Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Two: Warren “Smokey” Thomas, President of The Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU)

Introduction

This is the second part of a series on the ideology or rhetoric of unions when it comes to collective agreements. In the first part, I compiled a list of some of the claims of the largest national union in Canada–the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)–that collective agreements signed by its various local unions were somehow fair.

I planned on doing the same thing for the second largest Canadian union–Unifor (the largest private sector union)–but Smokey Thomas’ apologetic comments concerning Doug Ford inspired me to focus on his union rhetoric (see Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One).

I have persistently pointed out in this blog that collective agreements are, generally, better than individual employment contracts. They provide more protection for workers and more benefits. On the other hand, we also need to acknowledge the limitations of collective agreements in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers–something which unions rarely do. Furthermore, many of them use the rhetoric of “fair contracts,” and similar terms to hide the dictatorial nature of the employment relationship (for a description of that relationship, see Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Smokey Thomas’ Union Rhetoric of a Fair Contract

I will just make a list of Mr. Thomas’ union rhetoric concerning fair contracts. This rhetoric can be compared to management rights clauses. One such clause is found in the following:  

 

Collective Agreement
between
Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of its_ Locals (various)
and
Municipal Property Assessment Corporation

DURATION: January 1, 2019- December 31, 2022

ARTICLE 4- MANAGEMENT RIGHTS
4.01 The Union acknowledges that it is the exclusive right of the Employer to:

a) maintain order, discipline and efficiency;

b) hire, transfer, classify, assign, appoint, promote, demote, appraise, train, develop, lay off and recall employees;

c) discipline and discharge employees for just cause, except that probationary employees may be discharged without cause;

d) generally manage the enterprise in which the Employer is engaged and without restricting the generality of the foregoing, the right to plan, direct and control operations, facilities, programs, systems and procedures, direct its personnel, determine complement, organization, methods and the number, location and classification of personnel required from time to time, the number and location of operations, buildings, equipment and facilities, the services to be performed, the scheduling of assignments and work, the extension, limitation, curtailment or cessation of operations and all other
rights and responsibilities not specifically modified elsewhere in this Agreement.

4.02 The Employer shall exercise the above rights in’ a manner consistent with the
expressed terms of the Collective Agreement.

Mr. Thomas, by calling collective agreements fair, by implication calls the right of management to dictate to workers covered by the collective agreement fair. However, to treat any worker as a mere means for employers’ purposes is to treat workers as things–and that is hardly fair (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Let us proceed with several statements made by Mr. Thomas concerning collective agreements. Most bold print are my emphases: : 

  1. Dated April 10, 2015. From   https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/r-e-p-e-a-t—-government-workers-protest-to-demand-a-fair-contract-517437241.html:

AURORA, ONApril 10, 2015 /CNW/ – Workers in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, will hold an information picket over the government’s refusal to bargain a fair collective agreement.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that at the same time that the Wynne Liberals are slashing funding for much-needed public services, they are wasting billions on private sector contracts and spending billions more on corporate tax cuts.

“After years of austerity, Premier Kathleen Wynne is demanding that the public service accept more wage freezes, cutbacks and concessions,” Thomas said. “Government negotiators at the bargaining table appear they would rather push the OPS into a strike than negotiate a fair deal with their employees.”

2. Dated June 5, 2019. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/statement-from-opseu-president-warren-smokey-thomas-on-the-introduction-of-a-public-sector-pay-bill-823871469.html): 

Statement from OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas on the introduction of a public sector pay bill

 


NEWS PROVIDED BY

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) 

Jun 05, 2019, 17:24 ET

TORONTOJune 5, 2019 /CNW/ – The bill introduced today capping wage settlements shows that Premier Doug Ford has no respect for the rule of law or the right to fair collective bargaining.

3. Dated August 31, 2018. From https://nupge.ca/content/grca-members-ratify-contract-wage-increases-privatization-protection:  

GRCA members ratify contract with wage increases, privatization protection

Toronto (31 August 2018) — The members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) working at the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) have ratified a contract that includes significant wage increases, protection from contracting-out, and a number of other improvements.

Workers and the public win with this contract

“This is a great deal for our members, and great news for all the people in the communities they serve,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President 

“Everybody wins when workers are paid a decent and fair wage. And everybody wins when a local like this bargains language that will prevent their jobs from being contracted out or privatized,” Thomas said.

The roughly 150 members of Local 259 work at the GRCA as planners, assistant superintendents, and environmental officers.

