The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists
Volume 19, Number 2 ~ Summer 2012
Pots and pans heard around the world
Virginia Ridley, In Solidarity
Students are rising up
against the increases which will ultimately make post-secondary education
unobtainable to many. The movement has been growing rapidly. Starting with a
small group of students from Université Laval, the protest has been gaining
support of other faculties and universities.
On February 13, 2012, a
student boycott began when Social Sciences students at the Université Laval went
on strike in protest of a proposal by the Quebec Cabinet to raise annual tuition
fees 75 per cent over five years. For over 20 years, university fees were frozen
at $540 per year making Quebec post-secondary education the most affordable in
the country. In 1994, fees tripled to $1,668 per year. These fees remained
stagnant for the next 13 years until 2007 when tuition was raised again.
Currently the rate for tuition fees in Quebec is $2,168.
By March 22, 166,068
students were boycotting in Quebec, and 300,000 people participated in a march
in downtown Montreal.
The National Assembly of
Quebec passed an emergency law, Bill 78, on May 18. The law:
Declares “illegal” any
picket or “form of gathering” within 50 metres of any educational building or
Declares it illegal for
any demonstration of more than 50 people to occur at any location in Quebec
unless submitted to and approved by the Quebec Police.
Any infraction of the law
requires offenders to pay fines for each day of noncompliance. These fines are
$1,000-$5,000 for individuals, $7,000-$35,000 for student or union leaders, and
$25,000-$125,000 for student or labour organizations. Fines are to be doubled
for any subsequent infractions.
Bill 78 has been
criticized by many, including the Canadian Association of University Teachers,
the Quebec Human Rights Commission, Professor Lucie Lemonde of Université de
Montréal’s law department and Louis Masson, head of the Bar of Quebec. It is
described as being “the worst law on record since the War Measures Act” and
infringing on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Canadian Charter of
Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian certain freedoms such as freedom
of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. When
this bill was passed, it was as though the National Assembly of Quebec felt they
were above the Charter.
Bill 78 is quite simply an
example of government disregarding deeply ingrained beliefs that are valued in
In response to Bill 78,
Quebec protestors have gained even more support, provincially, nationally and
internationally. On May 22, a massive march took place that was called the
largest civil disobedience act in Canadian history. It involved nearly 25 per
cent of the population of Montreal as between 300,000 and 400,000 people took to
the streets with pots, pans, lids and utensils. This type of protest, called
“Casserole” or “Pots and Pans,” uses household instruments to create noise.
People can participate from their homes or in marches and be heard. Because of
this, the Casserole Protest is accessible for anyone to participate in. Every
night since this massive protest, Canadians, not just students, have been
banging pots at 8 p.m. in protest. This Montreal protest is rapidly moving
across the country and the world.
The Casserole Movement
(Cacerolazo in Spanish) began as a method of protest in Chile in 1971 when
protesting in groups was illegal. Chileans were engaged in a political protest
for 17 years.
to the Editor
Re: What I learned from
Occupy Toronto, Spring 2012
Imagine me affecting an
Australian accent and saying: “You think you’re a curmudgeon? I’m a curmudgeon!”
I’ve been teaching at
Seneca College since 1969 and have been a member of OPSEU since the CAAT
(Academic) Division was formed.
I am increasingly
skeptical about young people. I don’t understand them. I worry about our future.
Who are the people who
distress me? They’re the folks between the ages of 30 and 60 who have been tied
in knots by neo-liberalism, who feel angst at the prospect of politics, who just
want to do a good job and retreat to their private homes and their private
lives—wishing all the bad things would just go away or at least stop intruding
on their quiet time.
I’m 66 and I’ve been an
OPSEU activist of sorts for close to 40 years (my old friend Wayne Roberts
described me as a “union militant” in his book Don’t Call Me Servant—I kinda
But here’s my point. I
wasn’t upset with OPSEU for supporting the Occupy Movement. I wasn’t upset in
the past when we supported Nelson Mandela (when he was still officially a
“terrorist,” and not yet a Honourary Citizen of Canada). And I won’t be upset if
and when we support the “students” and others in Quebec. Indeed, when I
participated in the OPSEU/CAUT Symposium on Quality Education & Academic Freedom
last week, I was encouraged to see at least a few red ribbons that signified
support for Quebec students.
I was also proud to learn
that we sent people to help out in Wisconsin, even though that campaign didn’t
work out especially well.
I don’t know how many of
our members are closet Conservatives, aspirant managers and otherwise toxic
elements in our union. I just want to assure you that I am not alone. A
dwindling but steadfast number of us still remember the likes of Charlie Darrow
and Sean O’Flynn—to say nothing of my good friend Frank Eastham. We are still
around and we are already ahead of you in thinking that OPSEU has an important
role to play beyond “bread-and-butter” unionism. Convincing the “kids” to get
involved in the union and to take a stand for social justice isn’t easy.
Especially in the colleges where as many as 70 per cent (or more?) of the
teachers are “contingent” faculty and therefore timid, vulnerable and easily
manipulated. Building (or rebuilding) a union from the ground up will be a
I will therefore look
forward to the time when we can build a common front with environmentalists,
feminists, the unorganized and unemployed. Until then, I will observe and retain
the right to criticize all these middle-aged youngsters who, in questioning the
youthful protesters (and calling them “communists,” for pity’s sake), are giving
us all a bad name and sinking their own future as well.
Howard A. Doughty, Local
Boycotts hurt local communities
Ouchas, In Solidarity
The purpose of a boycott
is to collectively refuse to offer patronage to a particular manufacturer of
goods or services to protest something or to force action. In the early years,
when the labour movement or other types of active organizations boycotted a
company or product, it was effective. Today, the effects of a boycott are lost
on multi-million dollar organizations with offices and plants around the globe.
In the early days of the
labour movement, manufacturers and service providers operated on a smaller scale
and were tied closely to the community they were operating in. Their primary
customers were within that local community. If a large populace of that
community were involved in a boycott, the manufacturer or service provider would
certainly be financially impacted. The point of the boycott would be driven
home, forcing them to take action to prevent damaging their business.
