After the pandemic, imagine the possibilities

Warren Thomas OPSEU/SEFPO President

Imagine life after the pandemic.

We realize how impossible that might seem. Right now, most of us are just focused on the day-by-day, hour-by-hour, even minute-by-minute.  

How can I make sure I have the protective equipment I need for tomorrow’s shift? What can I do to keep my kid busy during the next Zoom work meeting? How long can I make the food in the fridge last before another trip for groceries? Will I have enough to cover my mortgage payment or rent? 

But when you can, please take a moment to imagine the future – it’s important. And after weeks of feeling anxious and uncertain, imagining the future might leave you feeling optimistic and inspired. 

Because if Ontario has learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that the work we do matters. 

We’ve always known that.  Many Ontarians did not realize it, but a lot more people are now starting to get it. 

Everybody from the Premier to CEOS to the chambers of commerce are now realizing that without high-quality public services, we are nothing. They are realizing just how much they and their families truly depend on all of us on the frontlines. 

So now that we’ve got that message across, let’s take the lead in the conversation about our future. 

It’s now painfully clear to most that the “old” normal wasn’t working – so what do we want the “new” normal to look like? 

The answer isn’t complicated. 

We want public services that have the investment they need to ensure that the frontlines have the workers and working conditions required to meet the needs of all Ontarians, young and old.  

We want frontline workers to be able to put in an honest week’s work without putting themselves in danger. They should have the PPEs and social distancing required to keep the pandemic from roaring back. 

We want to know that when we need health care or community support, our public services will be there for us – strong enough to treat or help us quickly in an emergency, and robust enough to offer humane and dignified care and support in the long-term. 

We want an economy that we all feel part of and valued by. Ontario has never been wealthier than it is right now, but the pandemic is teaching us that our wealth has never been more unfairly distributed. Too few have too much while too many don’t have enough. 

As we start to see glimmers of light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, it’s time to take stock and ask ourselves what we did well during the pandemic, and what we didn’t. 

Our Premier and our Prime Minister have been quick to act, and for that they deserve credit. It’s not easy to turn ships the size of governments, but they’re doing it with supports like CERB and pandemic pay and emergency funding to small businesses and public service non-profits alike. 

But the fact that they had to make such big changes so quickly speaks volumes. It’s as clear evidence as any that – before the pandemic – too many people, too many workers, and too many public services were running on fumes and barely getting by at all. 

It’s also become clear that too many employers were too slow to act on the demands of both their workers and their political leaders. Over the past month-and-a-half, OPSEU has fought and won a long list of battles against bad bosses going rogue against the orders of the Premier and Public Health authorities. 

We’re proud to have won those battles, but we shouldn’t have had to fight them in the first place. 

These things must change. And by working together, we’ll make sure they do change.  

Like the small group of union members and community activists in Oshawa who helped push GM to retool its plant to make masks, we’re in a moment when we can make the change we want. 

It’s time for made in Ontario solutions.  

We have the people. We have the power. Now, we just have to imagine what’s possible.  

And then together, we’ll make it happen. 

In solidarity, 

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU President

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