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In Solidarity - The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Fall 2009

Publication Date

Thursday, October 1, 2009 (All day)

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OPSEU Census groundbreaking for OPSEU

“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT OPSEU completes a social map and survey of the membership to ensure that the Union’s policies, programs and services are inclusive and barrier free; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT OPSEU implement a plan that reflects a more representative workforce.”

With that resolution, passed at the 2008 Convention, OPSEU embarked on a project that no other union in the country has attempted.

The OPSEU Membership and Staff Census is an ambitious and very necessary initiative to collect statistics on the demographics of OPSEU members and to assess any barriers in policies, programs and services.

The census focuses on both members and staff of the union; for members, a census will be taken and all systems reviewed. A census of staff will also be taken, accompanied by an employment systems review.

What led to this project? Many things, but most notably it was work by the Workers of Colour Caucus.

The Workers of Colour Caucus created “The Living Wall” to track the participation of Workers of Colour at the OPSEU Convention and in key decision-making positions within the union (e.g. local presidents, EBMs). The “Wall” highlighted gaps in leadership positions and lower attendance levels at Convention in election years. This confirmed the experience of many Workers of Colour who encountered a lack of representation in the union. 

As a result of that work, members of the Workers of Color Caucus joined with other Equity Committees and Caucuses to lobby OPSEU to do a more substantive demographic profile of its membership.

“Only when we have a better handle on the breadth of all the communities within OPSEU, can we work to ensure that the union’s policies, programs and services are inclusive and barrier-free,” says OPSEU President Smokey Thomas. 

The census will roll out in two phases. This fall, a census of the entire OPSEU membership will create a demographic snapshot of our current membership and staff.

Next year, the focus will be on identifying and making recommendations about how to remove any systemic barriers to participation in the union’s membership and employment practices. 

“To succeed, we’ll be counting on a very wide buy-in by activists and by rank and file members we have not yet connected with,” Thomas says. “No union in Canada has previously taken on this kind of responsibility. We owe it to our entire membership to lead the way on inclusiveness.”

A hole in one for OPSEU’s first charity golf tournament

By Jim Ziokowlski, In Solidarity 

On May 25, 2009, more than 135 Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) members, staff and guests converged on the Meadowbrook Golf and Country Club near Stouffville, Ontario. They were participants in OPSEU’s 1st Annual Charity Golf Tournament. The tournament was sponsored by OPSEU Enterprises.

Participants enjoyed beautiful weather and a great round of golf, while raising money for the worthwhile charity. Through corporate donors, raffles and a silent auction, over $10,000 was raised for OPSEU’s Live and Let Live Fund.

“The event was a great success,” said Rob Kinnear, Supervisor of OPSEU Enterprises. “It wouldn’t have happened without the generosity of all the volunteers, sponsors and participants, especially President Smokey Thomas, 1st Vice-President/Treasurer Patty Rout and the OPSEU Executive Board.”

The tournament grand prize winner of a 7-Day, All Inclusive Caribbean Vacation, courtesy of Vision 2000, was Jacques Senechal, Local 556, George Brown College.

The Live and Let Live Fund was established by OPSEU in 2004 to support organizations that are actively involved in combating HIV/AIDS in southern Africa and Ontario.

Part-time workers may be eligible for retiree benefits

By Felicia Fahey, In Solidarity

In addition to regular employees and fixed-term employees, seasonal and casual workers in the Ontario Public Service (OPS) may be eligible to receive benefits after they retire. Workers employed by a schedule agency, board or commission may also be eligible.

Any worker that pays into the OPSEU Pension Plan, administered by OPTrust, receives benefits when they retire, provided they meet one of the following criteria:

  • The member has retired with a pension based on 10 years of service credit in the Plan, or;
  • The member has retired with a pension based on at least 10 years of continuous employment, with at least some credit service in each of those years.

Benefits are allowed for the worker, spouse and any dependant children after retirement. The package for eligible pensioners includes basic life, dental and supplementary health and hospital. If you were employed by a scheduled agency, board or commission outside the OPS any additional benefits would depend on specific collective agreements. The premiums of the benefits are paid for by the Government of Ontario or specific employer. Currently, vision and hearing aid plans are also available to members for a small premium that is deducted form their pension. Starting January 1, 2010, the Government of Ontario will begin paying 100% of these premiums as well.

Receiving benefits after retirement, a time in life when benefits are extremely valuable, is one great reason for enrolling in the OPSEU Pension Plan. Other key considerations for joining the Plan include: security later in life; benefits for your survivors; inflation adjustments; easy service buy-back options; and employer contribution matching.

In 2008, the OPSEU Pension Plan serviced more than 82,000 members. It is considered is one of Canada’s largest pension plans, with assets of more than $11 billion. That same year, more than 1,300 fixed-term employees, seasonal and casual workers joined the OPTrust, taking steps to secure their financial futures.

Eligible members can join the pension plan by simply contacting their Human Resources representative or by calling OPTrust at  1-800-637-0024. More information can be found on their website at www.optrust.com.

No shame in suffering Post Traumatic Stress

By Karrie Ouchas, In Solidarity

Living through natural disasters. The sudden death of a loved one. Witness or victim to a violent crime. Involved in a violent automobile accident. You or someone you love is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Veterans and victims of war.

All of these events are traumatic. For some, it can take months, or even years, to recover from these situations. Almost 8 per cent of those who experience traumatic events like these develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans, victims of war and rape victims are at higher risk of experiencing PTSD - by 10 to 30 per cent.

For those that suffer from the disorder, they often feel they are “going crazy” or don’t understand why they are unable to recover quickly. Understanding the disorder and knowing there is help is the key to recovery and to accepting the condition, without shame.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder happens after an individual is exposed to one or more events where there was an actual or threatened death or where there was actual or threatened physical harm to oneself or others. In simpler terms, PTSD happens when a traumatic and often violent event overwhelms typical psychological defenses.

Recognized as a formal disease in 1980, PTSD is an anxiety disorder. Prior to being formally recognized, it was called shell shock, battle fatigue, railway spine and traumatic war neurosis, to name a few.

Symptoms of PTSD usually appear within three months of the traumatic event. The condition usually lasts more than six months and can cause significant changes in personal and work relationships.

There are three categories to PTSD:

  1. Re-experiencing the event: flashbacks, nightmares
  2. Avoidance and emotional numbing; avoidance of similar situations or stimuli
  3. Changes in sleeping patterns and increased aggression/alertness: difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger, hypervigilance.

Other illnesses associated with PTSD include depression, other anxiety disorders and dependence on alcohol and drugs. The condition is worsened by substance dependency.

Prescription medication is used to treat the depression and anxiety symptoms. Different types of psychotherapy are often recommended to treat the disease. This may include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This is done individually and/or group settings. The goal of CBT is to change how you think, and what you do in relation to what you think. Variants exposure therapy is a type of CBT: It exposes the victim to fear-inducing stimulus in a controlled environment. This allows the individual to confront that fear and to learn a new pattern of response to that fear.

The key to combating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is to seek professional help. You don’t have to suffer alone.

Going home safe and whole

By Jim Ziolkowski, In Solidarity

Is your Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) effective and acting in a responsible manner? Let’s look at what a JHSC is and the key aspects of an effective committee.

What is a Joint Health and Safety Committee?

A JHSC is a committee established in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

A JHSC is comprised of representatives for the workers and for management. Each elects a co-chair.

A committee’s numbers are based on the number of workers regularly employed at a particular workplace. With less than 50 workers, the committee must have a minimum of two members. For workplaces with more than 50 workers, the committee must have a minimum of four members.

Workers select whom they wish to represent them. Where there is a union, the union selects worker members to the committee.

A committee must have at least one certified member. This member will have successfully completed Occupational Health and Safety Training, Levels 1 and 2. The employer is obligated to provide the training, including paying all costs related to it.

The committee is responsible for identifying situations that may be a source of danger or hazard, making recommendations for the improvement of health and safety in the workplace, are entitled to obtain information about potential hazards, processes or equipment and to be consulted and present at any testing.

Workplace inspections should happen once a month. Where that is not practical, such as in larger buildings/facilities, the workplace must be fully inspected once a year.
How often does the committee meet?

There is a requirement for JHSC committees to meet a minimum of every three months. Many larger committees meet more often than the standard set out in the OHSA.

If a hazard is discovered during workplace inspections, the committee must review this hazard within a reasonable period of time. This may require the committee to meet before the next scheduled meeting to address the priority issue(s).

Minutes are kept of the meeting and are to be available for all workers to review.

How does the committee handle outstanding issues which carry over from month to month?

An effective committee puts timelines on outstanding issues and moves them forward to upper management when those timelines are reached. The employer must act on any recommendations within 21 days. The employer either provides a timeline to invoke the recommendations or a written response if they disagree with the recommendations that have been made.

Does the committee review the workplace inspection reports?

The purpose of regular workplace inspections is to identify potential health and safety hazards in the workplace. An effective committee will make joint recommendations to correct any issues. In the absence of joint recommendations, the worker representatives have the right to make recommendations independent of the management representatives. The committee must receive a written response from the employer within 21 days, whether it is the result of joint recommendations or not.

Documentation is a big part of ensuring the health and safety of all employees. This includes terms of reference for the committee, meeting minutes, the frequency of worker training, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claims, agendas and procedures for conducting meetings…all part of what information must be available to the members of a JHSC.

One facet that is frequently overlooked is the worker representatives’ right to have preparation time prior to JHSC meetings. This preparation ensures that employee members have the ability to effectively communicate during a meeting. The OHSA clearly states that the worker committee members receive a minimum of one-hour paid preparation time.

The “Road to Zero” is the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s strategic plan for 2008 to 2012. But sadly. workplace injuries and fatalities are on the rise. We need to eliminate workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities by building a culture of health and safety in every Ontario workplace. We need to eliminate the belief that “accidents just happen.”

We cannot underestimate the importance of JHSC. The JHSC is instrumental in ensuring that, at the end of the work day, we can go home to our families and loved ones safe and whole.

What’s your point?

Since the economic decline in October 2008, there has been much talk in the news and other media sources about unions and their role in the current situation. What do you think?

Are unions responsible for the economic crisis in Canada and the United States?

Send your opinion to the In Solidarity editor at ouchas@rogers.com . One article for and one article against the argument will be published in the next edition.

Workplace Violence Regulation tabled in Ontario legislature at last

By Terry Aversa, OPSEU Health and Safety Officer

The Government of Ontario has finally recognized the importance of workplace violence and harassment. On April 20, 2009, they introduced Bill 168, “an Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters.”

“After years of lobbying and all-out campaigning by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and other unions, the changes announced by Minister of Labour, Peter Fonseca, are like a gust of fresh wind blowing through the workplaces of Ontario,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

Whether working in retail environments, institutions, home care, offices, or paramedical services, OPSEU members face the hazard of violence and harassment every day. One poll of 500 members in OPSEU’s social services sector found that almost half had been subjected to workplace violence over the previous year, and another 50 per cent had witnessed violence on the job. It’s time that health and safety legislation in Ontario is modernized and begins to recognize and address hazards in today’s workplaces.

The bill, if passed, will mandate employers to take reasonable precautions against workplace violence, including workplace harassment and domestic violence which enters the workplace. Employers must develop and make sure workers are aware of comprehensive policies and programs to deal with the entire spectrum of workplace violence, from verbal harassment all the way to physical violence. The proposed legislation will also allow workers to remove themselves from harmful situations if they have reason to believe that they are at risk of harm due to workplace violence.

These proposed changes to health and safety legislation are a long time coming for OPSEU members who, for years, have been fighting to amend health and safety legislation to recognize workplace violence. OPSEU members in Children’s Aid Societies, the entire Social Services sector, and OPSEU’s health care division have been attending regional workshops, lobbying MPPs at Queens Park and writing letters to the Minister of Labour. Like all OPSEU members, they have been working proactively inside their workplaces by participating on Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC) and as health and safety representatives to move this issue forward.

The tragedy of Lori Dupont, a nurse in Windsor who was murdered by a co-worker, led to a number of recommendations that also played a major role in the legislation announcement.

New legislation in Ontario means JHSCs and health and safety representatives need to work even harder to ensure employers comply with the new legislation. New legislation does not implement itself.

We need only to look back to when an important new regulation dropped as quietly as a pebble into a pond in the early ‘90s. The almost complete lack of activity that followed implementation of the Regulation for Health Care and Residential Facilities was only discovered by shocking revelations during Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak. Despite requirements in the new regulation, few employers had complied with respirator fit-testing requirements.

We need to learn from the past and ensure that workplace activities speed up – not slow down – after implementation of the workplace violence and harassment amendment.

OPSEU members are encouraged to act immediately within their JHSCs and as health and safety representatives to raise the issue of workplace violence and the proposed legislation with their employers. Begin the process of evaluating the hazards and existing protective measures within workplaces and make recommendations for improvement. We must engage ourselves into consultative workplace processes by making, following up and pursuing recommendations for improvement. At the same time, we must keep meticulous records, and call upon the Ministry of Labour when necessary to provide vigorous enforcement. That will provide the best chance for safer and healthier workplaces.

Tenant rights: What you should know

By Felicia Fahey, In Solidarity

In tough economic times, more and more OPSEU members are facing rental housing dilemmas. Rental units are difficult to find. The ones that are available are expensive.

If you are looking for a place to rent or are currently renting, information is the key to being prepared should any issues arise. The following are some points you should know about your rights:

  • When first moving into an apartment, the landlord is supposed to give you a brochure entitled “Information for New Tenants.” The brochure tells you about the Landlord and Tenant Board.
  • Your landlord can ask for a security deposit upon moving in. However, the deposit cannot be more than the amount you pay in rent. If you pay monthly, then it cannot equal more than a single month’s rent. If you pay weekly, no more than a week’s rent can be asked for a deposit. Your landlord can only use this towards rental fees. It cannot be applied towards damages or cleaning. Always make sure to get a receipt for security deposits and rent paid.
  • Landlords are required to pay interest on any security deposit collected, to be paid to you every 12 months. The interest rate must be equal to increases set out by the government.
  • Your landlord can ask for a deposit for keys or access cards, but the amount cannot exceed the amount it would cost to replace them. The deposit must be returned when you move out and the keys/access cards are returned.
  • The landlord has the right to ask for a fee to cover cheques that don’t clear with your financial institution (i.e. insufficient funds). The fee can be whatever the bank charges plus up to $20.00 in administration charges.
  • It is illegal for the landlord to ask for post-dated cheques or automatic rent payments.
  • It is against the law to be refused a dwelling based on race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, colour, nationality, religion, or the country where you were born. You cannot be denied because you have a disability, if you are receiving social assistance or if you have children living with you.
  • Tenants cannot be evicted for having pets, even if you signed a lease stating “no pets”.
  • Tenants are not covered by the landlord’s insurance. You must purchase your own “contents insurance” for your possessions to be protected.
  • By law, landlords have to provide receipts should they be requested.
  • Rental increases can only happen under three circumstances: 1) they must be 12 months apart 2) the landlord must give you 90 days notice on a “board form” and 3) the increases must follow government regulations, which stipulate the maximum rate increase for a specific period. The 2008 increase was 1.4 per cent. In 2009, the rate increase is 1.8 per cent. NOTE: If you live in geared to income or subsidized housing, these increases do not apply.
  • Under some circumstances, landlords can apply to have a rent increase above the normal set guidelines. These increases must be approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board. For the approval, the landlord must prove one of the following occurred: there were unusually high property tax increases; there are additional costs of hiring security, or; there were unexpected and unusually high capital expenses.
  • Landlords are responsible for maintenance and repair of the unit, parking lots, elevators, hallways and appliances that came with the unit. It is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the dwelling in good condition and fit to live in. This law stands, even if you knew about a problem before you rented the unit or signed a lease stating you accepted the dwelling “as is.”
  • Your landlord can enter your home without notice only if there is an emergency or if they take care of cleaning services. Under all other circumstances, the landlord must provide 24-hour notice and can only enter the unit between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Reasons include: to do repairs; to show to a potential buyer, insurer, or mortgage lender the property; to allow a real estate agent to show the property to a potential buyer; for property inspections, or; for any reason listed in your lease agreement.
  • Your landlord cannot cut off or interfere with any vital services. This includes: water, electricity or heat.
  • Ending a rental agreement must be done by giving written notice to your landlord. If you pay by the day or week, a minimum of 28 days is required. If you pay by the month, 60 days notice is the expectation. If you have signed a lease, the notice cannot be before the lease end date. Forms are available from the Landlord and Tenant Board.
  • It is against the law for a landlord to evict or lock out a tenant without getting an order from the Landlord and Tenant Board. If this should occur, call the police.

In most communities, there are legal clinics available for help with these matters. Some communities have specific duty counsels available at Landlord and Tenant Board locations for help. More information on the Landlord Tenant Board is available online at www.ltb.gov.on.ca .

Know your rights and stay informed.

Union to appeal Wal-Mart ruling in Weyburn case

Internet/NUPGE  

“The situation in Weyburn is a perfect example of how multi-national corporations with bottomless legal budgets are allowed to never-endingly drag out the process.” - Wayne Hanley, National President, UFCW Canada.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW Canada)  is appealing a recent Saskatchewan lower court decision that overturned a long-awaited union certificate for a Wal-Mart in Weyburn.

“The appeal is just another battle in a long fight that we will not, and cannot, back down from,” says Norm Neault, UFCW Local 1400 President. “Helping Wal-Mart workers make a stand and exercise their rights is something we need to do for them, for our members and, ultimately, for Saskatchewan.”

Local 1400’s commitment to Weyburn Wal-Mart workers goes back to April 2004 when, after the employees that Wal-Mart refers to as “associates,” led an enthusiastic organizing drive, the union applied for certification. Five years and numerous Wal-Mart inspired legal challenges later, the provincial labour board ruled in favour of the workers.

“The court’s decision to void the Weyburn Wal-Mart certificate is a setback for the workers and the collective bargaining rights of all Canadians,” says Wayne Hanley, National President, UFCW Canada.

“The situation in Weyburn is a perfect example of how multi-national corporations with bottomless legal budgets are allowed to never-endingly drag out the process. As working Canadians, we need to start supporting politicians who are serious about creating a labour relations system that reflects 21st century realities.”

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has signed a protocol with the UFCW Canada to support and cooperate in the UFCW’s campaign to organize workers at Wal-Mart stores across Canada.

NUPGE is one of Canada’s largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. NUPGE’s mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring common wealth is used for the common good.

Beyond your control and causing you stress: Impact of work organization on job stress

If work is stressing you out, you are not alone. Work stress is a challenge and a threat to the health of both workers and organizations. As the nature of work and work environments change, so do the kinds of stress problems that employees face. And work organization plays a significant role in work stress.

People may experience work-related stress when their job demands and pressures are not matched to their knowledge and abilities, and they have a low amount of control over meeting these demands. Stress is often made worse when employees feel they don’t have support from supervisors and coworkers. Some pressure at work is unavoidable and may even keep workers alert and motivated. However, when that pressure becomes excessive or unmanageable it leads to too much stress, which can harm workers’ health and the performance of the organization.

The more control workers have over their work and the way they do it, and the more they participate in decisions that concern their jobs, the less likely they are to experience work stress. Most of the causes of work stress are related to the way jobs are designed and the way organizations are managed. Because these aspects of work can potentially cause harm, they are called “stress-related hazards.”

Stress-related hazards

  • Job content: lack of variety; monotonous, meaningless and/or unpleasant tasks.
  • Workload and work pace: having too much or too little to do; working under time pressures.
  • Working hours: unpredictable, strict or inflexible working schedules; shift work.
  • Participation and control: lack of participation in decision-making; no control over work methods, pace, environment, and working hours.
  • Career development, status and pay: job insecurity, under-promotion or over-promotion; unclear or unfair performance evaluation systems; skill level not matched to the job.
  • Role in the organization: unclear role or conflicting job demands; level of responsibility; continuously dealing with other people and their problems.
  • Interpersonal relationships: poor or unsupportive supervision; poor relationships with coworkers/subordinates; bullying, harassment and violence; solitary work; no procedures for dealing with complaints.
  • Organizational culture: poor communication and leadership; unclear organizational objectives.
  • Home/work interface: conflicting demands of work and home, and lack of support for domestic problems at work - and for work problems at home.

Effects of work stress

Work stress has a high cost for individuals, organizations, and for society. It can harm workers’ psychological and physical health, as well as the organizations’ effectiveness.

People affected by stress can have difficulty concentrating and making decisions, become increasingly distressed and irritable, enjoy their job less and feel less committed to it. They may also feel tired, depressed, and have difficulty sleeping. In addition, stress can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, digestive system disorders, headaches, musculoskeletal disorders (such as low back pain) and increases in blood pressure. Workers
who are stressed may find it difficult to maintain a healthy balance between work and non-work life and may engage in unhealthy activities, such as smoking, drinking and abusing drugs.

If key staff or a large number of workers are affected by stress, the organization may experience increased absenteeism and staff turn-over and the associated costs of recruiting and training new employees. Stress also takes a heavy toll in terms of poor productivity and efficiency, increased unsafe work practices and accident rates, and increased liability to legal claims and actions by stressed workers. Unhealthy organizations do not get the best from their workers and are less likely to be successful in a competitive market.

What employers can do to help

Employers should assess the workplace for the risk of stress. They should look for pressures at work which could cause high and long lasting levels of stress, and determine who could be harmed by these pressures, and what can be done to prevent them. Good management and good work organization are effective forms of work stress prevention.

Well-designed work should include:

  • Clear organizational structure and practices. Employees should be provided with clear information about the structure, purpose and practices of the organization.
  • Appropriate selection, training and staff development. Employees’ skills, knowledge and abilities should be matched as much as possible to the job requirements, and suitable training should be provided. Effective supervision and guidance can help protect staff from stress.
  • Job descriptions on the purpose and organization of work and how performance will be measured. Employees’ managers and other key staff must be aware of the relevant details of the job and ensure that demands are appropriate.
  • Communication. Managers should talk with and listen to their staff. Work expectations should be easy for the employee to understand, clearly communicated and consistent with the job description.
  • Social environment. Teamwork and a reasonable level of socializing can help increase commitment to work and to the work team.
  • Organizational culture. This is a key factor in determining how successful an organization will manage work stress, and recognize and solve problems. It can affect which situations are experienced as stressful, how that experience translates into health difficulties, how stress and health are reported, and how the organization responds to such reports.

Finally, it is not only important to identify stress problems and deal with them, but also to promote healthy work and reduce the harmful aspects of work.

Source: Beyond Your Control and Causing You Stress: Impact of Work Organization on Job Stress, (volume 7, Issue 4), http://www.ccohs.ca/newsletters/hsreport
/issues/2009/04/ezine.html#inthenews , OSH Answers, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), 2009. Reproduced with the permission of CCOHS, 2009.

Not the guy I used to be

By Martin Barret, Local 368

North of Seven

I once told a buddy of mine, “I’ve changed my mind.” With a mischievous glint in his eye, my friend then asked, “Well, is it any better than the old one?”

The evidence of a mind changed is a revision of one’s attitude, to start, and that’s what has gone on with me. Allow me to elaborate.

Back in 2002, I was an unclassified probation secretary at a location that shall remain nameless. The OPSEU strike was that year and I was not a happy camper. Basically, I didn’t see the benefit to myself. To going on strike, that is. All I saw was the fact that there was no money coming in and, after being assigned by my manager as an “essential staff person”, I had to break through walls of people who seemed so very nice prior to the strike. They now appeared very hostile and, in my mind, rather peevish.

I “lost it” at one point and said some pretty stupid things that I had to apologize for later on (and rightfully so). I just didn’t get it. All that fuss for a few dollars more, new agreements of some sort and marching in the streets. I honestly didn’t explore the strike situation deeply enough because I was selfishly looking at my bottom line at that time.

You see, I was making good money up until the strike – that’s all I knew. I didn’t care how that money got to be so good – that the union I was kvetching about, long before I was working for the Government of Ontario, had seen to it that people like me were paid well and treated fairly.

Fast forward to 2004. I was hired permanently full-time as a classified administrative support staff member at a large Ontario correction institution in February of that year. Suddenly, I find myself with amazing health care benefits, I am able to buy back some pensionable time and I discover that there’s a union office, with superb people, that explain everything to me about the collective agreement when it’s needed.

Oops. “Guess this union thing ain’t so bad after all,” I start thinking.

It’s been several years since my tenure began at the correction institution I now work at and my feelings about the union have only gotten better. My thoughts toward the union should never have been bad in the first place. But selfish thinking and refusing to see the bigger picture, one that affects everybody as a whole, blind all of us at some stages in our lives, if we’re brave enough to admit it. Hindsight sometimes requires binoculars.

The kind of assistance I have been receiving as of late from the union stewards is incredible. I’ve learned so much. It’s because of them and their familiarity with the collective agreement – an agreement passionately fought for by mostly all OPSEU members – I know my rights and responsibilities as an employee for the Government of Ontario.

I have had a change of attitude, of the heart, and realize now what exactly I am thankful for and in some way would like to be more involved with the union, even if it is out of gratitude alone.

But right now, even if it’s just these few words on paper stating that I’m truly glad to be part of this union and have learned to appreciate all that it represents, I’d like to get that message “out there” nonetheless, and inspire some others who could be wondering, just like I did, “What’s the ‘big deal’ with being a union member?”

Believe me, Sisters and Brothers. Take it from a convert like me. It’s a super deal – a rare and great opportunity well worthy of acclaim.

Workplace bullying on the rise

Bullying at work represents a significant threat and can have devastating effects on the mental health of workers.

Workplace bullying is on the rise across the country, involving increasingly high stakes for workers, employers and unions caught in the middle.

“Bullying in the workplace in one form or another has always existed,” says Angelo Soares, a sociologist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, who teaches courses on organizational behaviour. “But since the 1990s, the frequency, intensity and psychopathological consequences of bullying in the workplace have reached alarming proportions.”

In law, bullying is distinct from sexual harassment and is not included under the umbrella of banned behaviour typically found in human rights legislation.

Soares, who studies bullying and speaks widely on the issue, notes there is no universal definition. But most experts agree on three elements: the recurring and persistent nature of the action; the harmful, even devastating, effects on the person being targeted, and; the focus of the definition on the effects suffered by the targeted individual and not on the intentions of the aggressor.

Victims of bullying frequently suffer from depression, perform poorly at work or cease to function at all. Even worse, some victims have physically attacked their tormentors or taken their own lives.

“Bullying at work represents a significant threat and can have devastating effects on the mental health of workers,” noted Soares in a 2002 report, “Bullying:  When Work Becomes Indecent.”

Canadian law on this form of harassment is extremely complex, varying from province to province and on the nuances of each individual case.

In 2004, Quebec became the first North American jurisdiction to explicitly outlaw bullying at work. Psychological harassment is defined under Quebec law as “any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, action or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.”

Saskatchewan has recently passed amendments to its Occupational Health and Safety Act, making illegal the psychological harassment of workers if a “reasonable person” would find such acts of harassment humiliating or intimidating.

Elsewhere in Canada, the bullied must navigate a sometimes-convoluted patchwork of remedies, including the filing of grievances under collective agreements and provincial labour laws and civil lawsuits.

Recent Canadian court cases involving bullying have sent shock waves through the boardrooms of corporate head offices and pocketbooks of employers who look the other way when bosses push around subordinates, or even when co-workers bully one another.

Last year, Nancy Sulz won close to $1 million when her RCMP boss bullied her to the point of illness. The Sulz case and a string of others are bringing the point home loud and clear that employers would be wise to take actions on bullying.

When union members hit the road

By Jim Ziokowlski, In Solidarity

Many OPSEU members spend hours on the road traveling back and forth to work and to union events. We plan these commutes with the idea of getting the job done. But how often do we think about safety on the road? Many times it is not until we are faced with tragedy do we realize that the everyday activity of driving our cars is fraught with danger.

Here are some tips to help you when you’re on the road.

  • Slow down. Transport Canada reports that 24 per cent of all fatalities that occur in motor vehicle crashes are speeding-related.
  • Wear your seatbelt. Almost 40 per cent of all vehicle occupants killed are not wearing a seatbelt.
  • Drive defensively, not aggressively.
  • Maintain your vehicle with regular maintenance check-ups. Check all lights to ensure they’re in good working order. Check your wiper blades and replace them, if necessary. Keep fluids like brake, coolant and windshield washer, topped up.
  • Make sure your tire pressure is within factory specifications.
  • Always keep your mirrors and windows clean.
  • Avoid tailgating by leaving at least two seconds between you and the car in front.
  • Don’t use a cell phone while driving.
  • Secure all loose items in the vehicle. People have been killed when struck by items flung around the interior when involved in a minor collision. The trunk is a much safer storage area than the back seat.
  • Avoid storing items, like CDs, under the sun visor and flip it up when not needed. The visor becomes a knife edge when collisions occur.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages and heavy foods.
  • Beware of medications that can impair your driving ability.
  • Limit long distance driving. Stop at least every two hours and rest. Keep the temperature cool in your vehicle.
  • Keep your eyes moving and check your mirrors often.
  • Avoid caffeine-type drinks like coffee or cola. They provide a short-term boost. However, if you are seriously sleep deprived, no amount of caffeine will help. It’s best to stay off the road.
  • Stress and fatigue can affect your driving ability. Your thinking slows down. You can miss seeing things. You may make the wrong decision or not make the right one fast enough.
  • Never drive when you are upset or angry. Strong emotions can reduce your ability to think and react quickly or make you more aggressive with other road users.
  • Stay alert when driving at night and whenever weather conditions reduce your visibility.

Take a few minutes to review these safety tips next time you hit the road. Arrive alive.

How the home reno tax credit works

Dept. of Finance Canada/CALM

Home improvements add to the value of a home and create economic activity—increasing the demand for labour, building materials and other goods. Renovations can also reduce energy consumption and the long-term cost of owning a home.

As an incentive to renovate, this spring’s federal budget included a temporary Home Renovation Tax Credit (HRTC).

The temporary nature of the credit is supposed to encourage Canadians to undertake renovations promptly. The credit applies to eligible home renovation costs for work performed, or goods acquired, before February 1, 2010.

The tax credit is a percentage of expenditures, not a lump sum amount. The 15 per cent credit may be claimed on the portion of eligible expenditures exceeding $1,000, but not more than $10,000, meaning the maximum tax credit is $1,350.

The credit can be claimed on expenditures for one or more of an individual’s dwellings. Properties eligible for the HRTC include houses, cottages and condominium units that are owned for personal use.
Renovation costs for projects such as finishing a basement or re-modelling a kitchen will be eligible for the credit, along with associated expenses such as building permits, professional services, equipment rentals and incidental expenses.

Routine repairs and maintenance do not qualify for the credit. Nor does the cost of purchasing furniture, appliances, audio-visual electronics or construction equipment.

Taxpayers can claim the HRTC when filing their 2009 tax return.

Eligible expenditures include:

  • renovating a kitchen, bathroom, or basement
  • new carpet or hardwood floors
  • building an addition, deck, fence or retaining wall
  • new furnace or water heater
  • painting the interior or exterior of a house
  • resurfacing a driveway or laying new sod

Ineligible expenditures include:

  • furniture and appliances (refrigerator, stove, couch)
  • purchase of tools
  • carpet cleaning
  • maintenance contracts (furnace cleaning, snow removal, lawn care, pool cleaning, etc.). 

www.budget.gc.ca 

The Typographic Error

From The Journeyman Barber, October 1936

When you’ve worked your very hardest to read all your proofs with care

Till you’re sure there’s not an error or a bonehead anywhere,

And you feel quite chesty and disposed to pat your bean

As you say, “She may be empty, but I’ll tell the world she’s clean!”

But when the sheet is printed and is out upon the mail,

On its way to the subscribers, I have never seen it
fail –

In the center of the front page, in a most conspicuous place,

Some typographic error fairly kicks you in the face.

For the typographic error is a slippery thing and sly,

You can hunt till you are dizzy, but it somehow will get by;

Till the forms are off the presses it is strange how still it keeps,

It shrinks down into the corner and it never stirs or peeps.

That typographic error is too small for human eyes,

Till the ink is on paper, when it grows to mountain size,

And you see that blasted error, far as you could throw a dog,

Looming up in all its splendour, like a lighthouse in a fog

That glaring blunder juts out like an ulcerated tooth,

Where it dodged the eagle vision of the napping comma sleuth.

It is sure too late to mend it, but it fills your soul with rage,

As you see it swelling loudly in the middle of the page.

The remainder of the issue may be clean as clean can be,

But that typographic error is the only thing they see.

It was down among the six point till the copy all was read,

When it shifted into blackface or a two-inch banner head –

Then when the sheet was printed, it jumped up and hollered “Boo!

You never saw me, did you? This is sure a horse on you!”

Buy Canadian

CUPE/CALM

Much has been said about the U.S. “Buy America” policies and their effect on Canadian businesses.
The “Buy America” provisions are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more widely known as the stimulus package, which was signed into law by U.S. president Barack Obama in February 2009.

Under the act, U.S. companies receiving federal aid money must only purchase materials and equipment made in the US.

There has been a considerable backlash against the provisions – much of it coming from U.S.-based transnational corporations hoping to expand free trade. Currently, spending by local and provincial governments is not bound by the rules of NAFTA or the WTO. This means that local governments have some control over how they spend their money.

The Conservative government is on board with the business lobby to bring provincial and local procurement under NAFTA. Industry minister Tony Clement visited Washington to lobby against “Buy America” policies. International Trade Minister Stockwell Day has been trying to persuade premiers to commit to trade talks with the U.S. that would bind local and provincial governments to free trade policies. Stephen Harper has been urging the provinces to support a new trade deal with the U.S. But the benefits of maintaining procurement rules and local preferences far outweigh the perceived advantage of binding local government spending to free trade agreements.

Local procurement policies are what keep communities strong. They create greater local employment, increase tax revenues, encourage communities to buy locally, and help to diversify local economies. They also allow governments to set proactive policies that are best for their communities.
If communities are bound by free trade agreements, much of a local government’s ability to create policies that are best for its citizens will be sacrificed for what is best for big business.

A better option is to encourage municipalities to buy Canadian and purchase goods and services with as much Canadian content as possible. “Buy Canadian” and local procurement policies will help create many jobs across Canada, particularly at the local level, where we need those jobs the most.

Short changed

Internet/CALM

A worker was shorted $20 in his pay and complained to the payroll department.

“You were overpaid $20 last week and didn’t object,” reasoned the payroll supervisor.

“I know,” said the worker. “I don’t mind overlooking one mistake, but when it happens the second time, I think it’s time to complain.”

Representing difficult members

Steward Update

Few stewards would argue that most of their union work flows directly from problems with management. Contract misinterpretation and outright violations, thoughtless supervision, paperwork foul-ups and a million other things go wrong all the time, adding up to a real handful for stewards.

That’s why it can be such a frustration and disappointment when some of your most difficult problems come not from management, but from your own ranks.

If you’ve been a steward for any length of time, you’ve certainly dealt with difficult members. These can be people who constantly attack the steward and the union over one issue or another, or demand the impossible – and then get angry when the impossible can’t be made to happen. And then there are those co-workers who are whiners – always complaining and nagging the steward for help, but never doing anything to help themselves.

The fact is, most of your co-workers are probably fine folks. It’s just that occasional difficult person who might be making you wonder why you ever agreed to be a steward in the first place.

The question is, what can you do about it?

A good start would be to try to understand why members sometimes act in these difficult ways. You’ve seen them all, at one time or another:

  1. Members with legitimate complaints about the union or steward;
  2. Members who demand “service” in exchange for their dues, because they view the union like an insurance company or other service they buy;
  3. Members who seem to cause difficulty in everything they do, perhaps for psychological reasons.

Don’t yield to temptation

It can be tempting – and easy – to put people into category number 3. But think long and hard before you do this. Listen to their complaints so you really understand where they’re coming from. And keep in mind that you have a legal obligation, under your Duty of Fair Representative responsibilities, to do your best possible job on their behalf. Be really sure that there’s nothing you can do about their complaints before you make the decision to reject them.

Whatever the cause for the anger, as a rule, when a co-worker is mad, you need to defuse the situation before you can get down to business. People who are angry usually just get more agitated if you tell them to “calm down” or if you respond with more anger. Instead, firmly say something like, “I see that you are really angry about this, I want to hear what you have to say, but I can’t do that if you keep yelling. 

A legitimate complaint

If the member has a legitimate complaint, look for constructive ways they can help you solve their problem. If someone screwed up, acknowledge it and focus on what can be done now to make things better. Try to involve other members in the discussion and the solution, if possible.

If members are in the “service model” mindset and are demanding their “money’s worth,” you have an education job to do. Scolding or lectures about what a union is, and what is expected of union members, will probably just make the situation worse. Show members by the way you do your job that they are the union. Keep them informed about everything, talking to them one-on-one as necessary. Whenever there are problems in your workplace, call members together to plan actions to get solutions.

And that co-worker who is definitely a Category Three type? Well, there’s an old saying, “If you wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty and the pig likes it.” In other words, don’t get sucked into this individual’s personal problems. Don’t argue or get into long discussions with him or her – it almost always gets you nowhere. Instead, make clear, firm statements that don’t engage the complainer. Say things like, “I hear what you said, and I’m sorry you feel that way, but now I have work to do.” You may even have to repeat it several times. Eventually the difficult person will see that they can’t get you to “wrestle” with them and they will move on to something or someone else.

In all situations, it ’ s important you have developed good relationships with the members you represent ; your best resource in dealing with difficult members is almost always going to be your ability to draw on other members for help and understanding.  

*** This article is reprinted courtesy of Union Communications Services Inc., 1633 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009. To order a subscription, you can call 1-800-321-2545. 

  By agreement between In Solidarity and Union Communications Services, this material may not be reproduced. ***

Is it a grievance?

Steward Update

One of the most common problems faced by stewards is also one of the most basic: deciding whether a complaint is a legitimate grievance.

A boring or limited food selection in the employer’s cafeteria probably couldn’t be considered grounds for a grievance. Nor could a co-worker’s insistence on showing you – over, and over, and over again – the pictures of his new grandson.

But how about the price of food in an employer’s cafeteria when there’s not other eating establishments for miles around? And what if the proud new grandfather is your supervisor, and he’s insisting you look at the photos while you’re supposed to be working and it’s cutting into your earnings?

Determining what’s a grievance, and what isn’t, can be tricky. And it’s important. A steward who pursues non-grievances quickly loses his or her credibility – with co-workers, with the union leadership and with the employer. On the other hand, a steward who turns away workers’ complaints out the belief that they aren’t legitimate grievances, when in fact they are, will quickly find him or herself on the sidelines.

How do you determine if there are legitimate grounds for a grievance? There are five basic ways.

Does it violate the contract?

Look at the union contract (or memorandum of understanding or whatever it’s called in your workplace). While the meaning of a specific piece of contract language can be debated, you’re usually in a good position to argue that a certain section or clause has been violated.

Does it violate past practice?

Is what’s going on a violation of past practice? Even if something isn’t spelled out in the contract, if it’s been done that way for years, a change or crackdown may as well be a violation. Let’s say an employer has always given a little slack to workers who arrive late during bad weather. All of a sudden he starts docking people who arrive even five minutes late when a blizzard is roaring outside. In such a case, you’ve got a pretty good past practice grievance on your hands.

Does it violate employer rules?

Has there been a violation of your employer’s own rules and regulations? Uneven enforcement of the rules can provide the grounds for a grievance. For example, a worker caught smoking in a non-smoking area can’t be fired if other people routinely do the same thing and are not disciplined. If supervisors escape employer discipline when they take extra-long breaks, even though the employee handbook says you will get in trouble by doing so, then workers should get the same latitude.

Does it violate law?

Your employer can’t violate the law. Even if your contract is silent on a specific issue, you still have the right to grieve if the employer does something illegal.

Let’s say your contract doesn’t speak to health and safety issues, but your boss orders you to do something that’s clearly dangerous. You don’t have to cite contract language as the basis for your grievance; you can point instead to provincial or federal occupational safety and health legislation.

Does it violate basic rights?

Finally, you can have legitimate grounds for a grievance if a worker’s basic rights are violated. If there’s been a discrimination, you may have something to grieve.

Discrimination occurs when two people are treated differently under the same conditions, in a way in which one of them is harmed or treated unequally. While the most common types of discrimination tend to be based on race or sex, there are other ways, as well, including age, physical appearance, personality – and union activity, for that matter.

Be aware that discrimination charges can be awfully hard to prove. If you can base your case on contract language, you’ll find your case easier to pursue.

Winning the “illegitimate” grievance

Now that we’ve established the grounds for a formal grievance, let’s take things one step further. Say you’ve gone through these guidelines and determined that you don’t have grounds to file a grievance. Does that mean you can’t do anything? Not necessarily. There are few grievances – “legitimate” or “illegitimate” – that can’t be won, one way or the other. You just have to use a little imagination.

Consider the problem we mentioned earlier: a boring or limited food selection in your employer’s cafeteria. While it may not be a grievance in the contract sense of the word, that doesn’t mean you and your co-workers have to live with it. Instead of filing a grievance, you can win change by getting everyone involved in a little education project.

One way to convince management that change is needed would be to simply stop buying your food there. Arrange for everyone to bring their own lunch one day, and have the union award a prize for the most creative sandwich. The next day, you could order out pizza; on the third day you could have the union cart in a huge pot of chili. Cafeteria sales would be in the tank. Management would notice, and pretty likely be interested in getting things back on track.

There are few workplace situations that can’t be improved by people working together in common cause – “legitimate” grievance or not.

Get out of the well

Internet/CALM

A farmer’s donkey fell into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the donkey was old, and the well needed to be filled up. It just wasn’t worth it to save the donkey.

He invited his neighbours to come over and help. They grabbed shovels and began to fill in the well. The donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey would simply shake it off and take a step up. Eventually, the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off.

The lesson is that when life shovels dirt on you, the trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. We can get out of the deepest wells by not stopping, not giving up. Shake it off and take a step up.

Later the same day, the donkey bit the farmer who had tried to bury him. The wound got infected and in the end the farmer died in agony from septic shock.

The revised moral of the story is when you do something wrong and try to cover your ass, it always comes back to bite you.

2009 Editors’ Weekend coming this October

It’s coming Oct. 23, 24 and 25: OPSEU’s annual Editors’ Weekend at the Delta Chelsea hotel in downtown Toronto.

The three-day session of skills workshops and mingling with other local union editors has produced a lot of strong leaders for the union. Participants in past sessions are now producing newsletters that routinely win national awards for excellence.

Workshops will cover different aspects of writing, improving newsletter design, creating websites, and how to use MS Publisher to create better newsletters

The weekend will also feature an awards dinner where the best of OPSEU newsletters and web pages will be recognized.

The skills that members learn in the Editors’ Weekend have been invaluable in our activities in the last decade. Local editors have taken the lead in strike communication when required, and have taken up the challenge of media relations and mobilizing to safeguard our contracts and our job security.

The weekend is interactive and be prepared to learn, participate and have fun. If you have a newsletter, bring copies and show off your work to the other participants.

You can download the application forms for the Editors’ Weekend and the entry forms for the newsletter and website awards from the OPSEU web page at www.opseu.org.

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