Today, manufacturers of
goods and services are substantially larger and have offices and plants all over
the world. They’ve gone global. Boycotting a product or service in one country
to protest the working conditions in another country only affects the country
where the boycott takes place. And because we are now dealing with corporations
making millions of dollars, there is little or no financial impact. The point of
the boycott is lost and may actually have a negative effect on the communities
we are boycotting.
Take, for example,
Coca-Cola. Agreed, human rights tragedies occurring in Colombia are horrible and
shameful and Coca-Cola should be held accountable for allowing these deplorable
conditions to exist. However, how does boycotting in Ontario, Canada impact
Colombia? If it has any effect, it is on those workers in local bottling plants
here in this country. It is unlikely the impact would trickle to the plants in
Colombia. It is business as usual for them.
Any impact though, is
tempered with the fact that Coca-Cola is a multi-billion dollar global
corporation. A small faction of organizations boycotting their product would
have no real financial impact or consequences.
companies in today’s world is an exercise in futility. We cannot hold front-line
workers working at plants or offices within our communities responsible for
travesties that occur half a world away.
Instead, we should focus
our energies in lobbying governments to hold companies accountable if they want
to do business in this country. While a boycott may be a symbolic gesture
(affecting Canadian workers more than anyone), shedding public light on dirty
dealings abroad could have a much more beneficial impact.
Bill 160 makes
changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act
Aversa, OPSEU Health and Safety Officer
Bill 160 was passed in
response to the recommendations of the “Expert Advisory Panel on Health and
Safety” (Dean Report) that followed the tragic fall of five workers from a
scaffold on Christmas Eve, 2009. The Bill (most of it effective April 2012)
includes a few items that affect workplace health and safety representatives and
joint health and safety committees, but the primary role of the Bill was to set
the legal framework for implementing the remainder of the 45 recommendations of
the Dean Report. Workplace representatives and committees need to be aware of
these Bill 160 changes:
Recommendations to the Employer: As of April 1, 2012, either co-chair of a joint
health and safety committee may submit a recommendation to the employer when the
committee has been unable to come to a consensus on a recommendation (Section 9,
Sub. 19.1). This should allow for health and safety concerns to be addressed in
a timelier manner.
training for Health and Safety Representatives provided by the employer to
effectively exercise their powers and duties (Section 8, Sub. 5.1). Effective
date not yet announced at time of printing.
Now effective, an Inspector, on consent of a worker, may refer an allegation of
reprisal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board provided the matter has not been
dealt with by grievance arbitration (Section 50, Sub. 2.1). This provision is
aimed to ensure that vulnerable (often non-unionized) workers have access to the
Ontario Labour Relations Board, and that the Office of the Worker Advisor (OWA)
provides assistance to those workers. We do not expect the process to change
much for unionized workers who have access to a grievance procedure under their
and Safety Poster to be posted in all workplaces: Under existing provisions of
the OHSA, the Ministry of Labour has developed a new health and safety poster
that is mandatory to be posted in all workplaces (Section 25.2 i).
Other Bill 160 changes
affect how the province deals with health and safety. It moves prevention
activities from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to the Ministry
of Labour, creates the appointment of a new Prevention Council run by a new
Chief Prevention Officer, provides help for non-union workers and small
employers, and enhances the advisory role for the Ministry of Labour.
These changes have begun with the selection of George Gritziotis
as Ontario’s new Chief Prevention Officer. The Prevention Council is currently
being chosen. We continue to work towards getting the rest of the Expert Panel’s
recommendations adopted to improve workplace health and safety in Ontario.
Legal loopholes have
children working in the fields
Child Labour -
second of a three-part series
Bicum, In Solidarity
studied History Of The Family at the University of Guelph in the 1980s, I was
mortified to learn about the working conditions of women and children in the
factories in industrialized England. Long days, poor conditions, maimings,
starvation, beatings, death—I thought all of this was ancient history. When my
kids act up, I regale them with tales of poor waifs who had to work in order to
stay alive. Are these stories of child labour ancient history? If they do
exist, are child labour issues found only in a land far away? You’d be
According to Human Rights Watch (
http://www.humanrightswatch.org), modern-day Texas and
rural agricultural areas of the U.S. are home to hundreds of thousands of
children (under the age of 18) working in agriculture. Apparently, legal
loopholes allow children to work in the fields much younger, for much longer,
and in worse conditions than are covered under standard labour laws in other
areas of employment.
Typically, eleven and twelve-year-old children work the same hours adults
would—often ten hours a day, and at peak harvest time seven days a week. Those
who are enrolled in school work weekends and after school; however, migrant
workers’ lives are disrupted as they leave school before the end of the year in
order to get to their new workplace, and they often return home a few weeks or
months into the following school year.
these children are in their jobs, what are the risks? The risks are those that
many of us never dreamed of experiencing:
horribly long hours
working in extreme
working with dangerous
tools and machinery
lifting of heavy items
According to Human Rights Watch, more than half of all children who died from
work-related injuries in 2010 worked in crop production.
where’s the U.S. government in all of this? The United States Federal Fair Labor
Standards Act, which governs child labour in the United States, gives no minimum
age for children working on small farms with a parent’s permission. Once
children are twelve, they may get parental consent to work on any farm. This act
also sets no legal limits on the hours children can work in agriculture outside
of the risk worth it to these children? Do their families get ahead by having
their children work? It’s not very likely as these child farm workers usually
make less than minimum wage and are subject to abuses such as being
short-changed hours worked and having to pay for their own equipment. Even
worse off are those working in the fruit and vegetable harvest that are paid by
the container or piece of fruit.
were looking up in 2009/2010, according to Human Rights Watch. Child labour
laws were to be more thoroughly enforced, yet statistics show a drop, not an
increase, in agricultural inspections.
be done? In the end, the double-standard in child labour laws for agricultural
workers needs to be eradicated. What can we as Canadians do? We can become
informed. We can read about abusive treatment of agriculture workers. We
can spread the word. We can enquire about the treatment of workers at
farms near our homes. We can pay attention to the fruit, vegetables, and
food we consume to make sure that those processing it are paid a decent wage and
are treated humanely.
