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In Solidarity – The newsletter for OPSEU Stewards and Activists, Volume 21, Number 2, Spring 2014

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Strong members work together

Verne Saari, In Solidarity

Dear Member,

I am writing this letter to you: that member who is just starting out as a new steward and activist, as well as you, the more seasoned member.  I want to tell you that I know you will find that there are some roadblocks along the OPSEU pathway; I urge you to stay the course and not give up on your beliefs.

I was there once too. I initially met with frustration myself. For me, it was when I became actively involved with our union. I was quite near to throwing in the towel, however, through speaking with some well-experienced members who I had observed to be solid, honest people. I was reminded that OPSEU is about people and that we all differ in many ways, and that human nature with all its glorious behaviours both good and not so desirable will remind us of our differences. 

You will most probably meet with personal agendas, negative attitudes towards others, personal differences and many strong personalities.

We are human, after all.

You will also meet some of the greatest people you will ever have the chance to know and work with through our special bond of unity.

I implore that if new or experienced members are having those feelings of doubt to take another look around and see those who are strong, solid OPSEU members and remind themselves that this is what we are all about. Unity. Pride. Determination. Conviction. Honesty. Dedication. And most of all…Solidarity!

Do you remember how the playground was when you were younger? Well my OPSEU friends, this is a much bigger sandbox!

I am sure that we all are in understanding of the grave situation unfolding in our province and our country in relation to the outright attacks on unions. OPSEU and every other union in Canada have mobilized with information and training seminars, town hall meetings and the sharing of resources for any union member.

We are all sisters and brothers in this situation and will need the support of one another in the very near future.

I implore you to stay strong, sisters and brothers! z

Equality begins at home

Tim Vining, Equity Unit

The OPSEU Equity Unit seeks to breathe justice into the daily life of our union through the administration of OPSEU’s Harassment and Discrimination Prevention and Personal Harassment policies. Allegations of discrimination and harassment among the membership are taken seriously. The Equity Unit responds to complaints filed under the policies by assisting members to find advisors, by arranging for mediation and investigations, and by monitoring the implementation of recommendations seeking to heal any damage caused by breaches of the policies. We deserve and expect within our union the same equitable and fair treatment that we demand in the workplace.

In addition to these two policies, the Equity Unit provides expertise and support to staff and individual members in relation to campaigns, grievances, mediations, harassment and discrimination complaints, policy initiatives, and training related to human rights. We certainly believe that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In addition, the following tenets drive our inclusion:

RESPECT: Equality Begins at Home

How do we transform “the people united” from a slogan in the streets to a daily reality in our union? We begin each gathering with the following statement: “Whenever OPSEU members gather, we welcome all peoples of the world. We will not accept any unwelcoming words, actions or behaviours against our union members.”

INCLUSION: Leave No Member Behind

Have you ever had a boss who requires you to do a job but fails to provide the necessary training or tools to do it? We scream “unfair” and rightly so. Similarly, we should demand nothing less within our union. The OPSEU Accommodation Policy seeks to remove barriers to full union participation based on disability, gender, family status, creed or any ground identified in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The strength of our union demands the full participation of its diverse membership. To this end, the Equity Unit evaluates and approves human rights accommodation requests so members can truly gather as equals at convention, educational gatherings, bargaining sessions, and other events that build the bonds of solidarity.

SOLIDARITY: Stand Up and Be Counted

Living in a society where discrimination and oppression remain a daily reality, we cannot sit back and wait for the universe to bend toward justice. Establishing equity within the union requires an intentional commitment and proactive struggle. To this end, the Social Mapping Project (SMP) is a long-term project that seeks to transform our union into a model of equity and solidarity. The Equity Unit supports the work of the SMP Implementation Task Force that is putting into action the recommendations arising from the reviews of OPSEU’s membership systems.  SMP information can be found at www.opseu.org.

The Equity Committees and Caucuses provide the ties that bind us together making visible and celebrating the diversity that is our strength. They advise OPSEU on issues related to women, people with disabilities, workers of colour, Aboriginal workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, intersexed, queer, questioning and two spirited (LGBTTIQQ2S) workers, Francophones and young workers. The Equity Unit supports the work of the committees/caucuses helping them navigate the administrative and financial policies of the union so they are able to fulfill their mandates.

Information about the policies, procedures, and complaint processes can be found at www.opseu.org.

In His Own Words: A unique look at a great man

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

On January 27, 2014, Pete Seeger died in New York City. He was 94 years old.

Most of us know Pete Seeger from his “campfire” songs. He wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” as well as the US Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome!” He had #1 hits (“Good Night Irene” and “On Top of Old Smokey”) with “The Weavers” in the 1950s. He put music to “Guantánamo,” a poem by José Marti and “Turn! Turn! Turn,” adapted from the Old Testament book, Ecclesiastes. He was blacklisted as a “communist” for years.

This book is what it is: a personal collage cobbled together from many sources, and a unique look into the personal and political life of a great artist and a great man.

Woody Guthrie, Pete’s friend and mentor, was also a song-writer (“This Land Is Your Land”). After his death in 1967, Phil Ochs wrote an ode to Woody; he sang:

“Why sing the songs and forget about the aims?

He wrote them for a reason,

Why not sing them for the same.”

The same applies to Pete Seeger, who kept current by working for the environment, peace and working people everywhere and joining Bruce Springsteen to sing “This Land Is Your Land” at Barack Obama’s first Inaugural when there was palpable hope. Many people sing Pete’s songs, but forget (or don’t know) about his dedication to unions, democracy, social justice and ecology. He left a musical legacy; we owe it to him to remember why.

The Rand Formula: Stabilizing labour in the workplace 

Craig Hadley, In Solidarity

There has been a lot of talk in the media these days about Tim Hudak’s Conservative party platform which includes the removal of the “Rand Formula” from Ontario labour laws. The removal of this formula would spell the end to automatic union dues deductions and would potentially weaken union member support. If we use history as a guide, then this act, if successful, could be catalyst for future labour revolt and economic instability. 

What is the Rand Formula? In 1946, through an arbitrated decision that ended the Ford Strike of 1945, Justice Ivan Rand ruled that union dues would be automatically deducted from workers’ salaries. This was a giant step forward for unions. If you’ve ever been responsible for an office lottery pool, then you’re well aware of how difficult it can be collecting weekly lottery dues. Excuses, absences, “sorry, no change,” “getcha next week” – you’ve heard it all. Imagine that same scenario, but instead of lottery collection, it would be union dues. Now multiply that by everyone in a workplace—locally, provincially, and nationally. Finally, add to that the idea that dues collection cannot be performed during company hours or on company property. It’s not hard to imagine why automatic dues deduction was essential for union survival.

While automatic dues deduction was a major victory for the labour movement, it was only one element that helped shape the face of today’s labour unions. To understand Rand’s importance, we need to examine the economic precursors to the Rand decision, explore labour conditions at the time, and examine the “Post-War Compromise.”

Before the Post-War Compromise, labour relations in Canada and the U.S. could be compared to dealings in the Wild West. Labour rules were few, strikes were many, and employers were often vicious in dealing with any form of worker resistance. The state needed to find a solution between escalating tension between labour and capital, one that would promote industrial peace while adding stability to the economy. In 1944, the federal government aimed to do just that by introducing Order-in-Council PC 1003.

Order-in-Council PC 1003 was loosely based on the American 1935 National Labour Relations Act, known as the “Wagner Act.” This act allowed workers to organize, for unions to be legally recognized, to bargain collectively, and it introduced consequences to employers who didn’t bargain in good faith. Many consider PC 1003 a pillar in the house of labour and keeper of industrial peace, but like any compromise, PC 1003 had two sides.

 In exchange for union recognition and the right to collectively bargain, unions entered into a legal framework that outlawed labour militancy such as wildcat and sympathy strikes. Commonplace worker resistance such as assembly line slow-downs, sit-downs, and machinery sabotage were banned, and for the first time in history, unions as an entity and union leaders could be held responsible and fined accordingly. Labour critics argued that entering unions into a legal bureaucracy negated labour’s ability to immediately respond to negative employer actions resulting in a loss of confidence and faith from the membership.

In real terms, the Post-War Compromise had obvious tradeoffs. In the past, labour action could be immediate and devastating to an employer’s production schedule. For example, if a window broke inside a factory and cold air rushed into a work area, a union steward would immediately approach the foreman and alert him to the problem. If the foreman denied the request, the steward could, and would likely express his discontent to his fellow employees and organize an immediate work stoppage. As workers gathered in front of the factory, other workers in other factories in a show of solidarity (sympathy strike) could join them. Even workers in unrelated industries could potentially join causing a spark that could potentially set up a general strike across the city, province and even the country. 

Fast forward to today. Given the same circumstance of the broken window, the steward would approach the supervisor and would inform him or her of the broken window and the cold air filling the workplace. The supervisor could assess the situation and deny the repair. The steward would then file the appropriate paperwork, the complaint would go through the various grievance stages and without resolution, end up in provincial arbitration. Years later the company is ordered to repair the window. Justice is served, but it’s not immediate and pulls the union into labour bureaucracy that often leaves members frustrated with the system and the slow timelines.

Back then, and even today, some employers and neoliberal governments argued that PC 1003 gave unions too much power, that unionization interferes with industrialized free markets, that it created worker wages that are too high, and that it denies employers the flexibility needed to compete. Bottom line: the very idea of legally recognized worker organizations challenges democracy and the right to do business.

It’s debatable as to who came out ahead, labour or capital, but it can argued that the removal of the “Rand Formula” under the guise of Tim Hudak’s “right-to-work” proposal would temporarily destabilize today’s model of organized labour and eventually return labour relations to uncontrollable worker revolts, bloody street battles and picket line fatalities. Perhaps this is why Ontario Conservative Party insiders have flat out rejected Tim Hudak’s idea of taking away these labour safeguards. Perhaps Conservative party members in the know realize unions are the working class’ best and last defense against workplace tyranny and that the Rand Formula is about more than merely dues collection. It’s a vital pillar holding up Post-War Compromise, and it’s essential to economic stability and labour peace. z

Check out: the ‘Bechdel Test’

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

There’s nothing I like better than to curl up with a good movie, perhaps with my husband (our interests in movies often clash), and throw away all semblance of reality. I tend to watch British series and historical dramas (oooh, Colin Firth!), but my husband, well, Young Victoria and Downton Abbey certainly don’t offer nearly enough machine-gun toting, alien-slaying zombies.

But I digress.

With my lifetime of movie watching, I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of a simple movie test we all can do. This doesn’t count F-bombs or acts of violence; it’s a bit different than that. The Bechdel Test looks for different requirements, namely surrounding the representation of women and their perception on screen.

According to Wikipedia, The Bechdel test likely dates back to a character in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For (1985) where two women are discussing choosing a movie based on its representation of women.

This test asks viewers to see if a book, movie, tv show, etc., meets three criteria: (1) it must portray at least two women who (2) talk to each other about (3) something other than a man. It is also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test, the Bechdel rule, Bechdel’s law, or the Mo Movie Measure.

Sadly, many movies do not pass this test—even historical-Colin-Firth-bodice-ripping-tear-jerking-cinematic-chick-flick-works of art.

Historically, this idea is said to have originated with Virginia Wolff’s A Room of One’s Own where she muses, “It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that…”

How do we find movies that pass this test? There are several websites to help you out. One website www.bechdeltest.com has thousands of films listed as to whether or not they pass the test. Plus, women need to be named characters.

