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May Day 2021: the struggle for a better Ontario continues

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
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Each year, millions of workers around the world celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1st. For many workers, “May Day” is a time to celebrate the achievements of the labour movement, including improved employment standards, occupational health and safety legislation and old age security.

Born of the fight for an eight-hour workday, May Day has evolved into a global celebration of workers and the strength of labour’s collective power.

Here at OPSEU/SEFPO, we are deeply proud of our own union’s history, and the strength of the machine we’ve built.

We’re proud of our track record in bargaining, campaigning and in organizing. Take our 2018 organizing drive when we welcomed 20,000 part-time college support staff into our union family. This was the largest organizing drive in Canada’s history.

We’re also proud of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic – demanding and achieving better PPE, protection and pay for our heroic front-line members.

But while significant progress has been achieved, and there is much to celebrate, we must also recognize that the struggle continues; for improved workplace health and safety, for decent wages, working conditions, and for paid sick day benefits that will extend beyond the current crisis.

It’s 2021, and we live in the one of the richest provinces, in one of the richest countries on Earth. Yet, in the midst of a global health pandemic, many front-line essential workers did not have paid sick days until just this week. No doubt, it’s a significant win. But forcing front line essential workers to choose between keeping the lights on and staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19 has worsened the crisis.

That’s why OPSEU/SEFPO and the entire union movement have pushed for a made-in-Ontario paid sick days program.  The Ontario government recently responded with three paid sick days, and that is a good start. We need to go further if we are to keep Ontarians safe, and looking into the future, we need long-term planning and long-term solutions.

Because COVID-19 didn’t create the deep cracks and inequities that exist in Ontario – it just exposed many of them. It has proven just how vulnerable front-line workers are, especially women and racialized people who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. It has proven we need to do better.

It has also proven how valuable public sector workers, and the public services they provide are in cultivating a safe and prosperous province. That’s why public sector solutions – like high-quality health care – are the foundation for our recovery.

This May Day, let us recommit ourselves to building a better, safer Ontario, where strong public services are supported, where permanent paid sick days are legislated and where all workers are respected.

Heroes deserve better. Together, we can achieve it.

In Solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU/SEFPO President

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer