This year marks the seventh year since the launch of the OPSEU Social Mapping Project, and we have a lot to be proud of. The Social Mapping Task Force, working closely with OPSEU’s equity committees and caucuses, has undertaken a number of initiatives to make the union more inclusive and break down barriers to participation that under-represented members may face.
“Through the social mapping project, OPSEU is prioritizing the diversity of delegates and members in leadership positions,” said Peter Thompson, Chair of the Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC). “OPSEU is working to better reflect the changing composition of the workplace, and to promote women, Indigenous and racialized workers, and other equity groups at every leadership level.”
1. Identifying membership needs
To begin the work of increasing representation in OPSEU, the task force needed to get a sense of just who we’re talking about when we say we want better representation in our union. To do that, the task force undertook detailed research of membership data, consulting widely with OPSEU leadership, sectors, committees, and the general membership.
A key finding of that research was that equity-seeking groups together constitute 80 per cent of the membership – they are the majority, not the minority of the membership. “But we also know many groups such as women, young workers, and racialized workers remain disproportionately under-represented at Convention and in the leadership,” said Angela Bick Rossley of the Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC).
And so, an important recommendation of the project is improving representation of equity-seeking communities at Convention and on OPSEU’s Executive Board. OPSEU equity committees will be taking to Convention a number of constitutional amendments and resolutions that advocate for equity-based seats and increased representation.
“The point is, just as the regions have representation, so too should Indigenous, racialized and young workers, and other workers from equity groups,” said Jessica Sikora, executive member of the Provincial Young Workers Committee (PYWC). “It’s critical that equity groups have a voice and can participate in shaping policies of the union because we know our issues better than anyone else.”
2. Assessing progress
To evaluate progress of the Social Mapping Project, the task force proposed another survey that was passed by the Executuve Board in October 2016. .
“We wanted to show that the project has actually positively transformed OPSEU practices and structures,” said Cindy Haynes of the Disability Rights Caucus (DRC). “But we also needed to know if we were on the right track, or whether we had to make some changes.”
The task force wanted to identify how things have changed on the ground for members as a result of the Social Mapping Project. “This is just one of the ways of building in accountability for equity in the union,” said Peter Thompson. “Do members actually feel more included? Do they have better access to resources? The survey will not only tell us our accomplishments, but will help us learn how we can do even better.”
3. Ensuring accessibility at Convention
In response to overwhelming feedback from 2016 Convention delegates, and in light of the social mapping recommendation to improve accessibility for all delegates, members of the task force undertook an equity audit of Convention services and facilities.
“We heard a lot of positive comments about actions already taken to address accessibility, like the accommodation policy and measures taken to ensure Convention materials are accessible to those with visual and hearing disabilities, but there were still gaps,” said Kingsley Kwok, executive member of the Provincial Human Rights Committee.
As Janet Heyman, co-chair of the Disability Rights Caucus, pointed out, “By improving accessibility at Convention – even something simple and low-cost like providing materials in an alternate format – OPSEU succeeds in better representing the full diversity of the membership.”
4. Prioritizing equity at the bargaining table
A key goal of the task force is getting equity issues on to bargaining tables, as well as involving equity committees and caucuses in assisting bargaining teams to set bargaining agendas.
According to Peter Thompson, the WOCC has already started to contact bargaining chairs and make presentations at pre-bargaining conferences. “One of the resources we have relied on is the excellent Bargaining for Equity series of documents produced by the OPSEU Equity Unit. We are hoping that all bargaining teams and negotiators use this resource to take equity into account when bargaining.”
In addition, the PYC has put forward a motion on two-tiering in bargaining contracts. “We want not only to ensure that bargaining teams combat two-tier collective agreements,“ said Jessica Sikora, “but also to bring awareness to how two-tiering is especially detrimental to young and new workers, and destroys both equity and solidarity in the union.”
5. Creating educational alternatives
In collaboration with the OPSEU Training and Development department, the task force has recommended a number of ground-breaking educational courses and training materials. This has led to the development of courses like Train the Trainer delivered in French and the Aboriginal Journey Course I and II.
“This has been a great opportunity to make sure that the lived experience and knowledge of committees and caucuses have been incorporated in developing and delivering educationals,” said Krista Maracle. “For example, the Aboriginal Journey explores Indigenous history and colonialism in North America, as well as everyday actions OPSEU members can take to be an ally to Indigenous communities.”
This aspect of the project, according to Angela Bick Rossley, “is one way OPSEU is ensuring that the union leadership and members are well-trained to lead a diverse membership, and to attract diverse members to the union.”
6. Building community partnerships
Several recommendations from the membership systems review conducted in 2010 proposed improving the public image of OPSEU and unions in general. As part of this effort, the WOCC has identified significant events in racialized communities such as Afro-Fest and its annual Labour Day picnic at Afro-Fest. The WOCC has collaborated with the Organizing department to mobilize and educate community members about the benefits of unions.
“As much as possible, we have gone to the communities themselves, and spent time one-on-one with community members,” said Peter Thompson. “The point is to establish a role for the union in the community, not just for workers.”
Some of the strategies used by the WOCC include incorporating the skills and experience of activists from equity groups, developing partnerships with grassroots movements such as Justicia for Migrant Workers, No One Is Illegal, and Black Lives Matter, and shifting the union’s mobilizing model from workplaces to specific equity groups.
“In order to advance inclusiveness and representation in the union, we need to commit resources to developing long-term community partnerships, promote more involvement in union decision-making, and advance the leadership of equity groups. That way, OPSEU can further foster the democracy and the vitality we all value.”
The task force will continue its important work of increasing representation in the union and in its work. It will also continue taking up recommendations from the membership, such as planning a new Workers of Colour Conference, increasing consultation of equity committees and caucuses at pre-bargaining conferences and bargaining meetings, launching an updated Bargaining for Equity toolkit, further addressing members’ accommodation needs, and developing innovative educational alternatives.
Stay tuned for the Social Mapping Report at Convention!
Jeff Arbus (President's Office), Laurie Nancekivell (Executive Board), Susan Fournier (Disability Rights Caucus), Cindy Haynes (Disability Rights Caucus), Dan Brisson (Provincial Francophone Committee), Sylvie Valcourt (Provincial Francophone Committee), Krista Maracle (Indigenous Circle), Theresa O'Connor (Indigenous Circle), Marco Costa (Provincial Human Rights Committee), Kingsley Kwok (Provincial Human Rights Committee), Adam Ly (Provincial Young Workers Committee), Jessica Sikora (Provincial Young Workers Committee), Janet Heyman (Provincial Women's Committee), Angela Bick-Rossley (Provincial Women's Committee), Morgan Veres (Rainbow Alliance-Arc-en-ciel), Sean Iovacchini (Rainbow Alliance-Arc-en-ciel), Elizabeth Ha (Workers of Colour Caucus), Peter Thompson (Workers of Colour Caucus), Libby Zeleke (staff lead).