Everything changes, and that's a fact.
On April 21, a big change happened in OPSEU Local 431 in Kingston.
After months of preparation, staff at Providence Care Mental Health Services took part in a runoff vote April 19-21 to decide what union they would be in after that hospital merges with another one, St. Mary's of the Lake. When all the votes were counted, service and clerical workers voted to join OPSEU. The majority of Registered Nurses, in a separate bargaining unit, voted to join the Ontario Nurses' Association.
This generated some complicated feelings. On the one hand, I'm delighted to welcome about 300 new members into our union, and into Local 431. While they used to be in a different union, they've always been fellow Kingstonians, and they've always been people who cared about delivering quality health care to our community. To all of them I want say this: we are delighted to have you. Every time new members come along, they quickly find a home in OPSEU, and you will, too.
I was also relieved by the results of that vote. Providence Care is my employer, and Local 431 is my local. If we'd lost, well, let's just say it might have been complicated being president of a member-driven union.
But greater than that feeling of relief was the sadness at losing our nurses. Local 431 has always been like a big family. We have our family traditions and our family stories that come from decades of shared experiences. I started in the local back before we were even called Kingston Psychiatric Hospital, as did many others. Together we fought layoffs, lobbied for funding for mental health, and walked the picket line in the strike of '96. When the chips have been down, we've always come together as one. For Local 431, losing our nurses is a heartbreaker. To all our nurses at Providence Care I say: We'll miss you in our union but we'll see you on the wards. Take care.
For Local 431, digesting all this change will take a while. And there's more change coming, not just for one local but for all of us. Public services in Ontario are in a constant state of flux. It seems like governments have been restructuring OPSEU members' work pretty much constantly since that cold strike at the end of winter 20 years ago. They keep on restructuring because they won't do what they should: fund public services to the level Ontarians need, and recognize the contributions of frontline public employees.
So as my local prepares for new challenges, so does our whole union. No matter what happens next, we'll keep on fighting for what we know is right.
That won't ever change.
Warren ( Smokey ) Thomas,
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union