Public Service Fair launches OPS
public services have never been more important.
That was the message from over 400 OPSEU members
and citizens who converged on the North Bay waterfront Sept. 29 to
celebrate public services and the people who provide them.
The event was also the official launch of this
round of collective bargaining for 45,000 OPSEU members in the Ontario
Public Service (OPS). The OPS contract expires Dec. 31, 2001.
Autumn sunshine, a grooving blues band, and great
food made for a great day. OPSEU members came by bus from Hamilton,
Toronto, Orillia, Sudbury, and Timmins. Members from Hearst were on the
road at 4:00 a.m.
First Nations drummers introduced a stellar lineup
of speakers, including Bruce Davidson of Concerned Walkerton Citizens.
Water safety a low priority for
“The role of government, and the staffing of its
Ministry [of Environment], was a pivotal factor” in the May 2000
tragedy that killed seven Walkerton citizens and made 2,300 ill,
“The government, as most of you will know,
slashed the Ministry of Environment by nearly 50 per cent. Water, quite
simply, was a low priority, and was on the back burner throughout,” he
“The government, in fact, handcuffed its own
Ministry to the point where it could not fulfill its mandate. In
Walkerton, for example, the local office of the Ministry of Environment
had some 11 areas of responsibility with which they were charged.
Municipal drinking water was one of those 11, and they were capable,
because of time constraints, of only dealing with Walkerton less than
one per cent of their time.
“If we pull away at the supports that support
our public service enough, they will collapse.”
Safety auctioned off
had nothing good to say about privatization as a way to protect water
“The people of this province are not willing to
be put in a situation where their safety is, essentially, auctioned off
to the lowest bidder,” he said. “We can’t have a situation where
the needs of a community in terms of safety are at the whim of a private
company that will abandon them when they can’t make a profit.
“I want a company that we own, and I think that’s
called government. I don’t want a private company that’s responsible
to its shareholders dealing with my safety. I want the government to be
responsible to me for the safety of my health and my children’s
Sharon Dion, of Citizens Against Private Prisons,
told the tale of her fight against the privatization of the 1,200-bed
superjail in her home town of Penetanguishene.
“The Ontario government reneged on their promise
[to run a public facility],” Dion said, despite huge public support
for public jails. “We were lied to. My vision of democracy has been
Meanwhile, Dion said, the Utah company hired to
run the superjail has received an enormous tax break totalling close to
$1 million -- money the town of Penetanguishene needs to maintain
“This government preys on depressed areas,”
she said. “We don’t want them back in power.”
same Tory policies that have plagued the Ministry of Environment and the
Ministry of Corrections have hit every ministry in the public service,
OPSEU president Leah Casselman told the crowd.
“Walkerton taught us that a public service
destroyed by extreme layoffs, cuts, and privatization is too weak to
prevent disaster and too weak to respond if disaster strikes,” she
said. “This round of bargaining is about the public service after
“We have a huge opportunity here, in this next
round of bargaining, to talk about the importance of public services. We’re
seeing more and more the need for quality public services, and more and
more need for being able to hold the government accountable.”
In service after service, Casselman said, “[OPS
workers] are saying ‘Enough is Enough - we deserve better, because we
can’t provide the kind of service that the public deserves in the
environment that you’re forcing us to work in.’ We’re seeing that
right across the province. People are stepping forward, saying, ‘I can’t
do my job with the number of staff you’ve cut out of the office, the
working conditions you’ve got me working in, and, quite frankly, for
the salary you want to pay me.’
“But our members are committed public sector
workers. They’re committed to ensure that there’s the service there
for the public. That’s why they’re in the business. You’re sure
not in the business for the money. And you’re sure not in the business
for the recognition, because we haven’t had an employer that’s said
‘Thank you’ to you in a long, long time.”
Quality services, Quality
round of bargaining is about renewing the quality of public services in
the province,” said Marg Simmons, chair of the OPSEU Central
bargaining team for the OPS. “We return to quality public services
when we return to getting quality public service jobs,” she said, to
Wayne Samuelson, president of the 650,000-member
Ontario Federation of Labour, pledged his support for OPSEU members.
“I want to say to you, members of OPSEU, who get
this government at the bargaining table, we’re not only standing
behind you, we’re counting on you. We’re counting on you to go there
and build the public service. To make sure that if there’s an unsafe
workplace, there’s an inspector there to shut it down. To make sure
that our water’s safe, that our hospitals are open, that our roads are
I want to say to you, that when you go to that bargaining table, I want
to commit the resources of the Ontario Federation of Labour, and, I
know, all of our affiliates. Because we know you’re a strong, proud
union, and we want to stand with you.”
The day concluded with a march to the office of
area MPP Mike Harris, where social justice activist Terry O’Connor
presented two truckloads of food, donated by attendees, to the North Bay
The Public Service Fair was the brainchild of Sue
Brown, OPSEU Region 6 Executive Board Member. Sister Brown and fellow
EBMs toiled tirelessly for three months to make the day the great
success it was.
For the latest information on OPS bargaining,
check the OPSEU web site at www.opseu.org
OPSEU ActionFax is an electronic
publication of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. Original
authorized for distribution by Leah Casselman, president.