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U.S. debate showed us what not to do

Warren (Smokey) Thomas in a blue suit standing at a podiu
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Friends,  

Did you watch the U.S. Presidential debate earlier this week?  

I watched it. But I wish I hadn’t.  

While the world grapples with the biggest public health crisis we’ve faced in a century, the millions of us who tuned in had to endure one of the saddest displays of “leadership” I have ever seen.  

Shouts. Interruptions. Insults. And a shameful willingness to speak overtop of one another.  

If there’s ever been a time when all of us have to work together, it is right now.  

Let’s take a lesson from Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden – they showed us during their debate exactly what we shouldn’t be doing.  

Angrily hurling insults and criticism gets you easy attention. But once the fireworks are finished, what have you accomplished? Nothing. Maybe even worse than nothing – you’ve driven people away, turned them off, and pushed them to tune out.  

Instead of throwing stones, the world needs leaders who will lift those stones together in order to build the foundations of a post-pandemic world that is safer, healthier, and more productive.  

Now, I’m not saying that working together requires agreement on everything. It doesn’t.  

But it does require a few other things: respect, decorum, and a willingness to listen.  

We’re seeing a lot of all three in Ontario and across Canada these days.  

From the Prime Minister to the Premier and down on to employers and union leaders like me, old political quarrels have been set aside, and we’ve gotten down to the hard work of working together.  

No wonder our country and our province are faring so much better during COVID-19 than our neighbours to the south.  

Our outbreaks are much smaller. Our tragic death toll much lower. And I think it’s safe to say that most Canadians are feeling much more optimistic about our future than are most Americans.  

Here at OPSEU, we’ve consistently promoted the values of respect, decorum, and a willingness to listen. And just those values are paying off in our country, they’re also paying off in our workplaces.  

We’re focused on being firm – but fair – with all of our employers.  

We’ll never accomplish everything immediately, but we’ll accomplish nothing if “immediately” is our primary demand.  

We’ve done what the presidential candidates refused to do – we’ve listened. We’ve tried to understand some of the very real challenges our employers face, and we’ve tried to help them overcome those challenges instead of simply hurling insults and criticism.  

And all across our workplaces, this approach is working. 

Have we accomplished everything? Not yet. But we have made solid gains in terms of accomplishing the twin goals of maintaining job security in healthy and safe workplaces.  

But by sheathing the swords and trying instead to find solutions, we have accomplished so much. Just last week, for example, the province answered our demand for more workplace safety inspectors and committed to hiring nearly 100 more.  

And perhaps even more important than what we’ve already accomplished, think about what more we stand to accomplish. When our employers know that we’ll talk with them, instead of over them, they’ll hear what we have to say and work together with us to accomplish what we need.  

That’s the kind of debate Americans deserved. I’m proud to say that here in Ontario, it’s the kind of debate we have.  

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU President
@OPSEUSmokey
facebook.com/OPSEUSmokey

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