OPSEU/SEFPO proudly represents thousands of members identifying as Black or of African Caribbean descent. In part two of this Black History Month series of OPSEU/SEFPO Talk, First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida continues a discussion with three Black OPSEU/SEFPO activists – Coleen Houlder, Selvin (Junior) Lennon, and Megan Carter.

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Almeida 00:01: Hello everyone, and welcome to OPSEU/SEFPO Talk! 

My name is Eddy Almeida. I am the First Vice-President and Treasurer of OPSEU/SEFPO. This is a part two of our podcast. Our guests here are Coleen Houlder, Selvin Lennon, and Megan Carter, to talk about their union activity, what got them involved in their union and whatever they actually want to talk about in sort of, you know, a period of time in regards to whatever the staff tells us our time is. Ya, freestyle. But we’re gonna start with the most senior of these activists on the panel and that is gonna be Megan. So Megan, I know, you get to start off so please.  

Carter 00:53: Ok, I just want to reiterate that I’m in my thirties ok (laughing). But ya, my name is Megan Carter, the local president for 557 which is George Brown College, yea go George Brown. I actually was a student at George Brown College and I graduated from the human resource program which is always hilarious cause I’m on the opposite side of HR now. But I started in the union per say on the picket lines so in whenever year was nine years ago the colleges you know the 24 colleges went on strike and I was a young, I was in my twenties cause I am still young (laughing). And I was like wondering, what am I on strike for? And this actually I tell this story a lot because it really resonates to our younger workers in the colleges. I’m sitting there, I’m like 23, I’m like what am I on strike for? I don’t even understand what a union is I don’t come from unionized family. I actually come from corporate family so I really have no idea what a union is at all. And I looked to the president at the time and I’m like, do I have to picket? (Laughing). And she’s like, yes you do, and I’m like ok. So we’re sitting on the picket line for a couple weeks. I’m sitting there shouting rah rah, go OPSEU and I’m still not really sure what I’m on strike for and we have an election meeting on the picket line and someone says Megan because she was the loudest person at the picket line, your gonna run and be on the a steward and I was like ok. But you know, then from then moving forward I learned what a union is. I learned what I was on strike for. We came off of strike after three weeks. But, you know, it really just starts with somebody pointing you out and saying hey, like you look like someone that could really help us in this labour movement and the former president actually was really good at putting people into the places that they want to be. So did I want to be, you know, the president of the local at the time, no I wanted to help with events. That’s my thing, I love running events, I love doing things like that. So, you know, that’s the thing that I carry forward in the local now is, our stewards all have such amazing strengths and it’s working on those strengths and making them do the things they like to do that makes them stay a part of the union. And I think it’s really important that for other locals and people thinking about how to get people involved is literally walking up to somebody and being like hey, you look like a person that’s really good at this. Why don’t you join us on this particular thing and start with that and getting those trainings and those educationals and really understanding what a union is and why you’re a part of it and then moving forward and continuing. You know, I moved up the ladder secretary, vice president and now I’m the president. But ya, those are the things that I really think resonates especially with our younger workers who might be sitting there and wondering why am I in this union and what am I doing here? It’s about teaching them and so they understand.

Almeida 04:07: Nice

Carter 04:08: Ya

Almeida 04:09: Very good, Selvin Junior.

Lennon 04:10: Thank you again. The reason I got into the union or more involved in the union is when I was first hired by the OPS, I would often see people leaving during lunch time to go to these meetings and I was wondering, what is everybody going and where are they going and are they doing? So, one time I decided I was going to go and check it out and see what the excitement was. And boy was I in for a rude awakening. It was controlled chaos if I can ever say something like that. But I understood, you know, it was for our representation. But what I didn’t see was my representation. I didn’t see anyone that looked like me. I didn’t anybody who was voicing my concerns. So right away, me being the kind of person that I am. I’ve always been in leadership, playing sports you kinda puts you in that kind of a role. So I wanted to affect my change for the people that looked like me. So I then signed up to be a steward, went through the whole to become a steward and then I wanted to run for actually the local president. But unfortunately didn’t happen I got, you know, beat out but then I turned and I was offered to be a part of the coalition for racialized workers. That’s where I found my footing. That’s where I believe all the things that I wanted to achieve for every young black male and female after me was able to be done in this coalition. Because it was not just for young black male and female, it’s for everybody who sees themselves as racialized. And what the beauty about that is that we can all come together and for a common goal of seeing what our landscape is and how to better the landscape for everybody who is out there. One of the major things that we took on, I remember last year and the year before was the Black Creek strike that they had going on and working with the employees at Black Creek and the racialized workers at Black Creek opened a whole different ball or whole different avenue for me because I got to see the people at the grassroots who are really in the communities doing the job and I was so blown away by everything that they were doing I just wanted to do more. And as I got more involved, you know, it just furthered everything that I wanted to do. And so, with me getting involved, I implore every other person who is employed by OPSEU to look into becoming a part of your local and then finding the coalition in your area whether it be region 2 or whether it be region 5 or even look at the provincial. You know, get involved! I always tell people, you can’t affect change if you’re not involved. There’s no affecting anything if you don’t get there and actually put forth the effort. So, you know, I always wanted to be the one that somebody would be able to approach and say hey, what can I do to make this better or make myself better or make a better path for somebody else and that’s really why I got involved and I continue to get involved in different areas of the local. 

Almeida 07:48: Ya, excellent. Ok. Thank you, Coleen.     

Houlder 07:51: Yes, Eddy. So, I chose to go into the Ontario Public Service. I said, no I’m going to become a bureaucrat because I want to get a life, basically, right. However, when I got there, I realized that the area that I got into, which is the civil law department, you really don’t have a life. So, ended up doing, you know, 100 hours of overtime in a month etc  etc and that was a whole different ball game. However, it was still a lot less than being a political staff, right. So when I got to the ministry, as a bureaucrat, I went, ok what’s going on here. I heard about our union but I really didn’t see our union. And so, because I didn’t understand, I inserted myself into the, you know, at the union table. Someone nominated me to be a steward and I went, ok. And I got there and went, ok so now how do I steward. I have no idea. I did not have any concept of how to work for a union because the only time I came in contact with the union in the past was when they were picketing outside our office. And, you know, coalitions that would come into your office and trash it and start fires and this and close the doors and that sort of thing. So, I didn’t really understand the concept of being part of a union. So I sat at the union table as a union steward I went to every single educational that I could get my hands on and to learn how to steward. That’s how I became a steward. Once I did that, I went to someone actually, I dragged another person to a divisional meeting, I believe it was and ended up being nominated, ended up on the MAG MERC and went, so now how to I MERC? Right, so it was everything single thing I touched, I was like, brand new, don’t know what to do, gotta figure it out. So, it’s like, just got to fly by the seat of my pants. As time went on and learned whatever came up, just things were thrown at you, you just had to figure it out and that’s basically what’s happened. And next thing you know my president was going to retire, called me up and said don’t run for president. And I thought, well I wasn’t going to run for president. That wasn’t, all I wanted to do was my work as a union steward, helping people, you know, and that sort of thing. But when she told me not to run for president, I said ok, do you know me? I guess you don’t. I don’t do what people tell me to do. Ergo, I ran for president. Got elected, by a landslide and went ok, so now how to I president? So I got a hold of OPSEU and said, is there a presidents training? So, ya, cause I need to be trained on doing what, figuring out what I’m doing here. Went to the presidents training and then as they say Bob’s your uncle after that, right. I just figured it out as I went along and learned as I went along and fast forward, went on the bargaining team and went, ok how to I chair. Right, so it was learning again by the seat of your pants and low and behold the results that we got was phenomenal. And, I think I’m still processing because I think it’s only been a week, right. I’m still processing, trying to figure out how did this happen, how did we do this in this unprecedented time but I will, I promise eventually process it all and figure it out. But, I’m still learning. Every day I learn something new. Everything I touch I find it’s new.          

Carter 11:38: This is interesting if you don’t mind, me jumping in. Is everyone’s story is about somebody saying hey, like there’s a hand. And I think that’s a huge lesson from this podcast. Is like, and for all of locals to think about and it’s something I talked about earlier is like we need to go to the black members or BIPOC members and hold them up and bring them in and I think everyone’s story here is kind of showing that those are the things that are working and that OPSEU and all of our locals need to continue doing to build and to keep talking about anti-racism. So I just thought that was just such an important piece. 

Almeida 12:18: That’s such an excellent segway into my next question. (Laughing) That’s awesome. It’s not always about, sometimes its someone trying to keep you down that has us push through, which is I think is, Coleen kind of in your example, at least in that example of the presidency, right. The next question, you know, I’m going to put to you is, what advice would you give to our members that want to get active?     

Lennon 12:51: I would definitely advise you to go and seek the information. You have to be proactive when it comes to the local. Definitely certain local’s big bigger locals don’t have, as they should but don’t have the time to come and look you out or find you. So if you want to be active you gotta go to your local meetings, go to you GMM and see where you can, you know, foster your own path or make your own imprint on your local but definitely go and be proactive is what I would tell them to do.

Almeida 13:28: Coleen.  

Houlder 13:29: So, I would say, call me! No, (laughing). 

Almeida 13:33: You’re going to be busy.

Houlder 13:34: No kidding. At the end of the day, it’s about educating yourself and I realized that it’s not easy for some people, right. Because sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. So, what I can say is for my local I will just continue to blast out information and you know how you throw something at the wall and you hope something sticks. And I will continue to bug you and to say come to this, come do this, come do that. And the thing is, I believe in creating, and I don’t want to say creating little Coleen’s by any means but people that are of the same mind set and duplicating yourself in that way and get them to keep pushing and pushing and try to bring our members in to that place where they can see that you know what it’s not scary. Because I think we have a local that, you know, generally speaking, do not want to be involved in anything. I don’t want the union to contact me, don’t bug me about anything union but if something happens with the manager I want you in the room. Right, that sort of thing. So we know about those, right. And so it’s just a matter of continuing to poke that bear, keep going and eventually I think something will stick and it’s all to me about education. So, educate or maybe educate someone who’s already involved and who already wants to be involved and get them to obtain that education. So I’ve got now sort of a train the trainer kinda guy and get them to help with the education cause you’re not gonna be able to do it yourself, right. So, ya, just get more people on board, that’s what I think because no man is an island, you know, those clichés. But ya, just keep poking the bear, poke, poke, poke and eventually something will stick. 