Their new 4-year contract includes wage increases of between 6 and 14 per cent. It also includes language that prevents the employer from contracting-out their work, and improvements to time-off and on-call provisions. 

4. Dated early April, 2019. From  https://www.correctionsdivision.ca/2019/05/22/opseu-submission-on-public-sector-consultations/

In early April 2019, OPSEU’s leaders were invited by the deputy minister of the Treasury Board Secretariat to take part in a series of consultation meetings.  opseu_public_sector_consultation_submission.pdf

“The government is seeking your feedback on how to manage compensation growth in a way that results in wage settlements that are modest, reasonable, and sustainable,” the deputy minister wrote.

While completely opposed to any attempt to impose “modest” wage settlements outside of its members’ constitutionally guaranteed right to free and fair collective bargaining, OPSEU’s leaders chose to take part in the consultation sessions in good faith and good conscience. And without prejudice.

As leaders of an open, transparent, and democratic union with 155,000 members across Ontario, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida attended the sessions with a number of their members’ ideas about ensuring the sustainability of decent and fair compensation growth in the public sector.

5. Dated January 28, 2015. From https://sites.google.com/site/opseulocal599/:


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                     

January 28, 2015

Government forcing OPSEU towards a strike 

TORONTO – The union representing 35,000 frontline Ministry employees who work directly for the Ontario government announced today that bargaining representatives of the Ontario Government have taken a significant step towards forcing OPSEU members out on strike.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that instead of trying to bargain a fair contract with their employees, the government has initiated the process of negotiating Essential and Emergency Service (EES) Agreements, which by law must be completed prior to a legal strike or lockout.

6. Dated November 1, 2017. From https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/college-faculty-ready-to-bargain-as-employer-returns-to-table-654537183.html:

 

 

College faculty ready to bargain as employer returns to table 

TORONTONov. 1, 2017 /CNW/ – The union bargaining team for Ontario public college faculty is interested in what the College Employer Council has to say and ready to bargain when contract talks resume tomorrow, team chair JP Hornick says.

“College faculty are taking a stand for a better college education system,” she said. “We are ready, as we have been from the start, to bargain a fair contract that addresses the issues of good jobs and quality education.”

The mediator in the talks has called the parties back together to meet Thursday, November 2 for the first time since the strike by 12,000 faculty began October 16.

“This strike has highlighted the problems that come when an employer uses precarious work as a tool to cut costs,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “When faculty aren’t treated fairly, education suffers, and OPSEU members have stayed strong on the picket lines because they want colleges that are better for faculty and students alike.

7. Dated July 15, 2016. From https://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/07/15/ymca-workers-vote-to-join-opseu/wcm/47381266-1e5e-b122-ff7f-754415b71d4f

YMCA workers vote to join OPSEU

YMCA staff in employment and newcomer services have voted to join the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the union announced this week.

“This is great news for these hard-working employees,” Jeff Arbus, OPSEU regional vice-president, said in a release. “One of the many benefits they’ll enjoy with OPSEU membership is increased job security – something they badly need right now so they can better plan for the future.”

The July 7 vote means 36 full- and part-time staff in employment and newcomer services, not including administrative assistants, supervisors and those above the rank of supervisor, have been certified by OPSEU.

The result was good news not only for the new members, Arbus said, but also for the YMCA and its clients.

“When working conditions are improved, staff retention is increased and so is their experience and knowledge,” Arbus said. “The Y’s reputation as a prominent community partner will be enhanced, while clients will benefit even more from the help they receive.”

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said the publicly funded programs at the Y are essential to the well-being of Ontario communities.

“An agency delivering them should be setting an example to the employers they work with by treating their employees with respect,” Thomas said “We’ll be sitting down with the employer and these employees to make sure their employment conditions are fair.

“I congratulate them for choosing OPSEU. We’re proud of our long track record when it comes to standing up to employers who don’t treat their workers with the respect they deserve.

For Mr. Thomas, it is possible to treat workers, who are employees (who subordinate their will to management as representatives of employers) in a fair manner. Mr. Thomas, like other social democrats, it is fair that, on the one hand, a class of employers exist and that a class of workers exist who must submit their will to the class of employers; such fairness, however, only arises for Mr. Thomas if this relation is embodied in a “free collective agreement.”

What does Mr. Thomas have to say about management rights? Nothing. He never once addresses the issue. He assumes that management has the right to dictate to workers as it see fits provided that a collective agreement has been obtained through “free collective bargaining.” Or perhaps he shares the same attitude towards collective bargaining and collective agreements as John Urkevich, former business agent to a union to which I belonged (AESES, or The Association of Employees Supporting Education ). I will quote from that post (see Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994). First. Mr. Urkevich:

After all the employer only has control over the how, what, and when, it does not have the right to treat employees in an unjust or undignified manner. Employees are not chattel.

