To Hell with Wall Street


Income equality is on the map. It wasn't easy. I want to congratulate the members, leadership and staff of OPSEU for making this happen. We have helped and been helped by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). We are strong partners in NUPGE's All Together Now Campaign. Check out their videos and supporting material through the NUPGE website.

Together, we have helped to educate the public. Along with the public, the media is making a connection between a low-wage economy and the 30-year attack faced by unions.

Organized labour is a voice that supports and promotes the growth of the middle class. A balanced recovery will happen at the intersection of Union and Main Street, where we find that vibrant middle class. To hell with Wall Street and forget Bay Street!

OPSEU will continue this public education effort. The economic recovery happening now is unfair and uneven. Most of the wealth created by our growing economy is going to the top 1 per cent of income earners. The rich are getting richer, while working people remain in the shadow of the corporate elite and politicians that do their bidding.

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, captures the image well. For some it is the best of times while for others, it remains the worst of times. An uneven recovery can be, for many, no recovery at all. Without a growing middle class, income growth will remain an illusion. Worse yet, it is apparent that the corporate mythology of "business knows best" just means a decline in the public sector at a time when many need these services. Today, OPSEU members face outsourcing, privatization and other programs initiated to diminish and degrade services that took generations to build. NUPGE will, in coming months, support research into the extent of this across Canada. This will help all NUPGE members to coordinate their responses.

Pollsters say it is risky to expose waste or poor planning in the public sector. Yet, in peril there is opportunity. If something is based on fact it should be named. If we don't name it, and propose a solution, others will. 

In my travels, OPSEU members have told me a similar story. They see front-line workers vanishing while middle and senior management grows. Management wages are off the charts while the wages and benefits of front-line workers are squeezed.

Tim Hudak blames this decline on "greedy union bosses." If he looked at facts, he would see revenue for wage increases in the public sector go to middle managers and bosses rather than those providing service to Ontarians.

Since 1994 the service providers (OPSEU members) in the OPS have shrunk dramatically while the middle management group, made up in large part by AMAPCEO, exploded. Back then there were 102,000 people working in the entire OPS. The OPSEU unit, a part of that group, numbered about 66,000 or about 65 per cent. In 2011 the total public service was reduced to 92,710. Of that less than 37,000, or 40 per cent, were OPSEU members.

Think about the reverse. The non-OPSEU group in 1994 was 36,000 or 35 per cent while in 2011 it had reached 55,804 or 60 per cent of the total.

We can also see the effects of the "business knows best" approach in the Broader Public Service. Executive Directors of medium-sized agencies (funded by government and the community) are making as much per year as the Premier. Hospital administrators are making two and three times the Premier's pay.

Not only are wages high but the numbers of those receiving the wages has also grown. The result of this shift in income is clear. The economy suffers as wages drop in communities where the front-line staff used to live and work. At the same time money received by high-income earners is not spent in communities but saved in less productive, and at times international, investments.

Worst of all, people looking for public services are now left to access these services through phones and computer screens. Many are now provided by small and fragmented private agencies, often for profit. In other cases services are discontinued. Inefficiency is the hallmark of many corporations. 

Colleges, the LCBO and hospitals: all have bloated management numbers and payrolls. When layoffs take place these people are insulated. They dictate the layoffs but are never caught by them. Even when they retire or leave they get benefits beyond any collective agreement provision applied to staff.

That leaves a public service puffed up by middle managers, senior managers, directors and executive directors. All get funded by tax payers. Instead of paying for service providers, taxes go to administration and management.

At one time the civil service was an award winning symbol of good government. Many OPSEU members joined it to serve the province inspired by the belief they could make a difference by helping fellow citizen. They expected a secure job with wages that could support their family and community.

Then things changed. The business community saw the public service as a place they could get rich. They depleted front lines services and transferred work and funds to their corporations instead. A once noble pursuit was maligned as government became the contactor and the private sector became the source of the service and the employer of staff. Managers in the public service became rich, the corporations to whom services were contracted received their profit, wages declined and OPSEU members lost their jobs as positions were terminated.

OPSEU members did not see their jobs as a way to get rich. They did not raid the public cookie jar. They sought a living wage, safe working conditions and a decent pension. They wanted to be a part of society that made Ontario more civil, compassionate and fair. They knew that they could help the economy and their communities prosper.

Is there waste in government? Yes. But to Tim Hudak and the right wingers who cast dispersions on front line workers and the unions I say: look to your corporate friends and their practices. An honest, objective assessment will lead to the truth. Corporations have no business in government. To streamline the public service, protect those on the front line and toss the bosses. That way we will all be better off.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas

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