November 2 was a good day for Ontario’s minimum wage workers. It was late in coming, but still a good day.
After three long years of lobbying and pressure, the labour movement, and our allies, finally convinced the Ford government to reinstate a $15 an hour minimum wage; this time extending it to liquor servers as well.
As a result, more than 700,000 Ontarians will see their wages rise in the New Year, including nearly 14,000 OPSEU/SEFPO members.
This is progress that we should all be proud of – I sure am. So, when I was asked by Unifor President, Jerry Dias to attend the news conference to support the minimum wage announcement and say a few words, I gladly agreed.
When we followed up with a news release, we highlighted the importance of supporting small business by buying local, because otherwise it’ll be bye bye local. And except for the usual suspects, the announcement, and our support for it, was well received.
As usual, and in spite of our union’s Statement of Respect, the opposition, though few, were loud and hostile.
How could two of Ontario’s most prominent labour leaders support the Ford government?
The simple answer is we didn’t; we supported the announcement, because it finally recognized what labour, and its allies, have been saying loudly and clearly. Remember the Fight for $15 and Fairness?
Obviously, some folks have become very adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Now, $15 isn’t good enough. It’s no longer about a minimum wage, it’s all about a living wage – and Doug Ford? Well, he’s just a Tory pretending to be a socialist to get re-elected.
So, what’s behind all the angst? That’s easy – it’s partisan politics.
I’m now serving my seventh term as OPSEU/SEFPO President, and every single time I’ve been elected, I have been abundantly clear on my political leanings; I am non-partisan, and I do not hold a party card.
My job is to support OPSEU/SEFPO members, full stop.
I am not a party shill, and I will not spend a cent of members’ money on any political party. In fact, I will lobby them all.
I lived through the days of the ONDP’s social contract, privatization and downsizing. I also battled Mike Harris and his crew for two terms, and I was in McGuinty’s and Wynne’s faces for 15 years.
I took on Premier Ford until he came to the table to listen to working people, and I will continue to hold government to account, no matter their political stripe – because that is my job.
I am not beholden to any political party and I certainly won’t funnel money into their coffers. I’m not so certain that the same can be said for some of my fellow board members.
So is $15 enough? Not bloody likely – but it’s something.
Is this government perfect? Hardly.
But, if someone had told me that a government staring down the barrel of a $38 billion dollar deficit would not slash and burn the public sector, I wouldn’t have believed it – not for a second. Especially not a Conservative government elected on an austerity agenda.
So go ahead and question my activities. That’s fair. I will let my record stand on its own. Because the reality is that we are getting through this pandemic without any significant job losses.
It’s another accomplishment that I’m extremely proud of, and I pledge that I will keep working as hard as I can to keep OPSEU/SEFPO, our members, and Ontario working; to keep progressing, and to keep moving the agenda forward, despite all the partisan politics.
Because that’s my job, and I love it. So, stay tuned.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas