By Craig Hadley, inSolidarity Committee
OPSEU/SEFPO members from Region 1 held an activist-focused leadership meeting in Windsor, emphasizing mental health, wellness, equity initiatives and building local capacity.
After the Land Acknowledgement and Statement of Respect, the day got off to an exciting start with OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick addressing more than 70 participants consisting of local presidents, stewards and new activists.
Hornick spoke to the importance of maintaining good mental health in all aspects of life including union work. She thanked the crowd for investing in their union and themselves by attending today and recognizing that when it comes to our work we have to take care of ourselves first, before we can take care of others.
Laurie Nancekivell, First Vice-President/Treasurer, thanked the room for prioritizing their mental health and making time for the event. Special thanks went to Regional Vice President Jennifer Van Zetten and Region 1 EBM,
Geoff Cain, for organizing this new and ground-breaking event. Nancekivell spoke of the organizing portion of the day, stressing that we are the workers of this province and are stronger together.
When asked what inspired the theme of the event, Van Zetten said, “Maintaining good mental health is often overlooked in society and in union educational events. As the regional leadership, Geoff and I wanted to ensure our activists have the tools to best manage the stressors in everyday life which includes their union life.”
Tammy Whelen, Mental Health Educator, gave a powerful presentation on prioritizing our own mental health in our daily lives of working and union activism. Whelen revealed that our bodies are constantly talking to us, and we need to listen. She shared that throughout her 20s she was always tired and experienced intense body pain accompanied by a multitude of health problems.
After several years of suffering and dozens of medical consultations that provided no answers, her frustration peaked as many doctors told her she looks healthy and must love visiting the doctors as often as she does. Eventually tests confirmed what her body was telling her: she had cancer accompanied with multiple tumours on her spine. Whelen since has made a full recovery and has dedicated her life to teaching and raising awareness on mental health topics including listening to your body.
After a delightful lunch prepared by the culinary program of St. Clair College, Peter Thompson, Chair of the Coalition of Racialized Workers and Taylor McIntosh, Chair of the Provincial Young Workers Committee opened the afternoon programming with a brief history of the Social Mapping Project.
Thompson and McIntosh then gave an update on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to Convention 2023 that would add seven Executive Board members to be elected from persons who identify with equity communities. They said OPSEU/SEFPO was falling behind equity initiatives both in the government and other unions. “This initiative has been in the works for a long time and, to simplify it, this vote if passed will provide a platform that gives people of equity a voice,” said McIntosh.
The final two presentations of the afternoon focused on helping local leadership best manage and grow their activist membership. The first was focused on a new organizing model, adopting a fresh approach to building local capacity and using many of the proven techniques and teachings of union organizer and author Jane McAlevey.
The second presentation of the afternoon was facilitated by Shelly Gartshore and Carrie Caldwell of Local 124, Lambton College Support Staff. Gartshore and Caldwell shared a story of their composite local not being as effective as it could be. They noted 65 percent of the local’s members were new and not involved, which weakened the capacity of the Local Executive Committee.
The local implemented a series of best practices to get organized and to engage their membership. They removed any duplication of tasks within the LEC and took on membership tracking to discover who was in their membership. Once the local had a list, they enacted membership engagement strategies using an internal organizing campaign methodology. Since the change, the local’s involvement has grown exponentially.