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Dues Levy: It’s time to have the conversation

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Greetings Friends

It’s been well over a month since I’ve posted an update; I can say these past weeks have been a busy time here at OPSEU as always, but specific to my office around financials and the budget for 2012. While working closely with the President, the Executive Board and staff on financial issues in our union, it is now time to report on the issues we need to take a long hard look at.

For many months, our union has been campaigning province-wide for fairness in our tax system. We, as a union, have done an amazing job shining the spotlight on the waste of corporate tax cuts, while services are being cut and working people are forced to pay more than their fair share of taxes.

That said, we have also acknowledged that taxes are necessary to pay for the services we rely on. Health care, social services, law enforcement, emergency services…the list is extensive of the things we need on a day-to-day basis, that unfortunately many take for granted.

This now brings me to the subject at hand. As members of OPSEU, you also pay “taxes” of a sort. They are your tax-deductible union dues, which are used for services you require or may require from your union. Ultimately every member of OPSEU benefits from their dues, whether it’s for grievance hearings (that defend your rights even if you are not the one signed on the grievance form), education for members in order to gain pro-active, practical knowledge to defend our members, health and safety protection, benefit protection, staff that are second to none…as well as simply having a system that supports having representatives in your workplace that defend your collective agreement on a daily basis. Even the money spent on negotiating collective agreements for new and current members is invaluable to you, now and in the future.

At OPSEU, we have been doing this, and doing it well, for over 35 years. But today, in 2011, we are facing challenges that no one would have imagined in 1975.

In today’s economy, we are now in the fight of our lives to protect our jobs and our communities. OPSEU has been directed by our members (the union’s highest-ranking authority) to mount campaigns to fight the government’s war on public services. Our main focus is the Drummond Commission, where a former banker is advising the Premier on how deep to slash public-sector jobs. The Premier is listening, and the Ontario Conservative Party is also in full support.

Thwarting the attack on all members of OPSEU will require a myriad of work to be done by both staff and members. We will need resources to accomplish this, and, to be completely blunt, OPSEU doesn’t have enough for all that we need to do. Here’s why.

OPSEU has not had a substantial dues increase since 1991. For 20 years, our dues rate has remained virtually the same. The exceptions are in 1996 and 2002 when a temporary dues increase was needed to replenish the strike fund after two lengthy OPS strikes.

In that same time period, inflation has risen by 25 per cent, and the HST has substantially driven up our daily costs. Twenty years ago, OPSEU’s main source of revenue was based on full-time wage earners with better-paying jobs. The shift from OPS to BPS wages and the increase in part-time public sector jobs and wages (that don’t keep up with inflation) have had a severe impact on our revenue.

When you also factor in the challenges of keeping pace with technology, social and demographic changes, combined with two decades of public sector cuts and restructuring, the dues we used to be able to manage with no longer add up. Due to years of right-wing attacks, pressures and demands, we are operating in a deficit every month using our line of credit, as well as paying large amounts in interest payments for what is, in fact, borrowing our own money. This makes little to no sense, but it is what we have been doing for some time now.

A motion has now been passed by the Executive Board to bring a proposal to the delegates of the 2012 Convention for a temporary two-year dues increase of 0.125 per cent. This will move our dues rate from 1.375 per cent to 1.5 per cent. For the average OPSEU member wage, this will amount to approximately $1.15 per week. It would still be one of lowest dues amounts for a union, let alone a union that provides the multitude of services for its members as ours does.

My pledge upon being elected as your 1st Vice-President/Treasurer was to make sure OPSEU’s finances were under control and that money spent was used for the members. Since last April, I have been doing just that in conjunction with staff, motions passed at the Executive Board and recommendations from Board members. What is clear is that OPSEU, with all the things we do, can no longer operate with the revenue we have coming in today. We have cut some budgets and trimmed costs where we can, and may still have to cut more as the Executive Board deliberates over the budget. However I am sure that, unlike the Ontario government, our leaders do NOT want to cut vital services to our members.

With the temporary dues levy, we will accomplish many things. For two years, we can end the monthly “financial musical chairs” of operating in a cash deficit. This will begin the process in mitigating the use of our line of credit as well as the practice of the bank moving monies out of our strike fund to cover costs, which we then have to scramble to repay later. With the levy we will have the resources to defend our rights and entitlements. We will also, as a union, continue to meet our rights and responsibilities on bargaining, pay equity, building our social mapping and equity profile, rebate payments to locals and to keep pace with expanding technological and communication opportunities. Most importantly, we will have the fight-back capacity for anti-privatization and community campaigns that YOU have asked for, and which has been approved by the Executive Board.

The temporary increase could also allow us to increase the dues transfer to strike fund by adding 10 per cent of the additional funds generated, and build our education program for activists by increasing the dues transfer to 5 per cent of the additional funds generated.

The decision to ask for a dues increase, even a temporary one, is not an easy one. As public sector workers, we have been, and continue to be, constantly attacked while being accused of not being hit as hard as others. I know that the majority of your money is already spoken for in just trying to make ends meet. My promise to you upon taking the oath of office was not to make easy decisions or popular recommendations. My oath was to take care of this union’s finances, so you can get the absolute best from your union and continue to make sure that we move forward together. That is what we will accomplish with this temporary increase. The majority of the Executive Board agrees that we need to have this discussion and make a decision one way or the other.

So it’s time to have the conversation. At the 2012 OPSEU Convention, the final decision will be up to the Delegates. We will decide, democratically, on how OPSEU moves forward. No matter what your position is on either side of this debate, I will respect your views. All I want is what I know every member of OPSEU wants…the absolute best representation and services for our money. That is why you elected me, and with your support, I will deliver.

In solidarity,

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU

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