WHAT IS OPSEU?
OPSEU is the Ontario public Service Employees Union. It is Ontario's third largest trade union, representing over 110,000 employees.
OPSEU represents the vast majority of employees of the Ontario government - over 40,000 of them, plus several thousand part-time and seasonal employees. It is also the official bargaining agent for the 18,000 employees of Ontario's 24 Community Colleges. Another 60,000 employees of hospitals, social service agencies, ambulance services and municipalities also belong to OPSEU.
OPSEU represents all of the unionized employees of the provincial government, including office and clerical employees, maintenance and trades workers, scientific and technical staff, and social service professionals. It also represents many seasonal, casual and part-time employees in that portion of the public service known as the unclassified service. In addition to these employees, OPSEU represents both the academic and the non-academic support staff at Ontario's Community Colleges. In the Union, the part-time academic staff are called partial load employees. Currently OPSEU has launched the largest organizing drive in Ontario history to include close to 18,000 part-time academic and support workers into OPSEU. These workers have been legally bared from being organized and OPSEU is leading the fight to have the law amended.
OPSEU represents more paramedical staff in Ontario's general hospitals than any other union. OPSEU has a major presence in social service and cultural institutions and agencies.
As well, OPSEU was the first union to seek representation rights for supply teachers in the province of Ontario and to negotiate a collective agreement on their behalf.
OPSEU is part of the mainstream of the Canadian labour movement. It is affiliated to the Ontario federation of Labour, the Canadian Labour Congress and the National Union of provincial Government Employees.
I PAY UNION DUES: AM I AN OPSEU MEMBER?
All community college employees represented by OPSEU already pay union dues. The amount of dues is decided from time to time by the delegates to the annual Convention of the Union. OPSEU uses these dues partly to negotiate better wages, working conditions and benefits for the membership, and partly to finance the operation of the Union Locals at every Community College.
However, the fact that an employee pays dues does not give you membership in OPSEU. You have the right to remain a non-member, but there are many advantages to membership. So most employees represented by OPSEU choose to join. There is no initiation fee, so membership will cost you nothing extra.
Even though an employee is new and in their probationary period when first join a community college, they are still entitled to join OPSEU immediately, and enjoy the benefits of union membership. Remember also that your membership in OPSEU is a confidential matter between the employee and the union.
WHAT DOES OPSEU DO?
OPSEU's primary function is to negotiate salaries, hours of work, vacations, paid holidays and other working conditions or fringe benefits which affect the employee on the job. Another important role is to defend employees when management takes arbitrary action against an employee and the employee would have little or no resource if they tried to handle the matter on their own.
Collective Agreements are the written contracts between the union and the employer that spells out the wage rates, working conditions and employee benefits that members are entitled to receive. If the employer breaches this Agreement, either the employee or the union may launch a grievance which, if not resolved between the parties, is judged by an independent arbitration board whose's decision final and binding on all concerned.
BENEFITS OF MEMBERSHIP
The negotiated wages, working conditions, employee benefits and access to the grievance procedure apply to all persons in the bargaining unit, whether or not they are union members. However, only union members can have a voice in determining bargaining proposals, attend union meetings, vote in union elections, and attend union-sponsored educational seminars. Similarly, only signed-up members of OPSEU have the right to hold elected office in the union.
OPSEU members also receive frequent union publications and bulletins. Also available to members is the extensive membership discounts on such things as cell phone service, home and auto insurance, and law protector.
An OPSEU member who leaves the workforce by reason of age, infirmity, or disability is entitled to become a Retired Member on payment of $2.00 per year or $10.00 for like membership.
SERVICES OFFERED BY OPSEU
OPSEU has a full-time staff of professional people to help members negotiate collective agreements and resolve grievances and other problems that arise at the workplace.
Staff Representatives work out of Regional Offices, throughout the province to assist members in handling grievances, negotiating local matters or dealing with management.
In addition to the Staff Representatives, who are the union's primary link to the locals, OPSEU Head Office maintains specialized departments.
Grievance Officers handle grievance presentations to boards of arbitration. OPSEU also employs negotiators who negotiate collective agreements for members in all categories of the Ontario Public Service, CAAT Academic and Support Staff, Liquor Control Board Division, and for members under the Ontario Labour Relations Act.
Research staff are available to assist in collective bargaining, and health and Safety specialists advise on matters arising from the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Organizing reps are involved in the signing up of new groups who want to join OPSEU and have OPSEU represent them with their employer. Public Relations specialists publish a number of union media documents, prepare brochures, leaflets, bulletins, speeches and newsletter.
Education staff run programs designed to strengthen local members' ability to handle their own affairs. Courses are given in such subjects as stewards' training, grievance handling, union administration, contract interpretation, instructional techniques for member instructors, parliamentary procedures and public relations.
Since 1978 OPSEU has had a full-time Equal Opportunities Coordinator to conduct programs aimed at increasing the participation of women in locals and in the union as a whole. Since then other equity seeking groups have been formed for a similar purpose.
WHERE DO I FIT INTO OPSEU?
If you join OPSEU you will be a member of a local. In each community college there are two locals: one for members in the Academic unit, and one for those in the Support Staff unit. The members of each local elect their stewards and other local officers. Stewards are those people who are responsible for the union's day to day functions in the workplace. If you believe you have a grievance, that is, if it appears that the employer has not lived up to the terms of the collective agreement, or has treated you unjustly, the steward can help you by trying to solve the problem or if necessary, launch a grievance.
HOW DOES OPSEU OPERATE?
The democratic structure of OPSEU is guaranteed by its Constitution, a copy of which is available to you on request from the union or just click to the OPSEU web site for an on line version. All stewards, local executive members and executive board members are elected by and from the membership. The supreme governing body of OPSEU is the annual Convention. each local of OPSEU elects delegates to send to Convention. the Convention lays down broad policy guidelines for the union. Between Conventions the governing body of OPSEU is the Executive Board. For the purpose of internal union administration, the province is divided into seven regions. Delegates from the locals in each region hold a special regional meeting every two years and elect three members to the Executive Board from each region. From these 21 Board Members, the President and First Vice-President are elected at the Convention.
The delegates at the special regional meeting also elect their Vice-President for the region. These seven Vice-Presidents along with the President and first Vice-President comprise the Executive Committee. This Committee reports to the Executive Board.
HOW DO NEGOTIATIONS TAKE PLACE?
If you become a signed-up OPSEU member, you will have a say in the proposals for negotiations that are made to management each time the collective agreement come up for renewal. Each OPSEU local calls a membership meeting to set demands fro bargaining. at the same time delegates from each local are elected to go to Toronto where they meet to work out the final proposals that will be presented to the College Compensation and Appointments Counsel representing the management of the 24 community colleges. the union delegates also elect a negotiating team consisting of seven members. The team's job is to negotiate a collective agreement and bring the results back to the local membership for ratification.
DO I HAVE TO GO ON STRIKE?
The law under which negotiations are conducted in the community colleges - the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act - gives employees the right to strike. and management to lock out employees or close down a college. However, the law also provides a variety of ways of reaching contract settlements so as to make chances of a strike very slim. Most collective agreements are settled by the union and management across the bargaining table, but if direct bargaining does not produce an agreement, the law allows for mediation, fact finding, voluntary arbitration, or final offer selection, and requires that all employees in the bargaining unit be given a chance to vote on management's last offer before a strike can be taken. Under OPSEU's Constitution, any contract reached in direct bargaining must be voted upon by the membership before it comes into effect. This gives you as a union member, a chance to take part in the democratic process of decision=making that is fundamental to OPSEU existence.