It is estimated that upwards of 50 per cent of all movies don’t pass this test. The following are some recent movies that pass with flying colours:

Barbie—Pearl Princess

The Lego Movie

The Croods

Pompeii

12 Years a Slave
 

Conversely, here are a few that don’t pass the test:

Captain Phillips

The Fifth Estate

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Gravity

Croczilla
 

For a more complete list of movies and how they measure up to this test, visit www.bechdeltest.com. z

Bonus:

In addition, in 2013, the American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media organization GLAAD introduced the “Vito Russo Test”– intended to analyze the representation of LGBT characters in films. Inspired by the Bechdel test and named after film historian Vito Russo, it encompasses three criteria:

  1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  2. The character must not be solely or predominantly defined by sexual orientation or gender identity.
  3. The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that removal from the plot would have a significant effect.

According to an article at www.slashfilm.com, only six recent movies passed the Russo test:

•       Skyfall

•       Cloud Atlas

•       Rock of Ages

•       Pitch Perfect

•       Five-Year Engagement

•       Fun Size

In the end, the next time you get set to watch a movie, check to see if it passes either of these tests. Even better, you could conduct your own tests and enter comments to various websites and blogs. Several are looking for viewer data.

International Solidarity Tour:  El Salvador

Angela Bick Rossley
Provincial Women’s Committee

I’ve been asked numerous times why we support international development in times of fiscal restraint. That leads me to think that the link between collective agreements and grievances with social justice isn’t always clear.

The OPSEU Social Justice Fund receives a small portion of our union dues – only $0.48 per member – per year. In turn, this portion of our dues directly funds community development groups in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and Asia. We strive to eliminate poverty by establishing secure access to education, healthcare, food, and water for the most vulnerable communities.

From February 10-19, I was honored to represent the OPSEU Social Justice Fund in El Salvador on our sixth Solidarity Tour with Horizons of Friendship. Horizons of Friendship is a non-profit organization based in Cobourg that promotes social justice and people-centered development in seven different regions of Central America.

For ten days, we visited with partner organizations that included a community association supporting a micro-credit fund to establish economic independence, a trade union organization lobbying for international recognition of labour rights, organizations that fight for gender equality and the elimination of violence against women, and a health agency promoting an accessible and equitable primary care health model.

One of the most powerful presentations was from Melida Anaya Montes Women’s Movement (MAM), a feminist organization fighting for gender equality, autonomy of our bodies, and a fair economy. We were introduced to five women who depicted life as paid household workers.

As young as fifteen years of age, these women talked about being locked inside their employers’ homes and having their documents confiscated. They are segregated from using common plates, are denied washroom breaks, and are punished for eating leftover food. They weather sexual harassment, experience physical assault, and suffer through sexual violence. They are often threatened with dismissal, have wages withheld, and are denied severance if they denounce this treatment to the police.

Officially excluded from the Salvadorian labour code, these women have no legal mechanism to uphold their labour rights.

Thankfully, MAM is currently lobbying the Salvadorian government to include household workers in the labour code. This would give them access to a guaranteed minimum wage, social security, benefits, and pensions. MAM is also supporting the formation of a household workers association in a country where the word “union” can get you fired – or killed.

However, what truly had the greatest impact on me was not what we can do for the people of El Salvador, but rather what we can learn from them.  On March 9, the FMLN party declared victory for the people of El Salvador – the party was elected for their second five-year term on the popularity of a strong social agenda.

The FMLN rose out of the left-wing guerrilla movement that fought the government in the bloody twelve-year civil war, heavily backed by the United States. This party has governed from the center-left since 2009.

During the 20 years of post-war, right-wing government, the impoverished former-refugee farmers organized, educated and learned the power of the vote. As I listened to them talk about their struggles and achievements, it became painfully obvious that it is easier to fight to keep our human rights than it is to fight to win them back.

Sadly, over the last eight years, our federal government has slashed funding to the Canadian International Development Agency, so much so that many grassroots development organizations no longer receive Canadian support. Like OPSEU, many sister unions have dedicated international solidarity programs to battle economic injustice. Because of the drop in federal funding, the OPSEU Social Justice Fund is asking for your support to raise the annual contribution to $1.00 per member per year. This will represent the first and only increase in the ten year history of the program.

OPSEU supports many initiatives that, at first glance, do not appear to be directly related to union business. The intent is to build a social and political atmosphere that strengthens the labour movement as a whole. Our collective agreements are only as strong as the political system that upholds them and are intact only as long as our jobs are not privatized and exported overseas.

Please support the annual contribution increase. Help us fight the attack on labour rights on all levels.

A full summary of our experiences on the 2014 El Salvador Solidarity Tour can be seen at www.opseusolidaritytour.org.

Visit our Social Justice and Live and Let Live Fund’s Hospitality Event at OPSEU Convention 2014, on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Proudly wear a sticker to show solidarity for the Social Justice resolution. z

You will become ‘engaged’…or else!

Sandy Green, In Solidarity

Employers are spending huge amounts of money trying to “engage” their employees. It is a proven fact that if your employees are engaged your productivity levels are higher, sick leave is lower and employees are more willing and happy to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Instead of employers spending money on the employees, maybe employers should be spending the money on training their managers…but then again, I’m of the view that you can’t “teach an old dog new tricks,” especially when they are convinced they are right. Some managers, no matter how much training they get, cannot manage.

I have observed how this “engagement” idea is working first hand. Well, it’s not. I have worked for the good, the bad and the very, very ugly and have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

Some of the best tactics that managers use to “engage” their employees is by instilling fear in their employees. The biggest fear is the threat of being fired and this threat is used quite liberally by managers. Other ways of instilling “fear” is by bullying and harassing the employee, poor employee evaluations and by threatening them in a very discreet, cunning way. Scared yet?

“This is what you get paid to do, so do it” and “we expect you to take the initiative” are other ways managers “engage” their employees. Isn’t this a good way to communicate and gain respect? Really makes you want to do your best. Make sure the employee is overworked because an idle mind may lead to disengagement and if you make sure the employee is busy that means they are engaged. Managers must make sure that they are not flexible to their employee’s personal needs. Just say no because you can. It makes them feel that they are in control.

Many companies are now engaging (pardon the pun) employee surveys for employees to fill out, to make us feel that our concerns are important. Results are published to portray that most employees are “disengaged.” Then they make every department have a mandatory “engagement” half- or full-day seminar. Very positive, very resourceful, very inspiring. Then do nothing! Managers go back to “same old, same old”. Nothing changes. Just ignore the employees concerns and carry on.

The separation between “us” versus “them” continues. Don’t try and let managers realize that they are employees too and if engagement numbers are low that they may be the reason why. It’s the employees that need to become engaged, but the manager’s do not see a need to change their approach.

All these tactics are still being used in the work environment. It’s pretty simple to me how to engage your employees…empower them, be flexible, respect and listen to their opinion, ask don’t tell, do not micromanage and treat them the way you would want to be treated.

Sometimes “common sense” isn’t so common.

Not all managers are “bad” managers but it seems that the good ones are outnumbered.

Remember OPSEU members…there is strength in numbers! z

AUSTERITY: A dangerous idea indeed

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Mark Blyth was born in Glasgow and raised by his grandmother on the remains of her old-age pension cheque. He had a school lunch program. He was a “welfare kid and proud of it.” Now, he teaches Economics at a top Ivy League university. He knows what economics means.

The Great Recession that started in 2008 was the result of bad government policy and criminal financial institution. Now, Ontario’s Liberal government and Canada’s Conservative government rely for advice on those who created the problem.

Some of us forget that in the 1950s and 1960s the rich were taxed, the middle class prospered and working Canadians gained security. It wasn’t easy, but unions, the CCF-NDP and others pushed for reforms like Medicare; but, after the Centennial Year glow faded, we yielded to the power and ideology of the ultra-rich.

Powerful neoliberal economists like Milton Freidman and former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan encouraged deregulation and brought on the financial crisis of 2008. US banks and financial institutions made billions. Their ideas remain firmly entrenched in Canadian elites.

In reply, Mark Blyth has done something wonderful: he explains in readable language what’s wrong with the neoliberal agenda that viciously attacks unions and insists that governments reduce spending, sell public assets, privatize essential services, cut public sector jobs, gut social programs, weaken health, safety and environmental regulations and postpone desperately needed infrastructure.

Blyth doesn’t just complain. He offers sensible, practical alternatives. Austerity isn’t light reading, but it is thorough and remarkably free of jargon. It’s a basic textbook for non-economists trying to make sense of what’s going on today. It’s well worth the time you might invest in reading it. z

Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea. (Toronto Oxford University Press), 288 pages. ISBN: 9780199828302

CAAT-A Bargaining: Assessing education in Ontario colleges

Lisa Bicum, In Solidarity

This past fall, many college faculty across the province were lucky to hear Kevin McKay, faculty from Mohawk, speak about OPSEU’s “Campaign For Quality Education.” McKay set out to visit all 24 colleges to help get faculty started thinking about contract negotiations next summer.

His goal was to gather information and faculty input so that a mobilization team could get started in early 2014. Citing the fact that during the last two contracts faculty made few gains, McKay noted that faculty need to work extra hard for gains in this round. Specifically, the group finds themselves lagging behind in their ability to provide quality education as their academic freedom is continuing to take a big hit.

Perhaps the most interesting thing McKay outlined was the manufactured financial crisis that is often used to get the public and even our own members working against us. When our contracts are up for renewal, we hear “There’s no money,” “Ontario’s economy is bad,” …McKay did some digging, however, and found that poor choices in provincial taxation and funding policies have led to a manufactured crisis. The colleges were built in 1965 during a time of strong government funding and prosperity. However, in the late 70s, government priorities changed—tax rates of the highest earners fell from 80 per cent in 1948 to 42.9 per cent in 2009. Since 1970s, billions in lost tax revenues have been legislated away. Hence, the funding base for education has dwindled.

Interestingly, in 1993, 75 per cent of college operating funds came from the province—now colleges receive less than 50 per cent with Ontario’s funding the worst of all provinces. Pair that with the fact that in the past 20 years, college tuition increases have outpaced inflation by 435 per cent.

Paired with years of provincial funding cuts is another trend: a rise in student numbers and a decline in full-time faculty positions. According to McKay, since 1989 the number of full-time students has increased 53 per cent, yet full-time academic staff numbers have fallen 22 per cent. Interestingly, throughout this same period, administration numbers have also grown 58 per cent—a trend showing an investment in administration, not in classroom delivery.

So what are faculty’s current contract challenges? McKay outlined, first and foremost, that this austerity and underfunding, rising enrolment, autocratic management and lack of faculty control has led to a decline in quality of education.

Not only is quality is under attack—academic freedom, the contracting out of faculty work, the rise in part-time positions and decline in wages are all harsh realities.

Since 2009 faculty have had no increase in salaries. With inflation, salaries have actually decreased 7.5 per cent.

But this is not about the money. More and more, college faculty’s fight is one for academic freedom, and in this freedom, faculty can hope to gain job security.

Bit by bit faculty freedom is dwindling. Bit by bit members are forced to put information on line or in hybrid form for cost cutting, not for quality. Colleges then own intellectual property which will lead to an increase in online offerings and a decrease in faculty numbers. A decrease in faculty numbers then leads to fewer bargaining members paying into pensions, etc. Colleges around Ontario are selling courses to small subsidiaries who are in direct competition with our own colleges.

In addition, there has been a big rise in non-full-time workers, who management can better control because of their lack of union protections. Although recent contract language changes in the CAAT-A Collective Agreement can provide some protections, there is no doubt these folks have lessened job security. In the end, there needs to be language ensuring more full-time faculty.

The word needs to get out that in this round of bargaining, it’s about quality, academic freedom, and full-time positions. In the last two rounds faculty took a hit. They can’t afford to be hit again. z

Notes on the journey so far… 

Kevin McKay, Local 240

 As the people within the college system most concerned with academic integrity, professors have been fighting back against austerity as best they can. Time and again, faculty have been the ones raising concerns about degrading educational standards, and in response, management has begun to marginalize professors from academic decisions. Where faculty teams once created courses and course outlines, designed evaluations, and chose textbooks, these functions are now increasingly done by managers. Where faculty were once acknowledged as the heart of successful college programs and satisfied students, now they are increasingly written right out of the picture. Management regularly override faculty grades and dictate the form, content, and evaluation of courses based on budgetary, as opposed to educational, criteria. The reasonable balance between fiscal management and academic integrity has been thrown deeply off kilter to the point where employers sitting on college program advisory councils are complaining about the skill level of graduates.

When marginalizing faculty hasn’t worked, college management has resorted to bullying tactics. “Problem” faculty who criticize management priorities are targeted – either forced out through manipulated workloads or outright termination. As the number of full time faculty shrinks, those remaining are struggling with maxed-out workloads and with the difficult task of mentoring an ever-changing roster of part-time workers. In the face of this escalating pressure, workplace stress has become a serious concern, and faculty are feeling dispirited and afraid. Being a college professor, in ways one of the most rewarding jobs, has for many become both stressful and demoralizing.
 

Strengthening Faculty Input: Renewing College Education

If I was asked what struck me most about my visits with Ontario college faculty to date, it would be the recurrence of two particular narratives. First is the story of a professor who has poured years of hard work, passion, and expertise into the profession of education, only to see this profession slowly and painfully eroded. It is a story of frustration at how a corporate model of education has marginalized the group of people – faculty – who are most important to the task that community colleges were given – to educate our youth and give them the skills they need to succeed.  The second narrative is of the part-time professor, underpaid for the work they do, without job security, scrambling between various institutions to make ends meet.

Of course, these two narratives are not just playing out in Ontario colleges, but in colleges and universities throughout North America. One of the major issues professors face is government’s continued lack of commitment to fund education at appropriate levels. Changing this will entail changing the priorities of the electorate and shifting the political culture. This is a large task and one in which college faculty will have to engage in solidarity with other public sector workers and with the broader labour movement. Making these changes won’t be easy, but the first contribution we can make to this larger campaign is to fight the battle that is right before us. In bargaining for academic freedom (more faculty input and control over the terms of our work), and in ensuring that full-time professors are hired, we can renew the original vision of the community colleges as institutions dedicated to access, quality, collegiality, and respect.

College faculty will be bargaining a new contract in July of 2014, and the issues of academic freedom, full time work, and workload will once more be central to negotiations. It is more important than ever that we remember what the college system was like before the age of austerity. Despite generous government funding of the colleges, the professors who taught with that first, six-page collective agreement had nowhere near the same protections, salary or benefits as professors do today. Just as working people organized to pressure governments to fund public services, so our members organized to improve their own workplaces. Today’s collective agreement has so much more because of the proven ability of our members to stand together to advance the quality of their workplace and improve the quality of education.

The educational environment has been changing rapidly over the past ten years, and we face new challenges, like online learning, that are simply not reflected in the collective agreement as it now stands. Other challenges include the proliferation of management and their increasingly autocratic, hostile style, and the worrying decline of full time professors, counselors and librarians. The collective agreement must change to account for these new developments, and it can only do so if our bargaining team sits down to negotiate with a strong mandate from the membership backing them. In such a scenario, it is possible to change the direction of the colleges and to once more make them places where full-time faculty decide how best to deliver high quality education. All it takes is for our membership to remember the strength in solidarity that got us this far. z

A suggestion from a Human Resources Manager:

How to properly place new employees

Put 400 bricks in a closed room. Put your new hires in the room and close the door. Leave them alone and come back after six hours. Then analyze the situation:

  1. If they are counting the bricks, put them in the Accounting Department.
  2. If they are recounting them, put them in Auditing.
  3. If they have messed up the whole place with the bricks, put them in Engineering.
  4. If they are arranging the bricks in some strange order, put them in Planning.
  5. If they are throwing the bricks at each other, put them in Operations.
  6. If they are sleeping, put them in Security.
  7. If they have broken the bricks into pieces, put them in Information Technology.
  8. If they are sitting idle, put them in Human Resources.
  9. If they say they have tried different combinations, they are looking for more, yet not a brick has been moved, put them in Sales.
  10. If they have already left for the day, put them in Management.
  11. If they are staring out of the window, put them in Strategic Planning.
  12. If they are talking to each other, and not a single brick has been moved, congratulate them and put them in Top Management.
  13. Finally, if they have surrounded themselves with bricks in such a way that they can neither be seen nor heard from, elect them as a Member of Parliament.

A union wouldn’t work here…

Craig Hadley, In Solidarity

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a union activist, and as a union activist, it’s hard to avoid talking about union matters around friends and family. Social activism is part of us, and life inside the workplace plays a major role of all of our lives. We’ve learned that in social settings sometimes it’s a best practice to remain mute on certain topics such as religion or politics. However, sometimes these topics are unavoidable at dinner, and as an activist, we decide to stand our ground.

I recently had dinner with a group of friends who work in various white collar professions, and while I share the same workplace designation of “white collar,” I was the only person at the table who belongs to a labour union.

After the first course, I was asked for my opinion on Tim Hudak’s “Right to Work” platform.

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to go into a pro-union rant. I knew my audience, and I was afraid 40 seconds into my opinion, eyes would start to roll, and I would be tuned out, or someone would challenge this “union guy” on free markets and laissez-faire economics. I responded by saying, “Right to Work legislation comes down to what type of economy our society wants—a strong middle class or a weak non-existent one.”

I stopped short of saying, “Anyone who studies the economy will tell you ‘Right-to-Work’ translates into higher corporate profits, much lower worker wages and is a race to the bottom formula with a proven track record to decimate the middle class.”

Deep breath.

There was a few seconds of silence, and then a 20-year marketing professional smirked and said, “Oh, a union wouldn’t work where I work.”

