OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas joined local labour allies and community activists at an information picket at the Board meeting of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) on Wednesday. He was joined by 1st Vice President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, Regional Vice President Lucy Morton, and Executive Board Member Erin Thorson. MPP Cindy Forster also sent a representative to the picket in support.
Local 217 President Barb Wilson organized the picket to raise awareness about the way the NPCA management intimidates its unionized staff, and to build community solidarity with the small, embattled bargaining unit. In particular, the local is demanding that NPCA management reinstate their former highest-ranking union steward, whom NPCA management claimed was laid off for "budgetary reasons".
Thomas thanked everyone for coming out and supporting NPCA staff during a difficult time, and expressed OPSEU's commitment to working with the community on their concerns with the NPCA as well. He added that the staff of the NPCA couldn't be present, not only because they are working, but because, "they are too intimidated to come out. They know that if they show up here, they could be the next ones out the door."
Almeida addressed the picketers as well. He told the gathering that OPSEU is dedicated to working with communities on local issues, citing the We Own It campaign as an example. He and Thomas offered community activists the use of OPSEU space to meet for grassroots organizing around the NPCA.
OPSEU leaders also met with Ed Smith, a man who is defending himself from a $200,000 lawsuit launched by the NPCA and its former CAO for distributing a report asking hard questions about the way the NPCA has been governed. Smith has launched a counter-suit for defamation.
Just before the 9:30 a.m. meeting start time, David Barrick, Director of Corporate Services (who oversees the HR department that laid off the highest-randking steward) arrived at a side door of the building. Thomas and Morton walked over to his car to introduce themselves to him, followed by a number of picketers.
Thomas asked to meet with him to talk about the problems his members are having at work. Barrick agreed to meet but said he couldn't talk now because he had to get to the meeting. Pressed by Morton for a meeting time, Barrick told them to call his assistant. He then walked away to calls from the OPSEU members gathered to "Bring back our staff now!"
Thomas and Morton received the same answer from Sandy Annunziata, Chair of the NPCA Board in the parking lot. Annunziata agreed to meet with them at a later, unspecified time, then walked through the picketers to enter the building.
When the NPCA meeting started with an in camera session, Wilson led the picketers inside the building where they chanted in the hallway until asked to desist by an NPCA official. The picketers continued to chant for several minutes, then dispersed.
Thomas and Almeida committed to everyone present that OPSEU would work with the community on a public campaign to clean up the NPCA and make it a better workplace for the staff. "At OPSEU, we don't go around looking for fights," said Thomas. "But if you pick a fight with our members, we'll finish it."
More pictures from Wednesday's info picket: