Voices United: A Newsletter from OPSEU Local 500

August 2021

Happy Labour Day!

Dear Sisters and Brothers of OPSEU Local 500,

On September 6th, 2021 Canadians will celebrate Labour Day. I have heard it said many times at Labour events that ‘workers are in the fight of their lives!’ This has never been truer than it has been in the last 18 months as frontline workers have worked in the face of the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic. Even as an increasing number of Canadians are fully vaccinated, the number of people catching and being impacted by the original strain or variants of this virus are unacceptably high and pose health risks to us all. The pandemic has shown the world how essential frontline health care workers are. Have employers learned the value of frontline essential health care workers? Is CAMH fully aware of the value of their employees?

At CAMH, the response has been mixed. Our Local has supported a number of members in very difficult layoffs. All impacted members were non-clinical staff. CAMH, like every hospital in the province, is obligated by legislation to submit a balanced budget for every fiscal year. There were no layoffs of frontline clinical staff.

However, our members and our ONA colleagues in clinical programs are part of short staffed teams, been redeployed multiple times, and burning out in ever growing numbers, which is causing critical staff shortages. Unfortunately for employees, there are managers at CAMH who instead of troubleshooting problems or concerns, are disciplining short and long service employees. Employees feel that the culture at CAMH is to watch frontline staff, blame them for missteps or mistakes, and discipline them harshly. The Local executive believes that CAMH should hire managers who truly care about the emotional, mental and physical health and overall wellbeing of employees, and support them even more so during this terrible time.

Along with David Tennant, the ONA President, I have suggested measures to address our concerns, focusing primarily on nursing staff, including suggestions as to how to retain and support frontline staff. We worked hard to re-establish the Retention and Recruitment Committee, which is meeting bi-weekly to address concerns. I have engaged with Dionne Sinclair, the new VP of Clinical Operations & Chief Nursing Executive on a variety of issues, and will continue to do so.

We at OPSEU Local 500 are dedicated, hard working frontline workers at the largest mental health and addiction institution in Canada. On this Labour Day, let us resolve to continue to support each other as we have done over the past 18 months. Let us carry on doing the excellent work we do to save lives, with humility and pride, regardless of this pandemic. The contributions we make in bettering our clients’ lives are priceless.

I thank all of you for the incredible work you do supporting our clients, the organization, and most importantly, each other.

In Solidarity,

The History of Labour Day in Toronto

Labour Day has its roots in an 1872 printers’ strike in Toronto. Fighting for a nine-hour work day, the strikers’ victory was a major milestone in the changing relations between Canadian workers and the government of the day.

Nine Hour Movement

At a time when the news of labour “strife” is dominated by disputes between millionaire athletes and billionaire owners, history provides a useful perspective on a period when working people had to fight to work less than 12 hours a day. The “Nine Hour Movement” began in Hamilton then spread to Toronto, where the Toronto Typographical Union took up the fight.
In 1869, the union sent a petition to its members’ employers requesting a weekly reduction weekly hours to 58, placing itself among the leading advocates for a shorter workweek in the industrialized world. Their request was refused outright by the owners of the printing shops, most vehemently by George Brown of The Globe.

Strike is Called

By 1872, the union’s stand had hardened from a request, to a demand, to a strike threat. The employers called the demand for a shorter workweek “foolish,” “absurd,” and “unreasonable.” As a result, on 25 March 1872, the printers went on strike.

On 15 April, a demonstration was held to show solidarity among the workers of Toronto. A parade of some 2,000 workers marched through the city, headed by marching bands. By the time the parade reached Queen’s Park, the sympathetic crowd had grown to 10,000.

The employers fought the strikers by bringing in replacement workers from small towns. George Brown counterattacked by launching a legal action against the union for “conspiracy.” Brown’s action revealed the astonishing fact that, under the laws of Canada, union activity was a criminal offense. Under the law, which dated back to 1792, police arrested and jailed the 24 members of the strike committee.

Powerful Ally

Brown, however, overplayed his hand. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald had been watching the Nine Hour Movement “with curious interest, his big nose sensitively keen,” according to historian Donald Creighton, “like an animal’s for any scent of profit or danger.” The scent of profit came from the fact that Macdonald’s old Liberal rival, George Brown, had made himself a hated man among the workers of Canada.

