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OPSEU Conference ‘elevates’ young workers to reveal strong leaders within the union

Elevate: PYC conference poster of birds and logo

Conference Review

OPSEU’s Provincial Young Workers Committee (PYC) successfully hosted the union’s annual Young Workers Conference.  It took place from August 9 to 11, 2019 in Toronto.  This year’s chosen theme was appropriately called “Elevate: Rising to Meet the Challenges of Uncertain Times.”  Joseanne Job, Chair of the PYC told Conference goers the Committee chose this theme “to encourage young workers to organize collective action in response to the Ford government’s cutbacks, many of which have directly impacted young workers.”  This includes cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) for college and university students by more than 300-million dollars.  These cuts have also eliminated free tuition for low-income students.  As a result and in addition to the already limited number of available full-time jobs in the current labour market, young workers are forced to carry more post-graduation debt.

The conference was structured to provide participants with a fundamental understanding of key tools and resources OPSEU offers young members and advocates to assist in these times of uncertainty.  It also successfully reinforced why unions still matter in the labour economy, especially to young workers.

There can be no doubt that participation in OPSEU’s Young Workers Conference has grown substantially over the years.  It’s been a steady, successful event year after year.  The conference’s humble beginnings go back as a day and a half educational which welcomed just under 50 people.  This year, and for the second year in a row, the PYC was proud to welcome over 150 participants from all corners of the province to the event.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida both reaffirmed the union’s long-standing commitment to young workers – acknowledging the pivotal role they play in the future of OPSEU and the labour movement.  At the same time, President Thomas emphasized how young workers have already done a tremendous amount of work.  They remain some of OPSEU’s current leaders, assuming the roles of local presidents and community organizers.  “We’re here to keep building and to focus on getting back to the basics of union activism; it’s about raising all workers up, and it’s about solidarity” Thomas stated.  These were truly inspiring words especially to the many participants in the room who were attending this conference as their very first union event.

First Vice-President/Treasurer Almeida highlighted the important role young workers play as ‘bridge builders.’  “You’re the connection between the present and the future and your leadership today will pave the way for a better tomorrow” he boldly stated. Almeida’s story of his own experiences as a young worker rising up in the labour movement and eventually within the ranks of OPSEU resonated with the room of eager listeners. He also spoke about the obstacles his children faced as they entered the workforce – experiences that many in the room could relate to.

The event welcomed a dynamic roster of young, vibrant and community-driven speakers. Ahmad Gaied, Executive Vice-President of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), spoke of the many significant contributions that young workers have already made in the history of the labour movement.  He shared personal stories of the struggles he experienced as ‘expendable labour’ simply because he was a young worker.  A trailblazer in his own right, Gaied was the youngest officer ever elected in the OFL’s 58 year history at 33 years old in 2015.

The event also included a thoughtful panel discussion on pension investment and included current and former PYC members. Panel members discussed their experiences with employer pension plans as well as the reality of not having access to one.  It was a ‘peer talking to peer’ conversation that drove home the importance of contributing to a pension early on in one’s career.  The panel discussion was especially relevant to the young workers in the room who currently do not have the luxury of a sponsored plan with their employer.  The objective of the discussion was to encourage participants  to be vigilant and to use the information presented as the impetus for discussions at future rounds of bargaining.

The conference ended with an inspiring presentation from Nour Alideeb, former Chairperson with the Canadian Federation of Students (Ontario) who spoke about the future of the labour movement and the role that young workers play in shaping that narrative into one that highlights them as skilled decision makers.  She also stressed the importance of early involvement in grassroots activism such as joining student unions.

Conference workshops provided participants with a hands-on approach to addressing issues within the workplace while tapping into invaluable resources that OPSEU has to offer.  It was also an opportunity for young workers to lead the conversation that unions have not ‘outlived their usefulness’ and that they continue to play a crucial role in the successes of communities across the province today.

“Today’s generation of young workers are the most educated ever” said Job.  “We have a lot to offer and it’s important that our voices are not only heard but that what we are saying is taken seriously.”

OPSEU’s Young Workers Conference coincides with the United Nations’ International Youth Day (IYD) commemorated annually on August 12th. This day recognizes the efforts of youth to make the world a better place – simply by becoming involved in their communities. In response to the 2019 IYD theme of “Transforming Education,” OPSEU and the PYC worked hard to create an opportunity for young workers to come together, engage in activity, discussion and decision making processes, and most of all, to freely express themselves!  In each other, we were able to see the leaders of today and tomorrow!

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Conference Materials 

2019 Conference Program.pdf
Participant Resource Materials.pdf
Bargaining For Optrust Select Brochure.pdf
Optrust Select Brochure.pdf