Cyber-libel: Protecting yourself in an online world
O’Brien, OPSEU Legal Counse
Over the last few years,
the internet has offered exciting new ways for unions to inform and mobilize
members. But the internet also raises new challenges. Many sites allow for a
high volume of virtually instant and very informal communications with members
and the public. It can be difficult for locals and members to plan
communications that can keep up with the pace and style of internet postings. It
is not surprising that one of regular questions that OPSEU communications staff
and legal counsel are asked is “do you think that this is libellous?”
“Cyber-libel” is an
updated term for an old idea. Libel law has existed is some form for thousands
of years. Unlike many areas of law, libel law does not protect property or
persons, but instead is focused on protecting reputations. The legal definition
of a libellous statement has three consistent elements: a statement in writing,
that is published to a third person, and that would lower the reputation of an
identified person or organization. When these same elements were applied to
internet communications, the term cyber-libel was coined.
Libel is a form of
defamation, and is enforced by means of a lawsuit in the courts. In the union
context, libel claims can arise from union websites, blogs, or social media
webpages. As one common example, if a member’s postings accused a person of
harassment or bullying (i.e. likely to lower that person’s reputation), then a
lawsuit could be filed by the affected person, whether he or she were a manager,
employee or member of the public. The defendant in the lawsuit could be the
author of the posting, as well as the individual member(s) who act as
“publisher” and even the union itself.
It is much less certain
that employers may directly pursue defamation actions against employees. The
Supreme Court has determined that arbitrators, rather than the courts, have
jurisdiction over matters arising under a collective agreement. 1
Consequently, employers may be required to issue discipline in response to
libellous statements of employees rather than pursue libel lawsuits. On the same
basis, employees who feel that they are victims of libel by employers are likely
required to pursue a grievance rather than a lawsuit in defamation.
Authors and publishers of
libellous statements can find themselves involved in complicated and uncertain
lawsuits, and may be ordered to pay damages. The amount of damages would be
based on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the libellous
statement, the extent of the publication, and the conduct and motive of the
author. In the realm of cyber-libel, where statements can be impulsive or
exaggerated, and are instantly transmitted to a potentially wide and permanent
audience, there are obvious and serious consequences that can result from
careless communications. 2
But the legal picture is
not uniformly bleak. Not all libellous statements give rise to a legal action,
or are subject to damage awards. There are defences that may permit a publisher
to make statements that otherwise could attract liability. For example, the
defence of “truth” allows the publication of libellous statements if they can be
proven as true. The defence of “qualified privilege” permits otherwise libellous
communications among those who share an interest in the statements provided that
they are not acting dishonestly or with malice. And in 2009, the Supreme Court
of Canada established a new defence, the “responsible communication on a matter
of public interest” that protects media outlets that diligently report on
significant issues. 3 This defence could extend to online or union
publications in future.
Even the briefest review
of libel law illustrates how complex and unpredictable these issues can be. The
key conclusion is that anyone who is concerned about liability for libel should
consult with union staff and counsel who are experienced in this area of the
law. (And as with doctors, it is not good news to learn that your case is
There are also a few
practical steps that can be taken to limit exposure for libel:
websites that permit member postings should be password protected and limited to
members only. This will help ensure that the audience is properly limited (as an
added bonus it keeps confidential information away from employers).
should be reviewed and approved by an administrator prior to posting.
Administrators should think about the concepts of libel, and should ask for
advice if in doubt.
should focus to the greatest extent possible on “union issues” and should avoid
allegations that are personal. Unions should be diligent in checking facts.
about internet postings should be considered carefully. Sometimes a quick
apology or retraction will prevent future headaches.
should be wary of quick fixes. If a statement seems libellous, it is not a
solution to add “allegedly” or to include a disclaimer that the opinions
expressed are not the union’s. Libel law also applies to jokes – even funny
Once union publishers
think about the principles of libel law, and take reasonable steps to limit
their exposure, it is important to remember that libel claims are extremely
rare. Hopefully, an understanding of libel law will serve to support rather than
intimidate union authors and publishers. It is critically important that unions
and other progressive voices are not silenced by threats of legal action.
Effective use of the internet, even with the risk of cyber-libel, is just too
good an opportunity to miss.
Weber v. Ontario Hydro,
 2 SCR 929
Barrick Gold v Lopehandia, 2004 CanLII 12938 (ON CA); compare with Baglow v.
Smith, 2011 ONSC 5131 (CanLII)
Grant v. Torstar Corp.,  3 SCR 640; Quan v. Cusson,  3 SCR 712
A day in the life of
O’Connor, Local 125
We are referred to as
adjunct or associate faculty. These are palatable labels for the wasteland of
insecurity and uncertainty in which we exist, living from paycheque to
We pray and often beg to
get partial-load hours (7-12) in order to receive a decent, livable, hourly wage
with some benefits for our families. Could someone please tell us how an
enlightened, educational institution can justify paying us half the salary when
we teach six hours as opposed to seven, or thirteen hours as opposed to twelve?
Some deans at some colleges have made it their mission to ensure that no
partial-load hours are assigned in order to keep their budgets for adjunct
faculty down. We wonder: do deans receive bonuses or salary increases on the
backs of part-time and sessional faculty?
Associate faculty are
often verbally praised for our contribution to the colleges, but the
institution’s actions prove otherwise. We are told that, although we are amply
qualified to teach our subjects on a part-time basis, we aren’t qualified to
teach the same subjects on a full- time basis. In what world do years of
experience not qualify an individual for the very position that he/she already
We are told to make
ourselves at home in our communal offices but to keep a box handy because we
must clear out at the end of each contract. We do accumulate seniority (very
slowly), but seniority is often ignored when teaching assignments are doled out.
If we have a partial-load contract, we are members of the bargaining unit and
can file a grievance when seniority is ignored. However, filing a grievance
could ensure that one won’t be invited back.