Almeida 15:34: Awesome.

Carter 15:35: Ya, I think to our members, you know, for our local, one of the achievements that I’m most proud of for all of our stewards and executive is our monthly PD sessions were we literally talk about anti-racism and all its forms and we bring in our guest speakers. And those that started small right like somebody was like hey we don’t see this in our workplace why doesn’t the local do it. And we’re like ok, right. So, if a member is like not sure where they belong but that is something that is passionate to them and they want to start those types of things, start small. Our first PD session had 20 people. Guess what? We ran it again and again and again and we had a session last year with Desmond Cole and 300 people came, right. So, it starts smalls, it gets bigger, it could go back small but its ok as long as we keep pushing that envelope and pushing those questions. So as a member, ask your local, what can I do to help you, you know, talk about anti-racism, black anti-black racism whatever it is that’s interesting to you ask how you, as the member, can help the local do that. Because it’s also not up to one person to do that work but let’s do it together and let’s get it done and if you don’t see that happening then come to the coalition or whatever coalition that you identify with and we will help you do that work as well. So, it’s about using all the resources but if you’re ready to step up let’s do that together and don’t put that on any one person.    

Almeida 17:07: My last question is, what can your union do, in your opinion, to help support and foster leadership within the ranks? Be bold! But anyways I’m gonna start Coleen I’m gonna start with you.

Houlder 17:21: Leadership within the ranks? I think it’s just a matter of electing leaders in positions that are well I guess leadership positions in general which of course points toward the board but to get people sitting in those seats where others can see them and say oh, they kinda look like me. Maybe I can do that and that’s the only way to start, the only way. Because if people do not see others in those seats, they’re not gonna see themselves there. It’s very very difficult. It started when we were born I think, right, you have to see people ahead of you doing things where you can actually say, you know what maybe I can try that. In every position, right. So I think that’s a good start. It’s about electing people into those leadership positions, making space for those folks.      

Almeida 18:22: Selvin

Lennon 18:23: My local 542 we have kinda a very an odd situation. We have one of those situations where it’s not primarily about the leader per say but more so about the friends that have been attained over the years. And I really wanted to change that because I think a true leader is supposed to be able to get everybody a call to action. A true leader has an innate ability to make people follow you. And I don’t believe that we have that yet in our local because I feel like it’s just so mundane. Everybody just does it because it’s what you have to do but I think to foster leadership like was just said you have to put leaders in the role. You can’t just put somebody there because, you know, they know a lot of people or they’re voted because everybody knows them. You gotta put people who are visible who are able to go out and step outside of their comfort zone and be comfortable in, you know, the racialized crowd and in the non-racialized crowd. You have to be able to be a chameleon and still be yourself for everyone. So what I think, you know, like I said, you have to put leaders in those positions and you have to actually get feedback from your local to see what kind of leaders that they what to see. What do the people who run your local, what do you wanna see them do for you as a general member. What do you want to see them achieve? What do you want your local to achieve and then you put people in those places that can foster other people to wanna do those things.  

Almeida 20:12: OK

Carter 20:14: Alright, you ask, you said I can say whatever I want. (Laughing) Remember you said that. 

Almeida 20:20: Ya

Carter 20:14: Then OPSEU needs to start at the board and I’m going to piggy back off of Coleen. There’s no one on the board right now that I see within myself as a black person seeing on the board and we need to start there. Who are we electing that’s representing all of members of OPSEU? And we really need to take a look at what are we doing in the region? What are we doing at the locals? And we kinda talked about this and what are we doing all the way down to the members that we’re not getting racial workers moving up the ranks and moving on to the board. So that’s where we need to take a deep dive and are they running for the board and not getting seats, right, that’s another issue that happens. So, I think we really need to take a deep dive into that and work on that so that our members look at the board, look at higher leadership positions within our union and within our own organizations and think I too can get there and I too want to achieve or I too want to follow that person. You talked about, you know, that you have a person and then other people and everyone follows those people then we need all of those people so everyone is following us. And right now that’s happening but it could happen much better if we had all the different people bringing all the other people so we can all follow each other together. 

Almeida 21:44: Awesome, alright. Well listen, again, I want to thank you all for being here. I want to thank our listeners for listening in. I want to thank our staff for all the work they do and anyways listen, have a great day and thank you for sharing your thoughts, your energy and its great seeing you guys here at the studio. It’s nice to actually have some face, even though we’re separated, our listeners can’t see us, we’re distanced but it’s still nice to see your presence here. So, thank you so much. 

Carter, Lennon, Houlder 22:18:  Thank you for having us. Appreciate it.