I respond in my post to the above: 

This last sentence likely sums up the attitude of many union representatives. No, employees are not chattel, that is to say, they are not slaves, owned 24 hours a day. They are not required to work for a particular employer. No one forces them to work for a particular employer.

However, just as with the manipulative use of the word “if” above, Mr. Urkevitch uses the word “only” in order to minimize the importance of how much power management has over the lives of even unionized workers: “the employer only [my emphasis] has control over the how, what, and when….”

Mr. Urkevitch evidently does not think that “control over the how, what, and when” is “unjust or undignified.”

I do. (See above, referring to Kant and the money circuit of capital). Employers, by controlling “the how, what, and when”–control the lives of workers, which is undignified and unjust.

Union representatives, like Mr. Urkevich, however, obviously believe that it is just. They believe in the justice of the collective agreement, where “the employer only has control over the how, what, and when.”

Union representatives imply, often enough, that there is somehow something fair about collective agreements. No one seems to challenge them to explain what they mean by fair collective agreements.

I then quoted a statement from Mr. Thomas about fair contracts–and my post was dated Auguste 17, 2018, referring to a published item on May 24, 2018, that contained Mr. Thomas’ reference to union members getting a “fair contract.”

The radical left here in Toronto, for the most part, though, do not engage in any systematic criticism of the limitations of unions. Rather, they fall over themselves in trying to accommodate their own positions to the limitations of union reps in order to gain a “hearing” from the union reps. Their silence over the issue of management rights, for example, expresses their own limitations. 

But then again, Mr. Thomas now does the same thing with respect to Doug Ford, Conservative premier of Ontario. Perhaps he now does so because it had been confirmed that Ford will now permit paid sick days for essential workers who need to stay home because of posible exposure to the virus—something which the labour movement, community organizations and unions have been calling for for some time. That Ford recently tried to institute more police powers (see the previous post)–his apology notwithstanding since many police departments simply refused to comply with such expanded powers–is now forgiven and forgotten–as the many, many oppressive acts of his government over the last three years–all for the sake of paid sick days.

Is there really any wonder why the so-called left is in shambles? From being a critic of Ford to apologizing for Ford, Mr. Thomas is a good example of the real nature of not only union leadership in Canada but also the left in Canada. Mr. Thomas, like so many among the left, ultimately believe that the class power of employers is somehow fair. 

What do you think? 

Smokey Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)–A Good Example of the Real Attitude of Many Union Leaders Towards the Ruling Class

A few days ago, on April 17, 2021, Warren “Smokey” Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), wrote the following(https://opseu.org/news/a-statement-from-opseu-sefpo-president-warren-smokey-thomas/120559/). The immediate background is that Doug Ford is the premier (head) of the Ontario government (Ontario is the province with the largest population in Canada). My comments are within the square brackets]:

Chaos is the last thing we need [The government waited to hospitals would fill up as predicted by models–and then reacted when they filled up. It permitted restaurants to open up outdoors and then ordered them close within a couple of weeks. It permits schools to remain open. It has resisted a movement to provide paid sick days for workers despite such a recommendation by the medical field. And so forth. Of course, all this is without mentioning the health cuts before the pandemic–by the same government). 

Cornwall.  Peterborough. Guelph. Ottawa. Niagara. Peel. Toronto. And now police forces right across the province are refusing to make use of the new powers authorized by the Ontario government yesterday. And with good reason; randomly stopping citizens and ticketing those who don’t comply won’t stop the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Ford government responded to the third wave of the pandemic by granting expanded powers to the police, including enabling them to question why a person is outside and to provide their home address. There was a backlash against the expansion of such powers, but to what extent Ford changed his mind due to citizen backlash or police backlash remains unclear. Even the police objected to granting them such powers–and responsibility; several police forces in the province indicated that they would not be actively enforcing the law.] These measures could lead to racialized, homeless and vulnerable communities already disproportionately impacted from this virus to now be living in fear and apprehension. What’s now labelled as the back of napkin efforts of a government furiously trying to stop the spread of the virus are leading to ineffective measures and chaos. And chaos is the last thing we need.

Ontarians don’t know who to trust on the issue of COVID-19. No matter where we look, there is conflicting information about masks, about safety, about vaccines. They are confused by the lockdowns, followed by the easing of restrictions, followed by more lockdowns. Businesses are mandated to close, then opened next month, then closed again the next week. The economy is teetering on the brink of the next announcement. And Ontarians are left feeling insecure and unsafe.

