OPS Presidents’ Meeting: Fight tough and fight smart
Fight tough and fight smart was the theme of the OPS
Presidents’ Meeting in Toronto on Feb. 4. OPS presidents, supported by
Executive Board members and observers from various OPS locals, came together
to strategize and plan for bargaining with the government later this year.
The meeting was chaired by Roxanne Barnes, chair of the
Central Enforcement and Renewal Committee. The CERC and the Ministry
committees (MERCs) have been enforcing the job security rights of members in
the biggest wave of layoffs since the Mike Harris era.
OPSEU’s collective agreement with the province expires Dec.
31. Members will gather in their locals in the spring to establish and vote
on demands for the next contract.
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas told the Presidents: “We’re
in for one hell of fight and we’re ready for it.”
Thomas said the government’s handling of the Feb. 1
announcement of the closure of Ontario Place is a sign of things to come.
The union received no warning, leaving 75 full-time employees, many of them
only two to three years from retirement, reeling from the news that their
jobs could soon disappear. 600 summer students are without work at a time
when youth unemployment is at an all-time high.
“The government violated fair and honest labour relations
with this obviously political announcement,” said Thomas. “This is how we
should expect to be treated everywhere.”
Thomas said the union has been preparing for the release of
banker Don Drummond’s report on Feb. 15. The union has been working with the
Public Services Foundation of Canada on an alternative study of public
services. The Foundation is holding hearings and town hall forums across
Ontario and will submit a final report in advance of the provincial budget
in the spring.
Thomas said he is working closely with other private and
public sector union leaders on a unified strategy to fight back against the
cuts. He said the union continues to work with the Occupy movement which has
changed the conversation about income inequality around the world.
“We’re going to fight smart and win,” said Thomas. “If we
stick together and direct our fear and anger where it belongs – the
government and big corporations – we can win.”
“We will use every resource necessary to fight the cuts,”
said First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. He said the
union has found savings in a number of areas, including replacing physical
meetings with video conferencing where possible. He explained the union will
seek a temporary dues levy at the union’s Convention in April in order to
have the resources to vigorously defend members’ jobs and services. If
passed, the levy will bring dues from 1.375 per cent to 1.5 per cent,
effective May 1, 2012.
Dan Sidsworth, Corrections MERC Chair, explained his members
are about to face some difficult times in one of the OPS’ toughest jobs.
Currently, corrections members are facing criticism and disciplinary actions
in cases where force is used on offenders, despite the fact that officers
are not receiving updated training and many facilities lack proper
guidelines and procedures. He also voiced his concerns about the upcoming
Drummond report that could recommend cuts which would severely impact health
and safety, or even the spectre of privatization, an experiment that was
already tried and failed in Ontario.
CERC Chair Roxanne Barnes thanked the Presidents for their
activism in response to the mass layoffs and service cuts.
“You have been filing grievances challenging those layoffs,”
she said. “You have participated in 26 stewards’ assemblies across the
province and many of you have presented at the hearings and town hall forums
for the Commission on Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness.””
Barnes outlined the priorities for the months ahead:
preparing to defend the contract at the bargaining table, preventing the
gutting of public services and building the union presence in the workplace.
“We will need to be flexible and nimble on the ground to
respond and resist the austerity agenda of the Ontario government,” Barnes
Following the speeches, there were detailed presentations
from the CERC’s Chris Cormier and Ron Langer, MGS MERC Chair James Cushing,
and staff on:
the Public Services Foundation of Canada’s
Commission on Public Services and Tax Fairness,
the layoffs to date, including figures on
redeployment, temporary assignments and displacements under Article 20,
the attack on public sector pensions by right-wing
business lobby groups,
the politics of austerity including polling that
shows the public does not back cuts to public services, and
the privatization threat at ServiceOntario.
As well, the CERC outlined the bargaining timeline and gave
a presentation on suggested bargaining demands. Members were urged to ask
What changes to the collective agreement will protect
public services for Ontarians?
What are the greatest threats to my job?
What are the demands that will prevent the employer from
dividing and conquering us?
What actions am I willing to take?
In the afternoon, OPS Presidents worked with staff reps and
their Executive Board Members to discuss the resources needed to fight for
services and jobs in their communities and workplaces.