Many of us signed union
cards years ago in hopes that the OPSEU could negotiate wage parity with the
partial-load position for part-time and sessional teaching loads. However, the
colleges are doing everything within their considerable power to ensure that we
don’t organize. This is a blatant attempt to keep this pool of under-paid
teachers around for as long as the institution can successfully exploit its most
vulnerable group of workers.
We love teaching and want
to make it our life’s work. Many of us have spent thousands of dollars pursuing
degrees to qualify ourselves for full-time teaching positions when they become
available which are few and far between, while at the same time earning low
Please don’t view us as
being bitter; we are just realistic about our situation and need to be heard,
understood, and cared about by the various colleges in which we work.
Workers of Colour Caucus at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival
The Workers of Colour Caucus (WOCC) invite all members to
participate at this year’s Toronto Caribbean Festival to be held on August 4,
2012. The Toronto Caribbean Carnival Festival is Toronto’s largest celebration
of Caribbean Culture.
This year, the WOCC float will be a part of Louis Saldenah’s
presentation of “Fantasy in Jewels.”
WOCC is once again in the Xpat’s Section, Mozambique
Tourmaline. The costume consists of Fuchsia, Lilac/Lavender, with Silver &
Bronze accents. Music will be provided by Region 3’s own Vince Gobind aka
The WOCC will also be participating in the Kiddies Carnival on
July 21, Vaughan’s CariVaughn on August 11, and Barrie’s Caribfest on August 18.
Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis and
limited; however, all members must register and pay by June 30, 2012 to
participate. For more information and registration, please contact Vince Gobind
at 1-416-561-7972 or at email@example.com.
OPSEU’s success at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival 2011!
The WOCC would also like to express its appreciation to
everyone who participated and made the 2011 Toronto Carnival season a successful
The WOCC covered three regions in three weeks, Regions 5, 2
and 3. Not only was OPSEU represented in Toronto’s Carnival Grand Parade on July
30th, but also, for the first time, OPSEU and the WOCC’s flags flew high at the
children’s parade on July 16th as the young masqueraders revelled down Jane
Street. As well, Hamilton’s Mardi Gras saw OPSEU’s colours for the first time on
August 6th, as did Barrie’s Caribfest on August 13th.
We would like to express our gratitude and heartfelt thanks to
Winston, Sandra and all of the XPATS people who worked tirelessly to produce
such a beautiful costume for the Workers Of Colour Caucus (and of course…for
their patience). Also we would like to thank and congratulate Louis Saldenah Mas-k
Club for a great day on the Lakeshore and for placing second in the “Band of the
Year” category last year.
We would also like to thank all the Locals, Committees and
Regions for their donations towards the costumes. Especially Local 311, Local
348, Local 106, Local 571, Region 3 and Region 5 for their generous
WOCC would like to thank OPSEU for the use of the OPSEU truck
at the Junior Carnival, Hamilton’s Mardi Gras and Barrie’s Caribfest. We would
also like to extend our gratitude to the Equity Unit for its support and to
Monty Mohammed, who volunteered to drive the truck at each of these events and
for ensuring that OPSEU and the WOCC’s flags were flying high.
Last, but definitely not least, we would like to thank the
masqueraders, everyone who was in a costume at the parade this year….THANK YOU.
We had four out of seven regions represented at the Toronto Carnival. We would
like to send a special thanks to Sara Labelle, EBM from Region 3, Krista Miracle
and Rod Bemister, EBMs from Region 5, Sandi Blancher, EBM from Region 1, Edie
Strachan, Vice-Chair of the Provincial Women’s Committee and of course Eddy
Almeida, EBM from Region 2 and the 1st Vice-President/Treasurer of our great
union, for taking the time out of their busy schedule to participate in the
Food and water: a
Hoddinott, Provincial Women’s Committee
World Water Day was
observed on March 22, 2012. This year’s theme was Food and Water Security.
Last November, your
Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC) hosted its biennial Women’s Conference. We
decided the focus of our event would be food and water as human rights.
Food and water are
absolutely fundamental to our survival and well-being. This is why we decided it
was so important to discuss our collective choices of food and water sources,
and how it impacts us, our children, our animals and our planet.
The efforts led across the
world for safe access to food and water is one that deserves our attention. It
is largely being led by amazingly strong and brave women around the world. The
PWC aimed to plant some important seeds in the hopes that food and water
activists would sprout and bloom long afterwards.
It really is quite
remarkable that I, in Northern Ontario, can purchase “fresh” tomatoes in
February, and yet, in the same world and in stark contrast, a woman in parts of
Africa or Asia travels an average six kilometres a day for safe water to provide
for her family.
If that is not enough to
make your stomach turn, the Harper government was one of only two members in the
United Nations that voted against United Nations Human Rights Council efforts to
recognize access to water as a human right.
It could be that Harper is
more concerned to turning much of our fresh water into a commodity rather than
ensuring a viable and healthy environment for future generations to come.
Consider that while $11
billion is spent purchasing ice cream in Europe, it would only cost $9 billion,
plus annual costs, for installation of water supplies and sanitation globally,
to provide water for the entire world. 1
If you are one who never
considered these facts, you are not alone.
Our primary goal for the
conference was to politely nudge our considerate appetites and knead them into
making wiser and healthier choices when selecting food products for ourselves,
our families, and our sisters and brothers around the globe.
Participants at the
conference learned about the importance of local sustainability and supporting
local food networks. You certainly don’t have to give up on ice cream to make a
positive difference. In fact, if every family in the United States of America
were to eat one locally produced meal a week it would result in a reduction of
over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. 2
By choosing local, you
would support your local economy, your local farmers and a healthier food
source. When purchased locally, food does not require additional use of oil for
transportation. For instance, potatoes grown in Eastern Ontario get shipped to
Southern Ontario for packaging and then reshipped to Eastern Ontario for
Local farmers tend to run
smaller farms, unlike their industrial farming counterparts. Michael Pollen,
author of many books supporting organic and local food, speaks about the term
“organic” from a major farming complex versus a local farm. In an interview with
Organic Gardening, Pollen says, “They’re organic by the letter, not organic in
spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they
were getting ripped off.”
With growing consumer
concerns about the location of its food origins, foodies alike began to question
modern farming techniques, from its use of pesticides, insecticides to its
The topic of genetically
modified organisms (GMO) is a controversial one. Participants learned about what
exactly a GMO is, and what its implications can be. We borrowed the example of
the genetically modified tomato. Researchers from DNA Plant Technology wondered
how to get tomatoes to withstand frost, a real wet blanket to the profits of Big
Agriculture. So, the DNA of the Arctic Flounder was studied and the gene
responsible for the fish’s ability to live in its icy environment was isolated.
Then, it was placed into the cell of a bacteria (E Coli to be exact) as bacteria
and viruses are known for invading other cells. It was then injected into the
flesh of the tomato which marked the beginning of creating new crops (crops that
could yield 100 per cent), the guiding principle behind GMO processes. This
meant a tomato could live through cold conditions, increase profits and make it
to your dinner table in mid-February.
In some countries, like
the UK, government regulations stipulate that products that come from GMO
sources must be labelled, giving consumers the option to choose GMO or non-GMO.
Canada, however, one of the world’s largest producers of GMO crops, is not
tabling GMO-labelling legislation anytime soon.
“The Canadian Federation
of Agriculture says the industry faces huge losses if mandatory labelling is
implemented. The fear is that consumers will see the labels as a warning and
avoid these foods, and that food processors will reformulate their products to
avoid genetically-modified foods rather than place labels. It also says labels
will increase the price of foods produced and processed in Canada.” 3
Instead of waiting for
governments to enact legislation’s that favour our well-being, we hoped that our
conference would provide the necessary tools required to promote food and water
advocacy in our membership.
Talk to your family about
creating meals comprised of local ingredients. Get involved in community
gardening initiatives. If one does not exist in your area, speak with your PWC
representative to try and start one!
Changing the world can be
as simple as changing the way you eat. The PWC hopes that you will join us in
our effort to raise our forks to healthy food and our glasses to clean water for
For additional resources
please visit the PWC page on the OPSEU website at
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Author Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L Hopp 2007
Taking action on
Aversa, OPSEU Health and Safety Officer
Is workplace stress an
issue in your workplace? Do you experience issues such as excessive workload,
chronic understaffing, lack of recognition, lack of support, lack of rewards,
and little control over your work? Are workplace bullying, violence, and
harassment part of your environment? If you said yes, you are like millions of
other workers in Canada who suffer huge health burdens from these not-so-obvious
or recognized workplace factors, termed “psychosocial hazards.”
OPSEU is one of at least
ten unions, together with Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, that
participate on a committee that is developing an online resource kit and tools
for workers to take action on workplace stress. The committee, called the
“Mental Injury Tool Group (MIT),” believes hazards at work that cause or
contribute to mental distress for workers need to be identified and addressed
just like other health and safety hazards. MIT also criticizes the current main
approach that focuses on accommodating individuals and improving workers’ coping
abilities through wellness initiatives and Employee Assistance Programs. While
these are absolutely important activities (and need to occur), the prevention of
workplace factors that cause or contribute to the conditions is not being
recognized or addressed. Employers need to understand that organizational
factors may play a role in affecting a worker’s mental state. Work can cause or
contribute to workers’ stress and, as such, employers can and should take steps
to remove or minimize the factors at work causing the harm.
The implications of
workplace stress are wide-ranging. There are economic, moral, and legal reasons
to intervene and deal with these workplace factors. Not only are the lost-time
costs and other costs to the system detrimental, but the adverse health effects
can range from undiagnosed to diagnosed mental health conditions that affect
workers’ health and the quality of their lives. It can also cause a wide range
of stress-induced or aggravated physical health disease such as musculoskeletal
disorders and cardiovascular diseases. Emerging decisions in seven types of law
(labour relations, occupational health and safety, compensation, human rights,
employment standards, employment contract, and tort) all increasingly point to
employers being obligated to provide psychologically safe workplaces for
employees. This emerging trend in law coincides with the development of a
Canadian standard, “Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” to be
released in the fall 2012. The standard was created through a consultation
process led by the Canadian Standards Association. It will be a voluntary
standard that gives employers a systems approach to provide psychologically safe
workplaces. The standard represents a rising awareness in Canada that mental
well-being is just as important to a safe and healthy workplace as physical
Canada is steps behind
Europe on this issue. The idea that mental health and safety is important is NOT
new to Europe. In Europe, government authorities actively recognize and legally
require the prevention of psychosocial hazards. Inspectors are trained to
identify and write orders regarding psychosocial hazards and the topic is part
of regular enforcement strategies in health and safety inspection. Although this
awareness has not yet overtaken Canadian jurisdictions, the recent developments
are a help. Raising awareness of these hazards in the health and safety and
compensation systems, and in society as a whole, is also part of MIT’s goals.
The resource kit (to be released in October 2012) is an effort to arm workers
with information on how to take action, raise system awareness of these hazards,
emphasizing the importance of preventing the hazards and compensating the
resulting negative health outcomes.
Now is the time for
workplace health and safety committees and representatives to take action. With
the release of “Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” and the
increasing focus on the issue of psychosocial hazards, workers need to be vocal
and act in the workplace to prevent psychosocial hazards. Workers and unions
need to be loud in convincing employers that preventing these hazards is part of
their existing health and safety responsibilities. Finally, workers and unions
need to ensure that Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Workplace Safety and Insurance
Board, and other system stakeholders take these hazards seriously and treat them
the same as any other health and safety hazard—in enforcement, in compensation,
and in prevention strategy.
Ethel Birkett-LaValley was active in OPSEU and the Ontario
labour movement for more than 30 years. She has been a leader in community and
human rights issues.
Ethel joined OPSEU as an information counsellor in
Algonquin Park in 1974, and later became an Enforcement Officer in charge of
park wardens. She became president of OPSEU Local 306 in 1978, representing
Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) employees in the Whitney area.
In her tenure at OPSEU, she chaired the MNR ERC team where
she was successful in negotiating the conversion of 2,300 unclassified employees
to classified status. She was elected Executive Board Member for Region 3 in
1980, and became Regional Vice-President Region 3 in 1990. Ethel also served on
the NUPGE executive board as an OPSEU representative.
Ethel was also dedicated to her local community, serving as
councillor, reeve and mayor of Airy Township for 24 years, and a vice-president
of the Association Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
Ethel was also an outspoken critic of the Harris
government’s treatment of Native people, taking the lead in support of the
Dudley George family after the Ipperwash shooting. She became the first
Aboriginal Vice-President of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Ethel was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario
Federation of Labour in 1995, a position she held until her retirement in 2005.
She was responsible for the Aboriginal Persons Committee, a member of the
Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, the OFL Solidarity and Pride Committee and
the OFL Women’s Committee.
Duty to inquire comes first in accommodating mental health
Ouchas, In Solidarity
previous edition of In Solidarity (“Breaking free of the mental
illness stigma,” Fall/Winter 2009), I made a confession. I suffer from mental
illness. More specifically and accurately, I suffer from a mental health
disorder. This disorder is no different than any other invisible disability,
such as diabetes. You wouldn’t know I suffered from it unless I told you. It’s
controlled by taking regular medication and by being under a doctor’s care.
reaction to the article was largely positive. I received many e-mails and
messages thanking me for my courage and for sharing my story. Many shared their
stories with me. I was told that it gave strength to others suffering in
silence, to know that they weren’t alone. I was flattered and humbled. To me,
the reaction was proof-positive that I had made the right decision by publishing
a personal perspective of living with mental illness.
unfortunate to report that I had another episode in early 2011. In part, it was
because of an undiagnosed condition and wrong medications. The episode did not
happen at work. As a matter of fact, it was late on a Friday afternoon and I was
quickly spread throughout my workplace, as did misinformation, misunderstanding
and fear. I was prevented from attending work and I was placed under
investigation. That original article, which took great courage and strength to
write and publish, was raised during the investigation. My grievance arbitration
is current and ongoing so I can’t comment much, but you get the picture.
what I can tell you. I truly believe my employer’s reactions to me and their
subsequent inappropriate actions are a result of ignorance. Many organizations
do not know how to address people who suffer with mental illness.
time to break through the stigma and misinformation and talk about it.
You are protected
Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) provides for equal rights and
opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. The Code recognizes the dignity
and worth of every person in Ontario.
Ontario, the law protects you from discrimination and harassment because of
mental health disabilities or addictions. This includes past, present and
Stop the fear and
eliminate the taboo
Mental illness is a taboo subject in our society and our workplaces. People with
mental health disabilities and addictions may be exposed to stereotypes based on
irrational fear, leading to experiences of stigma. Employees may find themselves
isolated and marginalized in the workplace.2
archaic thought that people with mental illness are prone to violence and/or
should automatically be committed to a psychiatric hospital. Though there are
genuine cases where hospitalization is necessary, most people with mental
illness can conduct normal and productive lives with medication and proper
with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than any other group of
people in society. As a matter of fact, people who are mentally ill are four
times more likely to be victims of violence, not the perpetrator.
may become a factor with people who have severe and untreated mental illnesses.
Often they only become violent when they feel threatened.
factors for violence include a history of violence, substance abuse problems,
the socioeconomic environment, gender and youth.
Duty to inquire
Sometimes the disability is obvious and employers are well aware of their duty
to accommodate. Mental health issues (including addiction) are a little more
difficult to determine unless an employee voluntarily discloses there is a
problem. Sometimes an employer will not be aware and will note a sudden change
in behaviour and performance on the job.
an employer becomes aware of a possible link between an employee’s inappropriate
behaviour or poor job performance and his or her disability or possible
disability, the employer has a duty to investigate whether such inappropriate
behaviour or poor job performance indeed is disability-related before it takes
disciplinary or other action in response to such inappropriate behaviour or poor
words, if an employee’s behaviour or job performance suddenly changes, the
employer has an obligation to ask questions and find a suitable accommodation
before taking any type of disciplinary action, including preventing the employee
from attending the workplace.
employer can prevent an employee from attending the workplace in specific
circumstances. If an employer has reasonable basis for suspecting the mental
health or the substance abuse issue impairs an employee’s ability to perform his
or her safety-sensitive positions, then he or she can be prevented from
attending the workplace. The degree of risk must be determined by the
seriousness of the illness and the nature of the employee’s duties.
persons with mental health issues or addictions will reach out for help.
However, because of the nature of the disability, this is not always possible.
The employer is still responsible in their duty of accommodation regardless if
the person with the mental health disability or addiction asks for the help. The
duty to accommodate is up to the point of undue hardship on the employer
(determined by cost and health and safety risks).
employer is responsible for providing services, policies and processes that
allow people with disabilities to fully integrate into all aspects of the
workplace. This is called “inclusive design.”
Accommodation is a tri-party responsibility. What this means is that the
employer, the affected employee and the union should co-operate, share
information and look for solutions together.
some examples of accommodations that may work:
in work hours or work leave
Maintaining a support
person log and calling a support person when the employee experiences crisis
employee’s access to an addictions program and allowing the person time off to
about community resources and supports
Depending on the
circumstances, job restructuring, retraining or assignment to an alternative
Canadian Mental Health Association summarizes it best:
People with mental illness are really the vulnerable ones. They not only battle
a disease that is invisible, they battle society’s perception of who they are
and what they do. Violence is not only a physical threat; it can also be an
emotional, intellectual and spiritual attack. The stigma we place on mental
illness is an assault on a person’s dignity and an insult to their humanity.
2 Ontario Human Rights
Commission: Human rights and mental health www.ohrc.on.ca/en/issues/mental_health
Hamilton Law Association - Mental Illness and Addictions: Workplace Challenges
‘Real Experts’ when planning for accessibility
Rae, Co-Chair of OPSEU's Disability Rights Caucus
Over one in seven
Ontarians are part of the disabled community. Within this group we must be
cognizant of the diverse access needs of individuals.
When planning an event it
is important to be aware that while hard of hearing participants may need an
assistive hearing device, deaf participants will need sign language interpreters
or real time captioning. Persons with mobility disabilities need level
entrances, usable bathrooms, accessible parking, as near to the entrance as
possible. For overnight meetings, members may need a bedroom with a roll in
shower. Persons with partial vision may be most concerned about glary surfaces,
detectable strips on stairs or large print materials and menus. While totally
blind persons, like myself, will be more concerned about braille or tactile
signage on elevators or rooms; materials sent electronically in advance in text
or HTML format (no PDF); and accessible menus in restaurants. Providing
materials in easy to read plain language will assist all participants.
When planning a union
event, it is important to include questions about access on delegate application
forms. This gives individuals the opportunity to self-identify their respective
needs in advance of the event.
History has shown that
simply asking a representative from the facility you are thinking of using will
likely end in disaster. Many facilities are too quick to advise you their
facility is accessible when in reality, it will not meet all participants'
needs. An onsite visit, with someone who has knowledge of access needs of
persons with various disabilities will go a long way to ensuring the event is
The Disability Rights
Caucus was established, in part to provide OPSEU with in-house expertise. Caucus
members are always willing to assist in the planning of truly inclusive events.
By involving the “real
experts” at an early stage of your event planning, all members are more likely
to feel welcome, respected and included, and that's what our “union of choice”
should always strive to provide.
Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that this issue of In Solidarity
is Volume 19, Number 2. Extra marks go to those who also noted that the last
issue was labelled as Volume 18, Number 3. Yes…something is amiss.
let’s explain the “Volume/Number” system. Print publications use this to
indicate the number of years the publication has been in existence, and the
number of issues printed in a 12-month period. The 12-month period is not
usually the calendar year, but 12 months from the month of the first issue of
the publication (e.g. June-May).
trouble for In Solidarity goes all the way back to the first
issue, in March 1994 (Volume 1, Number 1). Technically, the Volume period should
be from March to February each year. However, the original committee decided the
Volume period should be the calendar year (January-December). So, for In
Solidarity, Volume 19, Number 2 indicates that this is the 19th year of
publication, and the second issue for this year.
publishing the “Volume/Issue” for a while. When it was brought back, we
incorrectly assumed the Volume period was March-February.
back on track. And come 2013, we will celebrate our 20th year of bringing news
to our stewards and activists
Heat & Hydration
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
It’s humid and the
temperatures are soaring; you’ve been working hard for hours. You feel dizzy,
have a pounding headache, and your intense thirst suddenly reminds you that it’s
been hours since you’ve paused to drink something. You may be dehydrated, and
that can cause severe health problems if left unchecked.
About 60 per cent of your
body is made up of water. Water is essential to human life; you need it to keep
your body functioning properly and to regulate your body temperature. It flushes
out wastes and toxins, helps digestion, lubricates the joints and eyes, and
keeps skin healthy. You can’t live without it.
When you don’t drink
enough fluids to replace the water that you lose through sweating and everyday
activity, you can become dehydrated. When the normal water content of your body
is reduced, it upsets your body’s balance of minerals (salts and sugar), which
affects the way that it functions. Just a small drop in body fluids will cause a
loss of energy in the average person; a 15 per cent drop in body fluids can
can become dehydrated
There are several factors
that can contribute to dehydration: environment, amount of physical activity,
illnesses or health conditions, and diet.
Working outside in sun,
heat, and humidity can cause you to sweat and lose fluids rapidly. Heated indoor
air also can also cause loss of fluids. Being in high altitudes, greater than
2,500 meters (8,200 feet), may increase the amount you urinate and quicken your
breathing, in turn, using up more of your body fluids.
If you do strenuous work
or intense exercise that causes you to sweat, you are at increased risk for
dehydration. You can also become dehydrated as a result of an illness or a
health condition. Fever, vomiting, or diarrhea causes your body to lose
additional fluids, as would a condition such as diabetes that causes frequent
Drinking too much alcohol
can dehydrate you. As well, drinking sugary soda and coffee to hydrate yourself
can actually dehydrate you even more. These drinks usually have caffeine in them
which can cause you to urinate more. Also, drinking anything loaded with sugar
makes the body work hard to process it, causing further dehydration.
Dehydration can be
described as mild, moderate or severe. Watch for the following signs.
MILD TO MODERATE
lips and eyes
only small amounts, infrequently (less than three or four times a day)
causes you to lose strength and stamina, and is the main cause of heat
exhaustion. You should be able to reverse this level of dehydration yourself by
drinking more fluids.
If dehydration is ongoing,
it can affect your kidney function and cause kidney stones, liver, joint and
muscle damage, cholesterol problems, and constipation.
Untreated mild or moderate
dehydration can lead to severe dehydration, which is a medical emergency that
requires immediate medical attention. Watch for the following symptoms:
wrinkled skin that falls slowly into position when pinched up
urinate or not urinating for eight hours
drowsy, disorientated, and irritated
your feces or vomit
Mental performance and
concentration begin to decrease as you become increasingly dehydrated, affecting
the safety of yourself and those around you.
employers can do to help prevent dehydration
Employers have a duty to
provide and maintain a safe working environment.
Educate employees on the
causes and to recognize the symptoms of dehydration, and instruct them on how to
Continuously reinforce the
messages with ongoing training and visual reminders (posters, for example) to
encourage employees to hydrate themselves, and watch for signs of dehydration.
Ensure there is a buddy
system in place so workers can monitor one another for signs of dehydration.
Make drinking water
readily accessible and encourage your employees to drink often.
Where possible, plan the
work so that more strenuous work is done during cooler periods.
Provide shade or shelters
as relief from heat and rest areas for outdoor workers.
Have an emergency plan in
place that includes procedures for providing affected workers with first aid and
medical care. This plan is a necessity especially in extreme environments.
employees can do to prevent dehydration
The recommended daily
intake of fluids can vary depending on the individual and on factors such as
age, climate, and physical activity.
Drink plenty of fluids to
replace the fluids you are losing, at least a cup every 15 or 20 minutes. The
fluid could be water, semi-skimmed milk or fruit juice. Sports drinks designed
to replace body fluids and electrolytes may be taken in moderation.
