There is an old proverb that states “May you live in interesting times.” It sounds good until you really think about it…I believe it was meant as more of a curse than anything else.
2012 looks to be a good example of living in interesting times. From all indications, this will be the year our union engages in one of the biggest fights we have seen. We will fight against the government’s mandated attack on the very work we do daily to provide service and support to our communities, our friends and, of course, our families.
This escalation of war on workers has been given by the McGuinty government to the Drummond Commission, headed by none other than its namesake, Don (The Demolition Man) Drummond. This former Vice-President of the Toronto Dominion Bank of Canada has been personally handed $1,500 per day of taxpayers’ dollars (not including what his entourage is being paid daily) to be little more than the government’s future scapegoat for smashing our Ontario into pieces.
Given what our union has been hearing from the commission’s latest comments (such as slashing Ministry budgets to the bone and eliminating programs en masse), it is clear that he and his so-called advisors haven’t stepped far from the “big bank thinking” that marked his pre-retirement life.
There will be many threats and challenges for OPSEU members and workers in general in 2012. These will be made clearer in the upcoming Ontario Budget, when the Drummond Commission’s recommendations will shape not only our everyday work, but will reshape the services provided to all Ontarians.
OPSEU’s strength as a union is our ability to work together as a collective and support everything our members contribute to the everyday well-being, safety and security of our communities.
I am proud to say that our union is already responding to what lies ahead. Take a survey of the many OPSEU programs and projects that are underway. Information on many of these can be found on the OPSEU website. Review the scope of OPSEU members’ work, our great achievements and the communities we touch. The actions of our union are broad and wide-sweeping. A lot of this work is built on balanced budgets that respect the money the members provide through their dues.
We are providing members with a clear picture of what the union is undertaking, as well as what we expect for the future. At the same time, we are proceeding with due diligence to control expenditures without affecting services to our members. For example, video conferencing for Executive Board meetings will result in the ability to make the same decisions at a fraction of the cost of always getting together face-to-face. We have successfully piloted this project for the Officers, and will have our first video conference for the full Executive Board soon.
To maintain this work requires resources. We need funds to continue building an incredibly healthy strike fund, to continue activist regional educationals, to move towards modern web interactive programs such as registration for events and expense claims, to have accessible regional offices and membership centres, to work on getting the pay equity you are entitled to, as well as many more progressive initiatives.
Most of all, given the frequency that situations are thrust upon our members without warning, we need the ability to react quickly when members need action. That means the financial reserves must exist to cover situations that can’t be anticipated. When the Board approves action based on members’ needs, we must have the funds to cover the cost.
Thanks to the proposed budget the Executive Board has worked on and approved, we have achieved that ability for 2012. The changes in the budget will also ensure we, as a union, can cover our costs in 2013. I want to thank the Board for working towards this goal.
The Executive Board is proposing a temporary dues levy that will bring dues from 1.375 per cent to 1.5 per cent, effective May 1, 2012. For members earning $48,000 per year this will result in a dues increase of $1.15 per week. For a $20,000 per year earner, it will mean and increase of just 48 cents a week. The temporary levy will be revisited in 2014.
The OPSEU budget for 2012 will ensure that we have the funds to support the many programs and actions that will be part of this effort. That budget will ensure OPSEU remains a leading union with a strong voice when we represent members at the bargaining table, in legal proceedings, when strikes occur, when we campaign, when we fight for human rights, when we assist members with pension and benefit problems, and as we provide service through OPSEU regional offices and membership centres.
OPSEU activists and members will be confident in the fact that they will continue to get the services and support they need from their union. By working together we’ll ensure that public services remain a foundation for life in communities across Ontario. You will also be doing a lot to secure your work and job.
As we continue to move into 2012, the stakes have seldom been higher. Many OPSEU members are heading into bargaining. In the coming months, contracts covering over 200 units and tens of thousands of members will be negotiated. With commitment, and the resources to back it up, we can do a lot to ensure a good outcome for members. This will mean secure jobs, improved wages, benefits, pensions and additional assurance that public services continue. It is just that simple. So what are the practical things we can all do now?
First, support your local union leaders, health and safety committees and negotiations committees. Great strength can only come when we work together. Fighting amongst ourselves only benefits the employer. The members who have put their hands up to volunteer for such positions do so for everyone’s gain. Our elected members are the building blocks for a strong union and local. They must have the support of the members…united we bargain, divided we beg.
Next, members, locals and sectors should do all they can to participate in the Hearings for Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness presented by the Public Services Foundation of Canada, with OPSEU’s support. Make a submission from your local or sector or speak as a member at town hall meetings. You can find out more at www.standupontario.org .
Additionally, get active in your community by speaking out about the importance of public services and programs. We know that 2012 will not be an easy year, with unemployment high and financial markets in flux. Make an effort to tell your story to others. Tell them what you contribute to the economy: what services you use, the businesses you support and the taxes you willingly pay because you know taxes should be going to benefit communities, NOT profit-rich banks and huge corporations that only care about making the wealthy one per cent even richer.
Every OPSEU member can help widen people’s eyes to the value of the work we do. We must be the main spokespeople on the value of public services. We must educate and change the thinking of those who feel WE are the problem with the economy.
Big corporations, through politicians like Dalton McGuinty and Tim Hudak, have already convinced many of the illusion that workers are the enemy. Now it is our time to stand up, speak out, and shatter those illusions. It is my privilege to stand up with you. Together, we will succeed.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU