OPSEU/SEFPO prides ourselves on being a democratic union and 2022 is a big one for our democracy. With OPSEU/SEFPO elections coming up for regional leaders, First Vice-President/Treasurer and President, outgoing President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and Communications Supervisor Steve Fairbairn talk about OPSEU/SEFPO’s election process, and Smokey’s proudest accomplishments as union President.

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Fairbairn 00:01: Hi everyone and welcome to OPSEU/SEFPO Talk! I’m Steve Fairbairn, Communications Supervisor at OPSEU/SEFPO. We’re a member-driven, democratic union, and 2022 is shaping up to be a big one for our democracy! Elections for our union’s Executive Board will be held at our Regional Meetings in a few weeks. And in April, at Convention 2022, we’ll have the first open election for union President in more than a decade. In our union, we’re no strangers to the importance of voting. Your vote is your voice. And at OPSEU/SEFPO, your vote also determines who the leaders of your union are – your Local Presidents, your Regional leaders, your First Vice-President/Treasurer and of course your President. When members get involved in the voting process, you’re deciding who you want to represent you and to drive our union’s goals for a better province forward. Joining me today for a discussion on our democratic process is OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. Thanks for being here, Smokey!

Thomas 00:57: Hi Steve. Thanks!

Fairbairn 00:59: Smokey, for our members who are new to OPSEU/SEFPO, can you tell us a little more explain OPSEU/SEFPO’s process for electing its regional leaders and President and First Vice President/Treasurer?

Thomas 01:10: Yup, sure can. So, I’ll start with this, OPSEU is, you know, the whole province of Ontario. We’re divided into seven regions. So, your regional leadership gets elected this way. Coming March the 19th of this year, we’ll have elections to elect three board members per region. So, 21 board members in total. And if you’re interested in that process and interested in running for the board, first you have to be a steward and then a delegate to the regional meeting. I’ll explain that in a minute. But, if you’re not a delegate to the regional meeting but you’re a steward, you can actually go to the regional meeting as an observer and what we call run from the floor but you would actually have to have a delegate at the Regionals somebody actually delegated at the Regional meeting nominate you for the board. That’s called running from the floor. But prior to that I would encourage membership to say to your local president, your local executive committee, steward in your area, you know, hey, you know, are you going to the Regional meeting? If you are, like what how do you we have some input into who you might support as a delegate to the meeting running? And then if you’re a steward, I would really encourage you to think about running for as a delegate to the meeting and then or and the very minimum, being aware of who is running? What their platforms are? What they, you know, what they stand for? What they think the union needs to head or is there, you know, is there things they think the union can do better, things they’d like to introduce. And then your delegates can go there and make a well, the best decision possible on behalf of the members of your local. So, when you get to the Regional meeting, you can be nominated ahead of time and there’s nomination forms you can get sent to you to fill out and you’d have somebody who’s gonna be a delegate to the regional meeting nominate you. So, for example my local president use to nominate me, for the executive board. And so then, you go to the Regional meeting. At the Regional meeting, they’ll have an opportunity, well before the meeting and during the meeting, for candidates to lobby for your support and the old days we would mail things out, you know, do a mail out. Make phone calls to people if you were running for the board. I’d always phone every, you know, every delegate I could track down. Didn’t always get them all but I’d try. And, you know, lobby for support, answer any questions they might have, address any criticism they might have. If you’re an incumbent going back and going to the Regional meeting prepared. So at the Regional meeting there would be a question and answer session for all perspective board members, so questions are submitted in writing in advance into a box and the a staff member will share the election process, someone who actually works for the union, to make it non-biased and they’ll pull the questions out. Anything of a personal nature will get discarded but generally speaking it needs to be a question that all people can address. So you’ll have that question and answer session then each perspective board member will get to give a speech. And then after those speeches, you have the vote. So you can vote if you put one name down, two names down, three names down and so I always put three names down and, myself and whoever else I thought would be good with me. It is a secret ballot and you need 50 percent plus one vote. So if there’s a hundred delegates you need 51 votes to become elected. If say, four out of, you know, say four people running actually all got more than 50 percent plus one, which has happened, the highest vote counts win. So then once you elect the board members, there’s a separate election now for what they call Regional Vice President. There’s one per region, so seven Regional Vice Presidents. And after Convention, the President and the First Vice President are automatic delegates to that executive committee it’s called. So the regional meeting your gonna, there will be a separate vote, the three board members, if they are interested, lots of times it’s an acclamation cause, you know, they all agree that, you know, one person would be best and but sometimes there’s votes. And so you elect the Regional Vice President, then you elect an alternate Regional Vice President and there’s also a vote for an alternative executive board member. Actually that comes right after the board elections before the RVP vote. Forgot about that one. But and the reason we elect alternates is several years ago we found that, if there was a vacancy during the life of the term, you’d have to have a regional meeting to elect a replacement. So if you have an alternate, then alternate moves up to become a board member. And same as the RVP, if you’re the RVP and say you run for President and you win, well then the alternate RVP would move up and he would be the Regional Vice President. So that’s kinda how you get the board members but also at the regional meeting we have a lot of committees, right and, so committee, one representative per region for committees so for Provincial Women’s Committee, Provincial Human Rights Committee, you know what I mean, Solidarity Committee, you name it, Francophone Committee we have a lot of committees and all do very valuable work. And those mostly are contested elections cause people are very interested in the work these committees do. Be it the Young Workers Committee and so they get to give a speech, they have elections, again 50 plus one and then each committee will elect an alternate. Then, at the same meeting, we elect delegates to if it’s gonna be a Convention in the term of office for the Canadian Labour Congress, Ontario Federation of Labour and the National Union of Public and General Employees and through NUPGE, that’s how we affiliate to the house of labour. So we elect delegates, multiple delegates to attend these conventions. And those votes are counted later. Staff actually type up a list and people just tick them off, they collect up the ballots again in secret fashion. Staff will count them later because it takes a long time to count all those, there’s a lot of names. So, and then, when that’s all done and that’s a very busy day.   