Heads nodded around the table. It felt like everyone was distancing themselves from the concept of unionism. Were they trying to distance themselves from the idea of being part of the working class? Maybe they all wanted to be seen as self-made corporate individuals highly touted for their individualism and self-determination, or maybe there’s some truth to what she was saying.

 “Why?” I responded.

 “Well, we don’t work standardized hours, we work ‘til the work is done and deadlines are constantly changing. Sometimes I work 80 hours a week and we’re more like a family, a union wouldn’t work here, because my employer needs flexibility and unions and their workers are not flexible. ”

Luckily, I was able to ignore the backhanded criticism. We all know that, as union activists, we’re forced to have thick skin. We need to—we’re trashed in right-wing media as lazy, self-entitled bureaucrats. We’re told we don’t deserve benefits, pensions, or even sick time. We’re inflexible, outdated and out of touch with reality, and to some, we’re the problem with the economy. Right-wing spin aside, I reminded myself that people are people regardless of their employers. Whether in the public or private sector, the vast majority of us take pride in our work and go the extra mile on a daily basis.

I pondered to myself, “Can a union work in a white collar environment that requires ‘flexibility’”? 

During the recent ice storms, unionized hydro workers worked around the clock, had their vacations cancelled and did what they had to do to restore power to hundreds of thousands of homes.  There was no union revolt, work-to-rule, or work refusal. Unionized Hydro workers did what they had to do to get the lights back on.

Police, fire, paramedics, and emergency workers are all unionized and accept the workplace flexibility due to the nature of their job.

During the Sochi Winter Olympics, unionized CBC worked feverishly behind the scenes 12-16 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of the games. Unionized IT staff, accountants, lab techs, OPS, BPS, colleges—when projects have deadlines, these workers and their families make sacrifices to get the job done.

“Ok, well, what about doctors, lawyers and engineers? They don’t need a union.” said the woman.

I explained that these fields have their own associations which establish rules and regulations surrounding their certifications and enforce heavy controls that regulate labour capital. The work of these “associations” results in higher wages for their members. These organizations also ensure that strict standards are applied to their profession and that not just anyone can practice.  These associations control the number of certifications issued raising labour capital which forces higher wages for their members. 

This is the great contradiction for those who maintain the belief that individual merit and free markets should decide wages. This is a flawed neo-liberal ideology and is hypocritical coming from anyone in controlled professions. After all, under free-market economics, I should be able to hire a janitor to perform open heart surgery on me, hire someone homeless to represent me in court, and hire a teenager to design a skyscraper. z

CAAT-S Bargaining: Breaking down the silos

Janice Hagan, Local 561

Bargaining has begun for 8,000 OPSEU Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Support Staff (CAAT-S) members across Ontario. CAAT-S members work in a wide variety of jobs from admissions advisors and biotechnologists to youth employment officers and Zamboni drivers. The jobs of OPSEU CAAT-S members are as specialized and diverse as the hundreds of different programs and services available at Ontario’s colleges. Their current contract expires August 31, 2014.

 The Division elected a new bargaining team in December: Chair Florry Foster, Vice-Chair Richard Belleau, Rasho Donchev, Dan Brisson, Deborah Cooper, Janice Hagan and Kathy Hokum. CAAT Support delegates also elected mobilizers to assist with two-way communications and organizing during bargaining: Andre Savoie, Michael McKeown, Mark Hastings and Owen Smith. Release time for mobilizers was recently negotiated in 2011, and this will be the first round of bargaining where the new mobilizing model will be used.

The CAAT-S Bargaining Team is also trying a new process to facilitate direct member input into demand setting. After locals submitted demands in February, bargaining unit members were given the opportunity to rate the importance of each proposal in an online survey. Over one-third of the members participated in the survey, and the results were extremely helpful. The feedback was used by the Team and CAAT-S delegates at their final demand set meeting, March 29 and 30.

College faculty (CAAT-A) will also be negotiating a new contract for September. It is rare that faculty and support staff contracts end in the same year. “This time we are negotiating at the same time and seeking opportunities to work together,” said Team Chair, Florry Foster. While the divisions will set individualized bargaining priorities, they will work together on shared goals and bargaining events to mobilize members. The first events are scheduled for May 22, kicking off the mobilizing drive with the theme: “Breaking Down the Silos”.

For the latest bargaining updates and upcoming events, visit the colleges support staff page on OPSEU’s web site.

Languages of the Unheard: Committed to social justice and social change

Howard A. Doughty, Local 560

Stephen D’Arcy is a professor of philosophy, but that shouldn’t be held against him. He is also a social activist and a protest organizer. And, he has written a terrific book.

Languages of the Unheard uses straightforward language to raise important issues that trade unionists need to consider. It deals with the history of militancy, but only as much as is needed to put contemporary struggles in context. Mostly, he brings up questions of strategy, tactics and goals. He also invites us to think long and hard about the morality of protest.

Ethics is something we all know about as much from experience as from a book. This book, however, will make us think again. It exposes the ambiguities and dilemmas that face us when we find that normal channels do not work and stronger—even illegal—action seems called for.

D’Arcy is passionately committed to the need for social justice and social change, but he is also a hard-headed (not a hard-hearted) philosopher. He thinks things through and lays out the challenges faced not just by striking workers and picketers, but also by people committed to acts of civil disobedience, disruptive direct action and all the way to rioting and armed struggle.

Languages of the Unheard is ultimately about democracy. D’Arcy understands that the people running Canadian governments are less committed to it than to their own special interests and their grasp on power. Reading it, we see power in a better light and understand that the real extremism comes from people who call environmentalists “terrorists,” silence scientists and suppress both voters and parliament.

Unlike people in other countries, we may never have to confront the authorities in the streets; but, whether or not we do, D’Arcy’s wisdom will help us understand why others must.

