Union work is challenging at the best of times. There’s a lot to think about.
We have to bargain and enforce contracts. We have to organize new members. And in OPSEU, as public sector unionists, we have to campaign hard on dozens of public issues.
Keeping all three balls in the air – bargaining, organizing, and campaigning – is a juggling act, but when a union can do it well, it’s amazing to watch.
That’s what I thought when I heard that the Ontario government was going to sell cannabis in stand-alone stores overseen by the LCBO. Because that announcement didn’t just happen. It happened because our President, Smokey Thomas, made it happen.
Last year, when the public debate about cannabis was just starting, Smokey was fast out of the gate. When a reporter asked him how he thought cannabis should be sold, he didn’t hesitate. He said it should be sold through the LCBO.
But he didn’t just say it once. He campaigned on it. He talked to reporters. He talked to politicians. He spoke at business conferences. He commissioned a poll to show public support for the LCBO as a cannabis retailer. And he didn’t let up. Not even when storefront drug dealers and big business alike opposed him.
When our members in the Liquor Board Employees Division were in bargaining, Smokey worked with the OPSEU bargaining team to push the LCBO to agree that, if the LCBO sold cannabis, the frontline workers selling it would be OPSEU members.
And now, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Campaigning put cannabis in the LCBO. Bargaining worked with organizing and put (future) cannabis workers into OPSEU.
The final result? A better, safer way to retail cannabis; more government revenues to treat substance abuse and pay for law enforcement; and good union jobs for people in a new industry.
And one more thing: more members for OPSEU means more resources available to do the good work of the union.
When we bargain, organize, and campaign together, we win, and when we win, we grow stronger. That’s what happened with cannabis in the LCBO.
That’s how it’s done, folks.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, Ontario Public Service Employees Union