Fluid intake should equal
fluid loss. On average, about one litre of water each hour may be required to
replace the fluid loss.
Avoid caffeine and sugary
drinks, and NEVER consume alcohol (e.g. beer) to hydrate.
Monitor your urine colour;
it should be clear to light yellow. If it is darker or concentrated, you may be
dehydrated, and you must drink more fluids.
If you or a co-worker begin to show signs or symptoms of
dehydration, call for medical help immediately. While you are waiting for help,
move to a cool place to rest. If not treated immediately, severe dehydration can
lead to complications and even death.
Source: Health and Safety
Report, (Volume 10, Issue 5), Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
(CCOHS), 2012. Reproduced with the permission of CCOHS, 2012.
Handling disciplines involving profanity
rare workplace in which profanity is never heard. From the blurted-out reaction
to a spilled cup of steaming coffee to a confrontation between an upset worker
and an equally upset supervisor, bad words happen. In those cases in which
things escalate to management disciplining a worker, the question for stewards
often arises, “What’s next?”
can be fired for insubordination. Profanity, directed at either fellow employees
or the boss, is considered just that. It’s not a question of freedom of speech:
strong language, whether it’s blasphemous, abusive or just plain dirty, can be
construed as insubordination and cost a worker’s job.
language is construed depends on how you look at it, and it can be the steward’s
job to establish the proper standpoint from which the charge of insubordination
should be viewed. What do you do? You investigate and ask questions: of
yourself, of the contract, of the worker facing discipline. For example:
Is there any specific
language in the contract that defines insubordination in this particular
Is guilt clearly
Are there witnesses?
Was this typical,
routinely accepted “shop talk” in this workplace, or with this supervisor?
What were the
circumstances when the strong language started to flow?
Was the worker trying
to uphold a contractual right such as the right to representation, the right to
refuse unsafe work or an illegal order?
Is this worker being
treated differently than other workers who have been in the same situation?
Were there unusually
tense circumstances during the incident, either for the worker or the
Was this worker set up?
That is, did someone know the worker had a short fuse and aggravate him on
Is there some bad
history between the parties?
If discipline has
already been meted out, was it excessive?
If the worker was
terminated, did the infraction rise to a level of justifying that? Most
contracts call for progressive discipline, so what the worker said would have to
be pretty extreme to be outside the bounds of the progressive system. Remember
that many arbitrators will support progressive discipline as an element of just
cause, even if the contract does not specifically mention it.
look into the case, be aware that because of the historic, legally acknowledged
master-servant relationship between employers and workers, profanity that
ridicules a supervisor, undermines the authority of management, or weakens the
morale of employees and thereby hinders production is likely to be construed as
insubordination. The master-servant context is considered insulting and
discriminatory by many workers and unionists, but it is, unfortunately, the
reality of the workplace.
approach is to make sure your members understand the potential consequences of
using profanity. Prevention is better than cure.
what about stewards themselves – are stewards different? Yes, when they’re in
their steward role. The general rule here is called “the equality principle.”
When a steward is functioning as a representative of the union he or she is no
longer in that master-servant relationship, according to the National Labor
Relations Board (this principle has been adopted in almost all state public
sector laws and in Canadian shop floor jurisprudence). The steward is free, in
the words of the Board, to “use some profanity and even defiance must be
tolerated during confrontations over contractual rights,” because “the
relationship at a grievance meeting is not a master-servant relationship but a
relationship between company advocates on one side and union advocates on the
other side, engaged as equal opposing parties in litigation.”
equality principle provides what is often called “steward immunity.” It means
that stewards can speak in a loud voice, gesture, use language that would be
considered profane and abusive in another context, even demean a supervisor’s
intelligence and threaten lawful protests. But be careful: this immunity is not
absolute. Physical violence, threats of physical violence or other actions that
would be considered illegal outside the workplace are not only dumb, they’re not
protected by law.
all is said and done, stewards should be very careful in their use of strong
language. Don’t lose control. If you use profanity, use it in calculated way,
maybe even to make the employer believe you are so offended by what management
has unjustly done that you can’t help but get a little out of control. Remember
that these confrontations are like theatre, just like negotiations at the
bargaining table. And if you feel yourself truly getting out of control, back
off and get some help.
This article is reprinted courtesy of Union Communications Services Inc., 1633
Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009. To order a subscription,
you can call 1-800-321-2545. By agreement between In Solidarity and Union
Communications Services, this material may not be reproduced. ***
Steward: an Honourable History
As a steward, you have the oldest title in the labour
movement. The first unions were small informal groups of workers with little
clout and few resources. They had no hired guns to win their battles. They
relied on each other and their rank and file leaders, known as stewards.
The steward’s job was vast: sign up new members, police the
collective agreement, bargain and face off against supervisors (often without
any grievance rights). Stewards even had to go to each member on payday and
collect union dues.
The steward was the face and leader of the union where it
really matters…in the workplace.
This is equally true today.
Unions with keen energetic stewards are leaders in the
labour movement and set the standards for contract improvements. Unions lose the
respect of both members and employers when they forget the importance of elected
leaders with clout in the workplace.
Union staff cannot do the steward’s job. Members need
someone they can turn to daily as the representative of the union. That’s you!
Your position gives you a vital opportunity to improve
conditions on the job. Your forebears risked life, limb and livelihood to get
their co-workers and families a fair price for their labour.
Your collective agreement, and much of our social and
workplace legislation, is a testament to thousands of stewards who sacrificed
for us. It’s a solid foundation we can all build on.
An ordinary employee taking on the boss must be careful no
to cross the line into insubordination.
A union steward, as an elected union official, has more
leeway. When you are wearing your “union hat,” you are not talking to you
supervisor as an employee. You are equal to the boss when wearing your union
hat. If you have taken union educationals, you are also probably more
The Steward`s Job in OPSEU:
Organizer and communicator
A link to collective bargaining
A link to the Local Executive
A link to the central union
A resource for members
*** This article is taken
from the OPSEU Power Tools: A Handbook for OPSEU Stewards, 2011. ***
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