I am always proud of OPSEU members, and last week Region 7 gave me another reason to be.
At a pre-budget stop in Thunder Bay, Finance Minister Charles Sousa heard exactly what OPSEU members think of his government’s handling of public dollars. Local 737 Correctional Officer Mike Lundy put it simply: “It’s not fair.”
For the last five years, OPSEU members everywhere have made sacrifices to keep this province afloat and protect public services. We’ve taken pay freezes and other concessions. But while we’ve been giving, others have been taking. And they’ve had the full cooperation of the Liberals at Queen’s Park.
As we’re seeing in the nurses’ strike at Community Care Access Centres, sacrifices by workers have not been matched by their bosses. Wage cuts at the frontline have come with big pay hikes for executives, many of whom already make way more than $250,000.
To his credit, the Finance Minister could see why this is a problem. “I want to make certain more of that money goes to where it’s supposed to be, and that’s to the workers and to the front line,” he said. “That’s why we’re bringing forward caps on executives.”
But on another, bigger issue, Sousa was carefully silent.
As the Auditor General has reported, the Liberals have spent $8 billion too much to build schools, courthouses, and other major projects using “public-private partnerships,” or P3s. All that money – your money – is being funneled to a rich privatization industry. Made up of bankers, corporate lawyers, construction bosses, and former politicians, this industry is built on two pillars: close ties to top Liberals, and a fondness for the public trough.
This is the real power in Ontario. Thankfully, OPSEU members are challenging it.
Commenting on the P3 scandal and other privatization failures, Executive Board Member Glen Archer had a question for the Finance Minister.
“Premier Kathleen Wynne is saying, ‘The cupboard is bare’ in [Ontario Public Service] negotiations,” Glen said. “But I’d like to know how many cupboards there are, because the one cupboard is bare but there seems to be lots to pay for all these scandals.”
Sousa didn’t have an answer. For all his talk about “better equity and greater fairness,” his government’s bargaining stance remains the same. He says he wants “net zero” bargaining, which to him means freezing our pay while the cost of living keeps rising. Meanwhile, the Liberals’ big business buddies float far above the fight, their pockets bulging.
We know how to change this. All we have to do is what OPSEU members did last week in Thunder Bay and what members continue to do all across the province. Let’s not be afraid to say what’s really going on in Ontario. Let’s keep speaking up for fairness.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union
P.S. Finance Minister Sousa is asking for your thoughts on the budget until mid-February. Share your views in writing here or call 1-866-989-9002 to find out about meetings in your community.
P.P.S. For videos of Region 7 members challenging the Finance Minister, click here.