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Speaking Notes: Queen’s Park News Conference: Democracy denied! Count Part-Time Workers’ ballots now!

We the North
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Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President  Ontario Public Service Employees Union

It’s a pleasure of mine to join you here this morning. My name is Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

The gentleman next to me needs no introduction. I’d like to thank Rosario Marchese, MPP for Trinity-Spadina, for joining me at today’s news conference. He will have a few words for you later in the press conference.

I would also like to introduce a couple of our member-activists from OPSEUs’s community college sector, who are in attendance with me today.

Benoit Dupuis, is the Chair of our College Academics division. Benoit is a professor at La Cite college in Ottawa.

Florry Foster, is the Chair of our College Support Staff division. Florry works at St. Clair College in Windsor.

In 2008, after years of lobbying by OPSEU, the McGuinty government amended the Community Colleges Bargaining Act to give part-time academic and support staff at our community colleges the right to join a union.

Incredible as it might seem, these part-time workers had been legally prohibited from joining a union for more than 30 years – going back to the government of Bill Davis.

So, we were very pleased when the Premier and his government amended the Act in 2008 to extend unionization rights to thousands of employees of this sector.

For these workers to join OPSEU they needed to sign membership cards.

We sent our organizers out into the field, at each of Ontario’s 24 community colleges, and we started signing up members.

It wasn’t the easiest of tasks, let me tell you.

Part-time academic and support staff at community colleges are a tough bunch to organize.

They often work at multiple campuses.

Some don’t work at any campus at all, but on job sites.

Many don’t have their own college telephone numbers..

Some work strictly online. Some work strictly offline.

Others might work one academic session, but not the next.

Few academic part-timers have offices. They have to be tracked down and found at their place of residence, which often changes depending on where they’re working.

Part-time support staff are often made up of students who, naturally, come-and-go depending on their courses or when they graduate.

So … you can see we faced a pretty tall mountain to climb when it came to signing up part-time academic and support staff.

But our people did a splendid job.

By the end of 2009 we had signed up more than 9,400 community college workers.

In hindsight, that was the easy part, believe it or not.

Since then we have faced nothing but obstacles, challenges and stonewalling by management of the Colleges themselves.

In short, they refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the signed membership cards of part-time workers who are demanding the right to join a union.

There are several complex reasons behind the Colleges success, so far, to block the will of their own employees. One is an objection filed by the employer that OPSEU must show the Labour Relations Board that we have successfully signed up a minimum of 35 per cent of the community college part-timers.

For all the reasons I cited a moment ago, the fact is that it’s virtually impossible to reach the 35 per cent threshold thanks to the employment records maintained by the Colleges.

But I’m not here today to bash the Colleges. It seems they have millions of dollars on hand to pay for high-priced lawyers to fight us at the O.L.R.B. but they cry ‘poor’ when it comes to putting cash into the education of their own students.

But that’s a story for another day.

I’m here today to make a very public plea to the Premier and his Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities – John Milloy – to have them order the Colleges to drop their unreasonable and expensive opposition to the will or their own employees.

The need to back off today and let the O.L.R.B. get on with the job of counting the ballots inside those sealed boxes.

I’m asking the Premier and Mr. Milloy to take this action not only because they have the legislative authority to do so but also, and more importantly, it’s their duty to advance the democratic right of workers to join a union, as they themselves acknowledged 3 years ago when they amended the Community Colleges Bargaining Act.

By sitting silently on the sidelines, Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Milloy are deliberately blocking the democratic rights of workers to engage in the collective bargaining process.

This is wrong. This is undemocratic. And it is in direct violation of their own colleges bargaining Act.

No less an organization than the International Labour Organization, a respected agency of the United Nations, has recognized this.

Last November the I.L.O. wrote the Premier and urged his government to sit down with OPSEU and work out a reasonable solution to the situation.

To date, the government has thumbed its nose at the I.L.O. and has made no effort to reach an accommodation on this.

I mentioned a moment ago that the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities has the legislative authority to order management at the Colleges to drop their opposition to the counting of the cards.

This is what the law says:

Pursuant to authority granted to the Minister under Sec. 4(1) and Sec. 5(1) of the Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act (2002) the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities may intervene into the affairs of colleges to ensure the public interest is met.

If “public interest” means upholding the law and allowing citizens to engage in their democratic rights, then I don’t know what more evidence the Minister needs to order the Colleges to act appropriately.

John Milloy can say to the Colleges I hereby order you and the Colleges Employer Council to withdraw their objections under Sec. 31 of the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (2008) to the two applications for certification – one for academic part-timers and one for support staff part-timers – filed by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

I’ve written to the Premier and Minister Milloy reminding them of everything I’ve just shared with you.

The mess we face at the O.L.R.B. has gone on far too long.

The evidence is clear: 9,400 part-time community college workers want to exercise their democratic right to participate in collective bargaining by joining a union.

The government has the law on their side to make the Colleges act according to the legislation they introduced itself.

Let’s stop wasting millions of dollars on costly legal fees that’s being spent on fighting the law by college management.

Rosario has raised this issue in the Legislature before and I know he will be doing so again today.

The response he’s received from the government side and the one we’ve received is totally unacceptable.

The time to act is now and I implore the Minister and the Premier to do so today.

Contact : Greg Hamara OPSEU Public Affairs (647) 238-9933 cell