Macdonald was quick to capitalize. He spoke to a crowd at Ottawa’s City Hall, promising to wipe the “barbarous laws” restricting labour from the books. Macdonald then came to the rescue of the imprisoned men and on 14 June passed the Trade Unions Act, which legalized and protected union activity. Macdonald’s move not only embarrassed his rival Brown but also earned him the enduring support of the working class.

Image from printers’ strike, 1872.

Legacy of the Strike

For the strikers themselves, the short-term effects were damaging. Many lost their jobs and were forced to leave Toronto. The long-term effects, however, were positive. After 1872, almost all union demands included the nine-hour day and the 54-hour week. Thus, the Toronto printers were pioneers of the shorter workweek in North America. Meanwhile, campaigns for an eight-hour day were already gaining in popularity and would eventually take hold in the United States.

This fight had a second, lasting legacy. The parades held in support of the Nine Hour Movement and the printers’ strike led to an annual celebration. In 1882, American labour leader Peter J. McGuire witnessed one of these labour festivals in Toronto. Inspired, he returned to New York and organized the first American Labor Day on 5 September of the same year. Throughout the 1880s, pressure built in Canada to declare a national labour holiday and on 23 July 1894, the government of Prime Minister John Thompson passed a law making Labour Day official. A huge Labour Day parade took place in Winnipeg that year that stretched some five kilometres. The tradition of a Labour Day celebration quickly spread across Canada and the continent. And it all began in Toronto with the brave stand of the printers’ union.

Everyone has a right to union representation when meeting with the employer. Use it!

Article 10.01 Employee Rights

Employees shall have the right, upon request, to the presence of a Union Steward at any stage of the Grievance Procedure, including the complaint and investigation stages, or at any time when formal discipline is imposed. CAMH shall arrange investigation and discipline meetings on not less than twenty-four (24) hours’ notice to the employee. If the employee requests a Union Steward to be present for any such meeting he shall be responsible for obtaining the presence of the Steward. Upon request, CAMH will provide any employee with a list of active Union Stewards which shall be updated by the Union. CAMH agrees that it will not discipline an employee without just cause. Where CAMH deems it necessary to suspend or discharge an employee, CAMH shall notify the Union, in writing, of such suspension or discharge.

Over the past few years, it has come to the Local’s attention that members are being invited to meetings with
a) Less than 24 hours notice and
b) The message that if they want a steward they can have one but it’s a casual conversation so you don’t need one. If members agree that they don’t want union representation they are then presented a waiver to say they are “waiving their union rights” and then meetings happen without representation.

The member absolutely has the right to choose whether or not they want to have representation at these meetings. But please consider that any meeting where a HR representative is present, everything the employee says goes on record and can be used against them, even if they are reporting on the behaviour of other persons. There have been numerous instances when members have waived their rights without understanding what they are doing, and then have been subjected to discipline and even termination because they were inadvertently caught or their words were misrepresented in a meeting. Once that happens, there is less that the union can do to help the member (other than file a grievance), because we were not present at the meeting with HR.

NOTE: This ONLY applies to meetings with HR present. It DOES NOT apply to meetings with your manager that do not include HR, which are they are allowed to have with you without union representation according to Article 5 describing Management Rights. If you didn’t know that HR was going to be present at a meeting and find a HR representative at a meeting, please stop the meeting and state that you need and want union representation, and they will provide one to you.

If you have any questions about your rights and how you can be supported please feel free to email us at opseu.local500@camh.ca or call ext. 32330/33217 and we will be happy to provide you with information to support your rights.

Local 500 Executive Committee

Thomas Andersson, President
1001 Queen Street West Unit 1, B-2A,
416 535-8501 x32330
Thomas.Andersson@camh.ca / OPSEU.Local500@camh.ca

Tony Ivanoff, Vice-President
100 Stokes Street, 3rd floor
416 535-8501 x34935

Chantelle D’Mello, Lead Steward
1001 Queen Street West, Unit 1 B-2A
416 535-8501 x33217
Chantelle.Dmello@camh.ca / OPSEU.Local500@camh.ca

Yvonne Hinds, Secretary
160 Horner Avenue, Toronto South-West Detention Centre
416 535-8501 x36022 or 31916

Robert Edgar, Treasurer

About opseulocal500

Union office Unit 1, B-2A, (Basement, room 2A), Queen Street West Site 1001 Queen Street West Toronto, ON M6J 1H4 Tel: 416 535-8501 x32330 Fax: 416-583-1254 Email: OPSEU.Local500@camh.ca
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