When I first became an OPSEU steward, I never dreamed that one day I’d be the head of a $100-million-a-year not-for-profit corporation. And I never dreamed I’d be accountable to 130,000 OPSEU members for how that money was spent.
But here I am.
As OPSEU President, I take my responsibilities very seriously. I know how hard OPSEU members work. I respect that – and the dues you pay to make this union run. So it’s my job, along with First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida and the entire Executive Board, to make sure members get full value for every nickel.
This applies especially to staffing. Right now, two-thirds of all our dues are spent on staffing and related costs. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – OPSEU is a membership-driven union, to be sure, but it’s too big a ship to be powered only by volunteers.
That’s why we employ the number and quality of staff we do. On any given day, our staff are bargaining contracts, handling grievances, delivering major campaigns, and doing all the things OPSEU members pay them to do. And they are very good at it.
We expect all our staff to meet a high standard of professionalism. OPSEU is the great union it is in part because our staff meet that standard, day after day.
But in any organization run by people, some people will do things they shouldn’t. Sometimes those things are mistakes. Sometimes they aren’t. Either way, I believe people have to be held accountable.
Recently, I took some flak for that belief.
On September 12, when the legislature re-opened, I publicly called on our Premier to take responsibility for her bad decisions and call an election. A few days later, and as if in response, a Toronto Star political columnist and staunch defender of Wynne decided to take a shot at me and our union. It's not the first time.
In his September 17 column, Martin Regg Cohn took issue with my decision to discipline a small number of our staff for what I considered to be serious missteps on the job. He seemed to think I was being unreasonable.
I don’t happen to agree. I’m just as concerned as anyone about treating people fairly. I don’t believe any employer should have the unfettered right to treat employees any way it chooses. That’s why I got active in my union in the first place.
And that’s why I support the grievance process. If an independent, impartial third party says I’ve made a mistake, I will comply as directed.
Cohn has pressed me for details of the staff grievances that are currently at issue. I’m not about to provide them. Those matters are private until exposed in the proper legal forum. For all concerned, the fairest way to settle internal disputes is in mediation or at arbitration, not the pages of a newspaper. I would have thought the Star, after its own tragic internal staffing issues, would have understood that.
Of course, this kind of news “coverage” is a distraction from the real issues of the day. The Liberals just keep cutting public services. They just keep privatizing and they just keep attacking our jobs and wages. Sadly, these kinds of draconian service and employment cuts are of little interest to Mr. Cohn.
In the weeks and months ahead, that’s what I’ll be talking about. That's what we will be talking about. And as we are doing it, I’ll be keeping a close eye that the services we provide to our members are equivalent to the service my members provide to Ontarians: top notch, and truly work to be proud of.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union