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Racialized workers need a bigger seat at the OPSEU/SEFPO table. Here’s how.

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By the OPSEU/SEFPO Coalition of Racialized Workers, for inSolidarity Newsletter

From local presidents to the Executive Board, OPSEU/SEFPO leadership is mostly white. There are clear barriers for racialized workers to meaningfully participate in our union.

OPSEU/SEFPO has committed to a mandate of equity and inclusion. But the lack of representation of racialized members of our union in leadership positions and at union events shows that a lot more needs to be done. Each region faces their own unique challenges with member engagement, and it is even more difficult to reach racialized members.

“Black people have to endure and work harder to receive acknowledgement from our fellow OPSEU/SEFPO brothers and sisters,” says Peter Thompson, Chair of the Coalition of Racialized Workers.

“As a Black member of OPSEU/SEFPO, I am a local president, a labour management chair, and I serve on several OPSEU/SEFPO regional and provincial committees, including the Coalition of Racialized Workers,” says Michael Hamilton, Region 3 Representative for CoRW and inSolidarity Committee member. “However, I am the exception, not the norm. Many racialized members are not even aware of the process of becoming more involved in the union.”

Here are some suggestions for reaching out to racialized members of OPSEU/SEFPO.

Break down barriers to getting involved at the local level

It can be hard to get involved at the local level when even steward elections turn into popularity contests, and gatekeeping discourages participation. Locals need to encourage racialized members to get involved by actively reaching out to members who aren’t engaged yet and finding meaningful ways for them to be involved in their local.

It’s important to make sure information about local meetings and events is distributed to all members in the local. Make sure every member knows the process for joining a committee, running for a local position, or attending a GMM. Find ways to make everyone feel welcome to attend union meetings. Encourage racialized members to run for positions in the local.

If racialized members have difficulty even engaging on the local level, how can anyone expect them to become more involved at the regional or provincial level?

Vote in favour of equity seats on the OPSEU/SEFPO Executive Board

We need the perspective of more racialized members at all levels of the union, including the Executive Board. At Convention 2023, there will be a Constitutional amendment put forth to add seven Equity positions on OPSEU/SEFPO’s Executive Board. Each of the seven new board members will be directly chosen by members who self-identify with an equity-deserving group. For example, one of the new Equity Board Members will be a member who is racialized, and who is chosen by members who are racialized. Another Equity Board Member will be a member who is Indigenous, and who is chosen by Indigenous members.

This amendment will help to ensure that OPSEU/SEFPO’s Executive Board better reflects the diversity of our membership. If you’re a delegate to Convention this year, the Coalition encourages you to vote yes to this Constitutional amendment.

Better promotion of events at the regional and provincial level

Every year, the Coalition of Racialized Workers holds many events, including Black History Month events this past February. Much more needs to be done to reach out to all members to encourage them to attend these important events. The Coalition encourages Executive Board Members, local presidents, and the central union to promote these events to all members, and encourage them to attend.

It’s important for OPSEU/SEFPO to make sure that information about all regional and provincial events, like regional educationals, bargaining conferences, and Convention reaches all members – that includes information on how to attend, become a delegate or alternate, and run for election.

But information isn’t enough. It’s up to all union activists to reach out to members who aren’t involved in the union, including racialized members, and encourage them to apply, attend or stand for election.

We need better member engagement in order for OPSEU/SEFPO to rise to the levels that all of us as members know it can reach. Racialized members want to be included in this process, because many of us have the best interests of OPSEU/SEFPO at heart. We want this union to prosper and to be one of the key beacons of light in the labour movement.