Stephen D’Arcy, Languages of the Unheard: Why Militant Protest is Good for Democracy (Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2013), 223 pages. ISBN: 9781771131063. z

Off The Grid

Verne Saari, In Solidarity

Evermore we are becoming increasingly dependent on electronics in our daily routines. The advent of these “smart” devices has projected many of us into the mainstream use of these hand held demons, whereby we receive our news information, communicate with our peers and tend to many tasks that were once time consuming such as banking, shopping and sending mail. Granted, these devices do save us the trivial forays to the bank, etc. I myself have become somewhat enslaved to my device, against my own negative predisposition towards such inane activity, or as it appeared to be to me in my not so distant past. I once pondered why people would spend so much time with heads bent down, poring over whatever they chose to peruse. Quite frankly, it seemed silly to me and I secretly vowed to never be “one of those.” I know…stereotyping at its worst!

 Recently, I had the opportunity to spend March break with my two sons at my father-in-law’s camp, which is only reachable by snowmobile in the winter or boat in the all too short summer season in northeastern Ontario. The descriptive I have used in reference to “camp” may be understood by some who hail from the northern reaches of our province, but let me clarify for those who have not had the opportunity to experience such activities. There is no running water available in the winter season, so one must either melt snow, of which there are copious quantities available everywhere this year, or by chopping or auguring (the action of using an ice auger such as wielded by ice fisherman everywhere) through two to three feet of solid ice and filling pails with a dipper or small pot and hauling these pails back to the camp. Electricity is only available if one has a generator, and has wired the camp for such use.

There is a small chance there will be access to a network signal for your devices, dependent on proximity to major highways in the great white north.

Surprisingly, I found myself picking up my device to check emails, and perhaps see what news OPSEU had posted to its Facebook site, to no avail. Initially, this was quite unnerving for me. I have become a news and information junkie!

Here I was, staring at a machine that was now relegated to basically being a camera, with the ability to take video and perhaps play an offline game. This may sound alien to someone who has never experienced it, however you can survive without the Internet!

Once I got over the initial shock of disconnection to the outside world as I knew it, I slipped that device into my pocket and made a pact with myself to not pull it back out unless it was to take photos or video of our time at camp. How quickly I lapsed into the habitual routine of reaching into my pocket to retrieve my device only to check myself. It became amusing to think I had become such an automaton. As time passed, the reach for the device became ever decreasingly scant, finally causing me to forget all about the need to know what was going on in the “outside” world. The term outside world took on a new meaning. I began to actually look outside and appreciate the raw beauty of nature in winter. The trees, silently sagging under snow load appeared as majestic silent witnesses to the passing of time. Birds were the only moving objects to be seen other than the wind-blown wisps of snow or drifting clouds passing slowly by. The hectic pace of everyday life slipped away, and any stress I held went right along with it. Conversations with my father in law became a big part of our days, and watching the joyous antics of two young men on snowmobiles became our live entertainment. It made me reflect on the fact that many of us do not take the time to disconnect from the trappings of everyday life and just enjoy being alive. It also brought home the fact that spending time with family is an all too few and far between option in our busy world of today.

The point of this rambling is thus…do not forget the most important things in your life, namely family and the gift of having the chance to just be alive. Try to make some “off the grid” time by turning off those lifelines of information and just conversing orally with friends and family. Unity of family is very important to have if one is to have unity elsewhere in their life. z

Things you really need to know

The Internet

  • You breathe on average about 5 million times a year.
  • You are born with 300 bones, by the time you are an adult you will have 206.
  • It takes more calories to eat a piece of celery than the celery has in it.
  • A Boeing 747’s wingspan is longer than the Wright brothers’ first flight.
  • The average person spends two weeks of their lifetime waiting for the light to change from red to green.
  • If you shrunk the sun down to the size of a white blood cell and shrunk the Milky Way Galaxy down using the same scale, it would be the size of the continental United States.
  • Honey never spoils. You can eat 32,000-year-old honey.
  • There are more atoms in a glass of water than glasses of water in all the oceans on Earth.
  • And there’s enough water in Lake Superior to cover all of North and South America in one foot of water.
  • A strawberry isn’t a berry but a banana is.
  • Home Alone was released closer to the moon landing than it was to today.
  • The spikes on the end of a stegosaurus’ tail are known among paleontologists as the “thagomizer” — a term coined by cartoonist Gary Larson in a 1982 Far Side drawing.

Social Impact Bonds: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

What are Social Impact Bonds (SIBs)?

  • A way to finance the public and non-profit sectors through the private sector rather than through direct government funding
  • A form of privatization of social services

How do SIBs work?

  • At the Peterborough Prison in the UK, a SIB was rolled out to reduce re-offending rates.
  • UK Ministry of Justice and Social Finance UK (intermediaries) raised funds from 17 investors to fund the program.
  • Service providers were initiated to help offenders navigate the system of supportive services and establish new services to address unmet needs.
  • The 17 investors would be paid back by the government if the program was successful, meaning that re-offending rates decrease by 7.5 per cent over six years for 3,000 short-term prisoners.
  • Investors can earn returns on this program of up to 13 per cent each year the re-offending rates are cut by 7.5 per cent.

Why are SIBs a threat to social services, workers and clients?

  • They allow profit to be made on social problems.
  • Only programs that are considered to have “successful” outcomes get funded.
  • Private capital holds a lot of decision making power in terms of the dynamics and funding of intervention programs.
  • The most vulnerable service users can become even more vulnerable since they are not viewed as “successful” or “appealing” investments.
  • Public dollars are given to private corporations.
  • They do not address broad, societal issues that cause problems for service users such as affordable housing and good jobs.
  • Cheaper service provision will lower standards and produce precarious employment.
  • In the UK and the US where SIBs are being tried, dramatic levels of inequality are on the rise.

Have SIBs been tried anywhere else?

  • Pilot projects are being looked at in many parts of the world.
  • They originated in the UK, where there are now 14 SIBs in areas such as reoffending, foster care, homelessness and at-risk youth.
  • The process (even in the UK) is ongoing and there have been no evaluations to assess the model.

Will Ontario adopt SIBs?

