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OPSEU young workers get ‘back to basics’ with the union movement

Smokey Thomas speaking from behind a podium
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OPSEU’s Provincial Young Workers Committee (PYC) was proud to welcome over 150 participants from all corners of the province to this year’s Young Workers Conference in Toronto, from August 10-12, 2018. Most of those were attending their first-ever OPSEU event.

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With the theme of “Back to Basics: Your Young Worker Survival Guide”, the conference’s main goal was to engage young workers in the important work of their union.  Through hands-on workshops, interactive activities and engaging speakers, this year’s conference provided an understanding of young workers’ rights and entitlements, challenges and strategies. This was also a chance for OPSEU’s young workers to get to know each other as the future activists and leaders of the union.

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OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida both gave inspirational remarks.  They 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.  President Thomas emphasized that young workers have already done a tremendous amount of work.  They are some of OPSEU’s current leaders, including local presidents and community organizers.  He encouraged young workers to continue to speak up and to challenge decision makers to respect their rights:
 
“Young workers are greatly impacted by the decisions made at the bargaining table.  When contracts are bargained, they must be bargained for ALL workers,” Thomas stated to resounding applause from the participants.
 
Almeida added: “Your participation at this conference highlights the important fact that everything we do as trade unionists is part of a larger struggle for all workers in Ontario, in Canada and around the world.”

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The conference welcomed a dynamic roster of young, vibrant and community-driven speakers.
 
“Organizing and Winning” was the topic of the Friday evening. The panel included John Coady, President of Local 726, who shared strategies for fighting back against privatization. Vishwaa Ramakrishnan, a student activist and organizer, discussed the challenges he faced with organizing in the private sector. Navi Ajula is a community organizer with the Workers’ Action Centre (WAC) and a part of the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. She spoke about preserving many of the gains won when Bill 148 was passed last year. Megan Carter, President of Local 557, shared her experience organizing 20,000 college part-time support members.

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The event’s keynote speaker, Kwesi Johnson, is an educator, social services practitioner, community organizer, ‘socialpreneur’ and award-winning activist. Johnson called on today’s youth to recognize their own potential as agents of change in their communities. Participants were inspired to build on their leadership potential with OPSEU and continue implementing succession planning for the Provincial Young Workers’ Committee.
 
Sunday morning welcomed Mike Stroh and Michelle Gibson from Starts With Me, an organization involved in the post-institutional mental health care movement. They addressed the importance of talking openly about challenges associated with mental health.

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In addition to invited guests, conference workshops provided participants with a hands-on approach to addressing issues within the workplace while tapping into the many resources OPSEU has to offer.
 
OPSEU’s Young Workers Conference coincided with the United Nations’ International Youth Day (IYD), which is commemorated annually on August 12. In response to the 2018 IYD theme of “Safe Spaces for Youth,” OPSEU and the PYC created a space where young workers came together, engaged in activities, participated in decision-making processes, and could express themselves freely.

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The PYC would like to thank the many OPSEU advocates and invited guests who demonstrated their commitment to young worker rights by participating in this event. They would also like to extend a warm thank you to members of OPSEU’s Executive Board for its leadership and constant support in getting more young workers involved and engaged with their union. Finally, they would like to thank all of the OPSEU staff whose commitment, dedication and hard work greatly contributed to a successful conference.