Alarmed about the continued sell-off of public services and assets, more than 15,000 OPSEU members tuned in November 9 to two telephone halls about the union’s campaign to fight privatization.
“I urge everybody listening on this call to join in this fight,” said one Developmental Services worker who spoke up during the town hall. “It’s happening where I work and I’m sure it’s happening where many of you work, too.
“It’s hurting the people we’re trying to help, and we have to stop it.”
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told the thousands of attendees that he considers fighting privatization the union’s top priority.
“If we let privatization creep any deeper into our public services, it won’t be long before the only people who can feel healthy and safe and prosperous in this province are the few Ontarians who have a lot of money and a lot of privilege,” he said.
“I strongly feel that this is the most important issue facing us today.”
Online polls taken during the two calls show that members agree. During each call, more than 85 per cent said fighting privatization should be the union’s top priority.
Thomas said the union will keep speaking out publicly against privatization with campaigns such as "We own it!" and "Hydro One Not For Sale."
A number of callers said they wanted protection against privatization in their collective agreements. Thomas vowed to continue his push for what he called a “coordinated bargaining” strategy in which all bargaining units table anti-privatization during their next round of bargaining.
“When we all push together for the same thing at the table, we all end up getting it,” he said.
Co-hosting the call with Thomas were OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida and two of the 28 members working full-time on the We own it! Campaign: Shannon Russell and Erin Thorson.
“When you’ve got privatization, you’ve got somebody looking to make a profit,” said Almeida. “Their first priority isn’t taking care of people or treating people fairly. Their first priority is to cut corners, cut staff, cuts services, and cut safety and benefits.
“And those cuts never end well.”
Almeida, Russell, and Thorson then ran down a list of some of the privatization disasters the province has already endured, including:
- The Walkerton tragedy that left seven dead and thousands sickened after water testing was privatized.
- The creeping privatization of liquor sales, which has drawn the condemnation of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Cancer Care Ontario.
- The $8 billion that the Ontario Auditor General says we overpaid by using public-private partnerships to build hospitals and highways over the past decade.
- The ongoing sell-off of Hydro One, which Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer says will cost the provincial government up to $500 million a year in lost revenues.
Almeida drove home the magnitude of the social and financial losses Ontarians suffer because of privatization.
“The privatization of Hydro One is costing us $500 million, folks. Every year. Forever,” he said. “Just think about what that money could do for the services you provide and for the people who depend on them. And don’t forget: that money hasn’t disappeared. It’s not gone. It’s just been transferred from us to wealthy Bay Street investors — from those who need it most to those who need it least.”
Throughout both calls, Thorson and Russell encouraged listeners to join them in the We own it! campaign to shift public opinion against privatization.
“I have to admit that I was extremely nervous when I first started,” said Shannon. “I was worried that people would be stand-offish, offended, aggressive, or anti-union. But it's actually been surprisingly exciting. What I hear most often is relief that there is an avenue for their voice to be heard.”
Thorson lives in Hamilton, where citizens successfully brought the water-treatment system back into public hands after a disastrous privatization. She urged listeners to remember that positive change is always possible.
“People know something’s wrong with the way things are going,” she said. “And most of them have been very open when I start a conversation with them about how we can make things better.”
Technical issues to be addressed for future telephone town halls
Although the two telephone town halls on Nov. 9 successfully engaged more than 15,000 members, it was the first time OPSEU invited all members to a telephone town hall and there were a couple of technical hiccups. We will work to improve the system for future calls.
- OPSEU will strive to ensure that we don’t have members’ contact info duplicated in our database so they don’t receive more than one call about a telephone town hall.
- OPSEU will work with the town hall service provider to ensure that people trying to call in to the telephone town hall are able to get through on the first attempt.
- OPSEU will work with the town hall service provider ensure better line quality for all participants.
We apologize for any inconvenience that we caused, and we thank everybody for their feedback about the telephone town halls.