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ODSP/OW merger off the table

On April 3, 2014, Community and Social Services Minister Ted McMeekin announced that there would be no merger of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) programs. This announcement was satisfying news for thousands on Ontario residents and OPSEU members, who have been lobbying for nearly 18 months against such a merger.

In its final Oct. 24 2012 report, the Liberals’ Commission for the Review of Social Assistance made several troubling recommendations that would potentially cut incomes and make life harder for people with disabilities receiving ODSP. One such recommendation was the merger of ODSP with OW. The recommendations came despite numerous submissions from OPSEU and other community stakeholders opposing such an action.

After the recommendations were announced, members ramped up the ODSP campaign. We joined forces with the ODSP Action Coalition, a province-wide coalition of people with lived experience on ODSP. OPSEU members collected 5,000 postcards and letters opposing the merger, which they sent to the government. Members lobbied their own MPPs, and held a well-attended joint lobby day on April 10, 2013 at Queen’s Park. People with disabilities and the front-line staff who support them told more than 30 MPPs, including several cabinet ministers, to improve disability benefits but not in the ways the Commission recommended.

Through OPSEU member engagement, active partnership with community allies and strong consistent messages, the tide has been turned. This victory was possible because OPSEU members, who are passionate and dedicated to the work they do and the people the assist, responded to the challenge.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that this proves once again how motivated members and community alliances can achieve major victories. “Minister McMeekin stated ‘We’ve heard loud and clear from virtually everybody that this isn’t the way to go,’” Thomas said. “Those voices he heard so loudly were the voices of our members and the ODSP Action Coalition, working together for the common goal of protecting vulnerable people relying on public services.”

This IS a great victory, but the fight is not yet over. With caseloads of 250- 350 cases per worker, members continue to struggle to provide the best possible assistance to approximately 415,000 Ontarians. Our members remain concerned about the Liberals implementing other of the Commission’s harmful recommendations, including requiring people on ODSP to participate in the workforce.

Most of all, we must continue our 2014 collective bargaining efforts to fend off the “race to the bottom” approach of contract takeaways by the employers.