been allowed to get ruts that deep.

Indeed, according to guidelines that govern private operators, snowplows needn’t be used until there’s already an accumulation of several centimetres. Managing road conditions with salt and sand is also dictated by these cost-cutting guidelines.

Kenora-area MTO retirees tell me plow operators were allowed to use their own discretion in most cases. If a storm looked like it was going to be bad, they could begin sanding or salting before the roads got treacherous. Nobody was counting the grains of salt in their trucks.

A former Thunder Bay MTO employee offered this information:

“When I was plowing, we’d have to replace the metal wear bars on the plow at least two to three times every winter season. Nowadays, they get a whole winter out of the one set of wear bars, because the private contractors don’t want you to set the blade too low – it costs too much.”

So the government and their private-operator friends would rather save a few bucks on plowing or sanding and gamble with the lives of good folks, like John and Irene.

On that November day, I lost a good friend, and Kenora lost two valuable citizens. Again, I’m left asking: At what price, privatization?

Let’s put labour and the community into our college system

Joe Grogan, Retired

Now that the strike by college faculty has been terminated by back-to-work legislation, let’s pause to consider some key points.

OPSEU, correctly, has filed a Charter challenge against the legislation. I applaud the union’s actions, because the employer really didn’t negotiate properly leading up to and during the strike.

The strike addressed many continuing issues, like precarious employment. The college system employs about 75 per cent of the faculty on a part-time, casual basis. The media chose to emphasize the salary angle, which wasn’t the most pressing issue.

Quality of education was also very important. As it is, it’s impossible for students to get the help they need when the college system employs so many part-time and casual faculty.

What about the many health and safety issues for faculty when you have a system that emphasizes speed, deregulation, contracting-out and the bottom line? Faculty must somehow act as entrepreneurs, rather than facilitators of learning. Stress becomes an obvious factor.

What about online courses? They make many college programs and courses taught by full-time faculty redundant.

I was so happy when the last offer from the employer was rejected by a very strong majority of those voting. This was historic in the college system.

In my years at Humber College as a faculty member, I worked to make labour education a significant part of the curricula in the college system. It was obvious to me that the overall curricula of the college system was employer-oriented in terms of program and course content. So I helped develop a tremendous number of materials that had a pro-worker and union orientation.

None of these remain part of the Humber College library. They were removed a few years ago. Why remove materials that reflect the concerns of working class people and unions from an educational system financed by workers and their families?

With this experience, I conclude that the college system is a controlled system, because it limits access to labour-oriented material and perspectives. Indeed, the curricula available throughout the college system reflects a largely employer focus and employer values.

During our present situation of precarious employment, young people would better learn why employment standards are important and where the struggle for decent minimum wages really came from – if such information was available in college libraries. For example, Bill 148 reflects some positive change, but where did the push for change come from? No, not from the Wynne government, but rather from the labour movement and the NDP.

The struggle for justice through OPSEU’s Charter challenge may yield some positive results. But many problems will remain. We all need to fight the mind-control strategies that begin at Queen’s Park and are willingly implemented by college administrators across the system.

Let’s raise the many needed questions about how the college system must be radically changed to ensure greater equity, transparency and accountability. The controls are designed to make the college environments union free – part of the Americanization of Ontario’s educational system.

Let’s not hesitate to be effective agitators. Let’s support those who agitate by raising anew the changes required to ensure an excellent quality of education. The fight for labour and the community in the college system is an honourable one and entirely congruent with working class values and union priorities.

Organize, agitate and educate! The arbitration award that came down after the strike doesn’t address the many issues I’ve raised here – which means we must address them through collective bargaining and direct action each day at work and in the community.

Reefer madness through the ages

Maria Bauer, inSolidarity

Cannabis has a long history

The word “cannabis” – also known as marijuana, weed, pot, reefer and many other names – comes from the flowering plant family Cannabaceae. There are three recognized species, and it is indigenous to Asia. It still grows wild in many tropical climates.

The oldest recorded use of Cannabis was from 500 BC in China and spread to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, then to the Middle East and Africa. It was used as a herbal medicine. However, there is some evidence that ancient cultures were aware of the plants’ properties and may have cultivated them for sacred ceremonies.

In the 1500s, the Spaniards imported it to Chile. Cannabis was grown on many plantations and used to make rope, clothing and paper. The cannabis seeds were also used as feed for animals.

These early plants had very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects.

From 1840 to 1900, US scientific journals wrote of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, and pharmaceutical companies used cannabis in medicines to treat insomnia, headaches and rheumatism.

Cannabis becomes illegal

In 1906, the US Congress passed a bill under the Food and Drug Act stating that certain drugs, including cannabis, must be labelled with contents.

Previously, many companies labelled medicines with “secret ingredients,” including narcotics.

In 1907, the Poison Act, was passed. In 1913, California was the first state to amend the Poison Act to include cannabis.

During the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20, many Mexicans fled to the southern US. They used cannabis recreationally, and the habit was picked up by some of the Americans, who used the Spanish term “marijuana.”

In 1930, Harry J. Anslinger, first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, began a campaign to prohibit cannabis. He stated that cannabis made people violent and started a campaign for the prohibition of cannabis in the USA.

He was also known for racist comments about the Mexican refugees and predominantly black jazz musicians in the southern US. His comments helped make the use of recreational cannabis illegal.

To finish the job, in 1936, the government created a propaganda movie called Reefer Madness, which blamed cannabis for incidents of rape, other violence and death. Today, it’s known as one of the worst films ever made. But it worked. In 1937, the use of cannabis was prohibited.

Starting in the 1970s, penalties on cannabis possession were lessened. Starting in 1996, several states legalized the medicinal use of cannabis. In 2012, Colorado was the first to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. (Federally, the United States still has laws that prohibit cannabis, but each state is allowed to make its own laws.)

What about Canada?

Sometime in 2018, Canada is expected to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The federal government has asked each province to submit its own plan for selling cannabis.

The Ontario government’s plan is to keep all sales within the public domain through the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation. It will be marketed through Ontario Cannabis Stores. This is a wise decision, as all profits will go back into our communities, rather than into the hands of private retailers. However, cannabis production will remain in the hands of private companies.

It will be interesting to see what its production, sale and use will do to Canada. Will it increase our public revenues? Will it produce more jobs? Will Canada become a country of even greater prosperity and happiness? Or will there be “reefer madness”? Time will tell.