When the police refuse to follow the instructions of the government, we have the beginnings of civil unrest. [Mr. Thomas is evidently afraid of civil unrest. Civil unrest for him is something purely negative.] We are already seeing parents tearing down yellow tape to get into playgrounds and visiting elderly family members despite orders.  It’s been more than a year of announcements that don’t fully work and measures that only temporarily curb the pandemic or protect the public.

As the leader of Ontario’s public service union, I am most concerned with public safety. Thousands of OPSEU/SEFPO members have been in the front lines of this pandemic, risking life and limb for the protection and safety of all Ontarians. To protect them, and the rest of us, we need a return to public trust and measures that work.

I am also concerned with how politicized the issue has become. There is no easy answer to ending the pandemic. If there were, surely we would see evidence around the world, not just in a few select places. If we are to get through this, we are going to have to rely on a few things, starting with available vaccines into as many arms as possible, regardless of the name on the label. 

We are going to need capacity, both in terms of infrastructure and skilled, trained human resources.

We need treatment options for early onset symptoms for high-risk individuals.

Education, not enforcement, will see us through.

And we need collaboration.

Accusing the Premier of being uncaring, callous and more concerned with finances than health is simply dishonest.

I have come to know the Premier. I know he is distraught. I know he cares. I know he is working around the clock. The burden of leadership, whether he signed up for it or not, weighs heavy in life or death decisions. Armchair quarterbacking is far cozier.

Stop lobbing rhetorical bombs, end the name calling and hostility. Now is not the time for posturing along party lines that has been so front and centre.

We must come together now. [My daughter, Francsesca, calls the idea of “We’re all in this together”–bullshit.]

I am calling on the Premier to share the burden, widen the tent and bring all voices into a room where egos can be checked at the door for the good of Ontario. [We are, after all, all Ontarians if not Canadians. That despite the class power of employers in Ontario and Canada. That in spite of the fact that Mr. Ford is himself a capitalist employer.] Let’s hash it out; determine a course, develop a narrative everyone can trust and understand. And finally let’s implement it once and for all.

With nearly 4,500 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario today, it’s clear that the answers must come quickly. Real answers from leaders who care more about people than their own futures. [Yes, real leaders–not the pseudo-leader called Warren “Smokey” Thomas.]

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; OPSEUCommunications@opseu.org

The above expresses the ideology of “We’re all in it together.” This is the real nature of trade union leaders–not the rhetoric (bullshit) that they often express to their members.

I quoted Mr. Thomas in another post, this time dated November 27, 2018. In that quote, it is the rhetoric (bullshit) that is expressed. I invite the reader to contrast the two quotes. All bolded words in the text are my emphases:

Ford in bed with business, won’t save good GM jobs

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas in the Queen's Park media gallery.
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Toronto – OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says Doug Ford has indeed made Ontario “open for business” … to trample all over workers and kill good jobs.

Shrugging his shoulders at GM’s callous plan to shutter a state-of-the-art Oshawa plant next year is yet another sign that Ford has no clue how to manage the province, Thomas said. He could care less that thousands of hard-working people will end up losing their jobs.

“This premier is in bed with business and this is how business behaves. Always putting profits ahead of people,” said Thomas. “Ford couldn’t organize a two-float parade, let alone run the province.  We need leadership that will stand up for working people.”

GM is a successful company that has already posted $6 billion in profits so far this year, Thomas noted.

“Ontario was there in 2009 when GM needed a multibillion-dollar lifeline from taxpayers. Now it’s turning its back on the people and Ford isn’t lifting a finger to stop it,” he said.

Contrast that with the premier’s red-faced fury a few months ago when he vowed to do whatever it took – including invoking the notwithstanding clause – to settle a score with Toronto city council, said OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.

“This is the bully who threatened to suspend constitutional rights to slash city hall and get even with his critics,” he said. “But when GM tells him they’re going to close shop and throw thousands of people out of work, he just rolls over. What are his priorities?”

With the Conservative government in shambles over its disastrous decision to scrap the office of Ontario’s French-language Commissioner and abuse-of-power scandals breaking almost daily, it’s clear that Ford’s incompetence is dragging Ontario down.

“He can’t run a party, never mind the province,” Thomas said. “At least Ontario has strong unions who stand united to fight for good jobs, even if the premier won’t.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931

Which is the real Warren “Smokey” Thomas?