Reflections about union blogging on Labour Day weekend

Many of you have told us how much you like our BLOG. Some of you must be telling others because our readership is growing by about 50 per cent per year. Please – tell more people: we’d like to have even more participation in our ongoing conversations. Subscribing is free!

Many of you have left comments after our posts. Some have e-mailed us directly or pulled us aside at conferences and meetings to say how much they appreciate what we are doing.

The ability to do this is a privilege and couldn’t happen without the support of OPSEU’s leadership and the 47,000 health care professionals and support staff we represent. It also couldn’t happen if we didn’t have you reading and participating.

We were blown away recently when the owner of an OHIP designated private physiotherapy clinic left a comment stating that our post about recent government changes affecting his clinic to be “the most honest and objective article I have read so far” on the topic.

This spring we attended a speech by a doctor we immensely respect. In response to a question we asked, he raised points using language employed by this BLOG about a week earlier. We could see first-hand that our conversations were echoing into the community.

There is a false dichotomy between labour and community that corporations and the wealthy like to exploit. We’ve seen it in the kind of resentment some are trying to build towards unionized workers in an effort to take away rights and reduce pay for all workers. If it isn’t union versus non-union, they are equally happy to divide public from private sector workers. That includes the provincial Tories, which have issued a white paper advocating policies that would turn the clock back on labour rights by nearly a century. This is one conversation you should really have before the next election with family, friends, neighbours, co-workers and anybody who will listen.

There is a long history of corporations and the wealthy creating Astroturf groups to make it look like there is public momentum in favour of their narrow interests. They use these groups to question global warming, to fight smoking bans, to widen the inequality gap and reduce taxes on the rich. They also fund so-called “think tanks” that are little more than public relations tools for churning up arguments that support the one per cent. As we pointed out on Thursday, they also pay academics to present these arguments as their own in the media.

Some say we should adopt these tactics even though there is building public resentment over such blatant deceptions. That would be a mistake.

We are proud to say who we are. Unions have played an enormous role in many of the rights and benefits we take for granted today, including this holiday weekend, or for that matter, any weekend. Our battles are not over and the rush to swell our ranks is likely indicative of the insecurity and fear there is out there in the wake of 30 years of Neo-Liberal free market policies.

Who is organized labour? We are about one in three working people in this province. We live in the same neighborhoods as everyone else. Polls tell us that union members share the same core values as everyone else. We ride the subway and eat in the same restaurants. Our kids are in the same schools as yours. We also vote for all the major parties, even if sometimes it isn’t in our best interests. We also vote for our union leaders.

The good news is we’re not an exclusive club. Anybody can join.

In latest issue of Our Times a number of communications professionals – some in the labour movement – speak about how labour needs to “rebrand” its image.

That sounds very calculating, although when it came to specific advice most of it was sensible.

Our advice is this: treat people with respect. Assume that they are as thoughtful as you are. Speak with them as you would your friends and neighbours. Be prepared to listen. Most of all, don’t be afraid to engage in one-on-one conversations about issues that matter.

Somebody once asked why we also include arguments from the other side in some of our posts? Ultimately, if readers don’t hear these arguments from us, they will likely hear them from somewhere else. We would prefer that people see the full debate and come to their own conclusions rather than simply take our word for it. Health care is filled with rich complexities and we try as much as possible not to oversimplify.

Yesterday some may have wondered why we thought it important to note that the merger discussions between The Scarborough Hospital and the Rouge Valley Health System were using a very open (if slightly flawed) process.

Weren’t we supposed to rail against the merger?

We’re no fan of mergers and all the air they tend to suck out of the room. They also create headaches for us as the labour implications get sorted out through the Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act.

Given we frequently advocate for greater transparency, we thought it also important that we recognize it when it does take place.

The fact that these two hospitals were going about the process in such an open fashion gave us hope that all the facts would find their way to the table. It is yet possible that the hospitals may decide to cooperate rather than amalgamate.

One of these two hospitals sat across from us in a legal boardroom in 2008 as our lawyer grilled the CEO on why they decided to abandon a brand new state of the art mental health facility without any public consultation. We eventually lost our challenge over the legality of the process at judicial review, but in the end we achieved our greater objective.

We hope that other hospitals and other health care workers will see this and realize that the days of making decisions behind closed doors are over. If you are going through a hospital merger and are not getting this level of transparency, you should be prepared to point to Scarborough/Rouge and ask why?

We want into the discussion because we think when all the facts are out in the open that better decisions get made.

Happy Labour Day to all our readers — both union and non-union. See you next week.

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