I’ve always been a proud OPSEU member and a proud trade unionist. But I’ve never been more proud than I am this week – we’ve won a magnificent victory that will go down in Canada’s history books.
It’s a victory for workers. It’s a victory against precarious work. And it’s a victory for all of us who know that when you’re fighting for what’s right, you should never give up.
You’ve probably seen the headlines: “20,000 part-time college support staff join OPSEU.” Thousands of workers voting overwhelmingly to join OPSEU is a huge win, both for those workers and for OPSEU. It’s an historic win, too: the largest successful organizing drive Canada has ever seen.
But it’s the backstory – and what will happen next — that makes this victory especially sweet for all working Canadians.
It all started 14 years ago, in 2004. Paul Martin was prime minister. Same-sex marriage was illegal in most provinces. Sidney Crosby was still in high school. Nobody had ever heard of a website called Facebook.
And if you were a part-time support worker at any of Ontario’s community colleges, it was against the law for you to join a union.
Let that sink in for a minute: If you were supporting yourself and your family with a part-time job at one of our institutions of higher learning, it was illegal for you to be in a union. The law prevented you from getting together with your co-workers to fight for safe workplaces, decent working conditions, and job security.
Something had to change, and the workers and OPSEU’s organizers and College Division leaders began working to change it.
But the bosses weren’t going to give up without a fight. After all, legally binding precarious working conditions were great for them – let them pad their own budgets and protect their own jobs.
So they spent untold millions of our public dollars to try to stop the law from being changed. And then when the law was changed, they kept on spending our money tying up the organizing process. For 14 years, they stalled the process. 14 years!
But the workers and the organizers — especially the college divisional Leaders – showed incredible determination, patience, and solidarity. They persisted and they’ve won. They didn’t just win, it was a landslide. When the votes were finally counted, 84 per cent were in favour of joining OPSEU.
I’ll be forever grateful for this victory. We should all be grateful, and here’s why: it’s not just a victory for college support workers. It’s a victory we can build on, to win more victories for even more Ontarians caught in precarious work.
Here at OPSEU, we’ll be turning our attention to the thousands of part-time college faculty who, like the college support staff who just joined us, are also trying to organize against precarious working conditions. In fact, the part-time faculty members have already voted on whether they want to join OPSEU.
But just as they did with their support staff, the college bosses are now spending public money on every trick in the book to keep those votes from being counted.
It’s time for the provincial government to step in and stop this nonsense.
The Premier has said she wants to tackle the crisis of precarious work. And since the best way to prevent precarious work is to help workers join a union, it’s time for her and Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews to tell the College Employer Council to smarten up, stop stalling and let the votes for the part-time faculty side be counted. We all know how that count will go. Democracy delayed is democracy denied.
And for all the other workers out there caught in precarious jobs, take heart. Standing together with your coworkers and a strong union, you can win too.