OPSEU Coalition of Racialized Workers

Member mobilization a key theme at second biennial Coalition of Racialized Workers Conference


OPSEU/SEFPO’s Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW) hosted their union’s second biennial Racialized Workers Conference from October 14-16, 2022. More than 150 OPSEU/SEFPO members from across the province joined this hybrid conference – the first time since the pandemic started for CoRW delegates to gather with their peers and allies from across Ontario.

The conference was an important opportunity to recognize that many Black, racialized and Indigenous communities continue to be impacted by hate-based discrimination, which was amplified because of the COVID-19 crisis.

The theme for this year’s conference was “Mobilization: Past, Present and Future,” which spoke to the trials, tribulations and victories of the past, the resistance of today and the path forward. The objective was to also organize members from Black, racialized and Indigenous communities in particular, and to decolonize existing structures and eliminate systemic barriers once and for all. Their voices and lived experiences took centre stage.

A series of prominent speakers, guests, artists and performers from these communities gave their time and shared their knowledge and expertise, so that conference participants walked away with tangible action plans for their workplaces, locals and communities.

Panelists from Friday evening, Dr. Gaibrie Stephen, Marie Clarke Walker and Vanessa Ling Yu, used their stories as examples of how real the struggle for equality is for Black, racialized and Indigenous communities when accessing the most basic of necessities such as healthcare, employment and food.

Rev. Terrence L. Melvin, President of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) and the conference’s keynote, galvanized the crowd with an inspiring speech. He challenged everyone to do their part to create that meaningful spaces for Black, racialized and Indigenous communities so that they can thrive and succeed with the necessary supports.

Participants also had the opportunity to meet and network with other members from each of OPSEU/SEFPO’s seven regions. During this educational workshop, members shared stories of how they got involved with their local, and building union power. They also discussed critical approaches and ideas for engaging members – particularly those most marginalized within their workplace.

Throughout the three day conference, participants also watched artistic performances which honoured the histories, cultures and traditions of people from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, and which demonstrated the unwavering strength and resilience that these groups continue to have in spite of generations of oppression and marginalization.

Members from the union’s leadership were also in attendance. Peter Thompson, Chair of the CoRW opened the conference on Friday night where he acknowledged the longstanding struggles to achieve recognition within the union. He also talked about the role that CoRW has played as a collective in advancing those struggles.

Coleen Houlder, Regional Vice-President for OPSEU/SEFPO’s Region 5 and currently the only Black or racialized member on the union’s Executive Board, spoke about the importance of working towards a union that truly reflects the makeup of its members.

The two highest ranking officers in the union, JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO’s President and Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO’s First Vice-President/Treasurer, spoke about their commitment to build real bargaining power by removing barriers and making sure that everyone is included, and confident that their union is on their side.

Hornick reinforced OPSEU/SEFPO’s commitment to dismantling anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and all other forms of racism. She emphasized that the union is creating space for that hands-on project and expecting OPSEU/SEFPO members to participate in the process of undoing the harms and wrongs of the past and present, so we can build a better future together.

During the conference closing, CoRW members shared the Committee’s next steps, including their upcoming “road-tour” across Ontario. The series will be an engagement process, which focuses on connecting with the hardest-to-reach racialized members. The discussions, ideas and strategies explored at the conference will be put into action as the Coalition continues to do the work to remove barriers and create spaces that are built on equity and inclusion.

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