  • The Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, Eric Hoskins, indicated that the province will pilot two SIBs in 2014 in health and social services.

Publicly funded and delivered social services are designed to address social needs, to maximize our social good. For-profit companies and initiatives are designed to create a profit. We know from experience that privatization of any kind results in paying more for less. Permitting private investors to make a profit on people struggling with mental health, addictions or poverty crosses a line for many; people are not objects to be traded based on their potential to perform correctly.

The public sector belongs to citizens who should decide what kind of a society they want to live in and how best to get there.

For more information, please visit:

http://nupge.ca/sites/nupge.ca/files/publications/privatization-by-stealth-sibs.pdf

Are you political?

Verne Saari, In Solidarity

On a chilly January morning, I had the opportunity to attend political action training for Region Six, held in Sault Ste. Marie.

I found myself in a group of very dedicated OPSEU members. We were educated by the OPSEU political economist Randy Robertson, as well as Emily Visser of OPSEU communications. I personally found this educational to be very informative, and helped me to better understand what is involved in running a political campaign. Positive feedback was expressed by all in attendance.

A brief history of past and present provincial political figures and their accomplishments and downfalls was conveyed to us in order to better understand our current political situation. On the preceding evening, we had a meet and greet with the Algoma/Manitoulin NDP MPP Michael Mantha, as well as Bud Wildman, former NDP MPP for the former Algoma riding. Both of these men and their spouses took the time to meet and talk with us in a casual and very communicative way. They implored us to become more active and directly involved in the coming provincial election, in order to hopefully bring about some positive change in our province. They had both stressed the importance of OPSEU and its values, and reminded us all that change comes from the people in a democratic society and to never lose faith in our struggle.

I would suggest to any and all members to attend this educational when it becomes available in your region. I feel a sense of growing urgency amongst our membership in light of the recent Conservative stance on organized labour. If we continue on this path of apathetic disregard of what the Conservatives have in store for us, then we will be in dire straits. We all need to inform and educate our fellow members to this volatile situation, and hopefully bring the change that this province needs so urgently. I have taken notice that it seems to be a precious few that are actively involved in our union activities, and this knowledge is a double-edged sword to me.

In one aspect, I take strength from these committed members and their unwavering stance within our union. However, I also see the need for more new people to become involved. This struggle we are involved in currently will have major impact and will set the tone for future negotiations in our province.

The time to organize, educate and inform is now, or we risk losing all that has been fought for

in the past by our previous OPSEU members. z

Call it what you will, but…A scab is a scab

Jan Strickland, Local 416

According to dictionary.com, a scab is a “worker who refuses to join a labour union or to participate in a union strike; one who takes a striking worker’s place on the job, or the like.”

This meaning derives from the days of old, when scab was slang for a rascal or scoundrel and/or a despicable person. These people were hated because they would do the work of the person on strike, and this would prolong the length of time workers were on the picket line. Scab workers took pressure off the employers as the work was getting done and production didn’t cease.

Today, the Government in Ontario is working hard to break unions. During the 2011 CAAT Support strike, new legislation allowed employees the option to stay at work. It caused a lot of animosity among workers and among the colleges. Some colleges did not let members work; some agreed to let members work; and some even encouraged members to work.

I believe that many members – especially our young workers – don’t see the need for a union. Let’s face it—our brothers and sisters worked hard through difficult times and hard-nosed bosses to get members the rights we have today. They fought hard for vacations, holidays, maternity leave, sick leave, pension plans, wage increases, leave, such as bereavement, benefits and many other rights that we simply take for granted.

Some members feel that the battles have been fought and the wars have been won. What they are not seeing is that if the strength of the union, which is the solidarity of its members, is affected, then the rights that the union members have fought so hard for will be clawed back and members’ rights will lessened and/or lost. Also important to note is the fact that our young workers today will go through many jobs throughout their working lives. They will not stay at the same jobs for life as did their parents and grandparents. Often, if they are having problems in their job and/or with their manager, they can quit and find a new job. Thus they may not see the necessity for union representation for workers who are having difficulty with their jobs and/or managers.

Workers today need unions as much as they did in the past. They need the strength of their members to make sure that the members’ rights are not interfered with. Solidarity is the key to keeping unions strong and member’s rights intact. Through new legislation, government and management are encouraging scabs to cross the picket line to take work away from the members.

Union members need to stay together, support each other – at work and if necessary, on the picket lines. Scabs are still considered despicable people, and there truly is no room for them during a strike. If members want a truly fair and equitable working environment, they need to stand together, encourage each other, support each other, and not let scabs cross the picket line. But if they do, they need to pick them off – one by one.

Union Basics: Your Personal Guide

Once in a while in our places of work, we hear grumblings regarding union dues and what our union does for us. The OPSEU website document “Union Basics” is a great reminder of why we want to be part of a bigger organization. Check out the entire document at www.opseu.org. Also, this list might function as a handy go-to list in case you hear members grumbling around you:

  • A union is an organization—of which all of us are members—that helps all of us solve workplace problems.
  • A union empowers us and gives us skills…has the resources to back us up, and the expertise in law, health and safety and human rights to make sure our employers treat us with respect and integrity.
  • Our union dues pay for resource staff, lawyers, training—an entire team of members, local leaders, and union staff resources and expertise.
  • Over 130,000 Ontarians are in OPSEU. Government workers, college professors, health care workers, developmental service workers, lab workers, workers in psychiatric hospitals, courts, provincial jails, paramedics, liquor board employees…our workers span hundreds of community agencies.

OPSEU got its beginnings in 1911 and since then has helped improve conditions for all Ontario workers, not just its members. Unions in Ontario have ensured shorter work weeks, higher wages, improved benefits, pay equity, stronger health and safety protection and parental leave.

 I don’t know about you, but the benefits listed here should be enough to convince many that our dues are a small price to pay for such fabulous supports and benefits. If you hear grumblings in your workplace, be sure to send people to the OPSEU website for more information.