Fairbairn 08:01: Yes, no question.

Thomas 08:04: And by the time it’s over, everybody is pretty tired. Especially if you were running for a position cause there’s certain amount of stress comes with that. And I’ve always said there are no losers. If you put your name forward and run, I think, my hats off to you for running. So but when we get to Convention, out of the 21 board member elect, cause your term of office actually takes effect at the close of Convention, the new board takes over. And cause there’s always changes on the board, somebody doesn’t run, somebody gets defeated. But at Convention, so out of the 21 board member elect, the delegates to convention will elect a President, that election is first. And then, once that’s done a First Vice President/Treasurer. And when that’s done, we will rank the Regional Vice Presidents in order of ranking. And the reason we rank them is A to determine the highest ranking female officer. So the highest ranking female officer becomes an automatic delegate to the Ontario Federation of Labour and the National Union of Public and General Employees. There’s an equity seat for a woman on those two bodies. And, so say something happens. Say I was president and I decided aww to heck with it, I had enough with it and I wanted to retire mid-term or, you know, heaven forbid something happens to somebody. Well then, that’s when the second moves up to the first and the first moves up to be President. So that’s why you do those rankings. And at Convention there’s a Q and A session for two separate elections, right. For the President and for the First VP. And then there’s also an equity questions focused solely on equity a Q and A session for that. And anybody running, of course they’ll do an appropriate amount of politicking and lobbying. You’ll have teams working for you handing out your literature and stuff. Now, in the last couple of elections, I think, more in this election, social media is gonna play a huge part. So, I think, you can reach a lot of people in a hurry. I mean, I can’t tell you how many envelopes I’ve stuff over the years and put a stamp on and mailed out. You know 800 or 900 delegates to convention, that’s a lot of envelopes but you know me and my kids would, you know, I’d have to take all them out for supper but we’d stuff all them envelopes. So social media is a nice add on to that. So you can use your Facebook, you know, email and that kind of stuff. And if you’re a delegate to Convention or to a regional meeting or an alternate, the folks that are running for office will get those lists so they can reach out to you. So please, if you’re gonna be a delegate, make sure it’s your private home email address and not your work address. So that’s kinda how the election process works. It’s a lot to take in but that’s how it works.                

Fairbairn 11:02: In your 30 plus years in OPSEU/SEFPO, I mean I know you’ve held many many jobs, probably just about every job but which ones have you found most rewarding?

Thomas 11:11: Well, I always liked being local president. I had a very active local an amazing steward body. I enjoyed that time, I truly did. But I’ve enjoyed being President of the greatest union in Canada indeed I’d submit just about anywhere, has been the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve enjoyed it almost all the time. Sometimes not so much but I have enjoyed it. And I’ve been truly honoured and humbled to have been president this long. I got active in the union either 83, 1983 or 84 and around there somewhere as local president for a lot of years. Got on the executive board in 1993. Became the First VP/Treasurer in 2001, President in 2007. So I’ve had a long run and again, it’s I could never compare it to anything else in life except maybe having a loving partner and a family would be the only two things probably could be more rewarding. 

Fairbairn 12:15: What advice do you have for members who are considering becoming a member of the executive board or even running for President or Vice President?

Thomas 12:23: If you run on, you know, here’s who I am, here’s what I’m about, here’s where I think, you know, I endorse the actions of the union but I want to see us go in this direction. You know, put out a platform, actually have a plan, have a vision, express your vision and try to put it out clearly. And if you run and you’re successful, then be true to, be willing to change your mind because, you know, once, you know, I’ve had board members say and I’ve experienced this myself, when I became the president, I had six years’ experience as Treasurer but I thought to myself, man what have I got myself into. Cause there was still, even having had that experience, there’s a whole lot more to the job. People have no idea what’s involved and so it’s a lot of work but it’s rewarding. So and just be true to yourself.       

Fairbairn 13:12: What would you advise our members to be thinking about and doing as the Regionals and Convention get closer? In fact, you know, what did you do when before you sought some of these elected positions? 

Thomas 13:23: Well I decided to run for the board, Steve. I was gonna run for one term cause I was gonna fix all the problems of the union. I’m still here today and so I ran on because I felt some board members weren’t really accountable for the time, you know, the union compensates your board members employers. It’s called presidential assignments and so we pay for your wages and benefits on days you’re off. It’s all prorated, we figure it out and pay the bills. So I felt there needed to be some more accountability there and that’s really quite why I ran. But also, I when I because a local president, nobody really taught you anything. I reached out to other local presidents and I was really fortunate cause I mean, when I was local presidents I always had really good staff reps and people I can call up can count on but I didn’t really know a whole lot on how the union functions. So, over the years, you know, we got the new presidents orientation, steward courses, you know, we put a lot of effort into educating stewards. So there was, you know, certainly a lot of learning to do and to be had. But if you become a steward, I say to people, keep track of everything you take, every course you take, everything you do. Because when you put together a portfolio of all your experience, if you’ve been a steward for a few years, it is a pretty impressive portfolio. And indeed I always say to people in the workplace, if your boss offers you, you know, sends you on a course, take it. It all looks good on a resume and very few organizations on the management side invest in your managers in a manner and to the extent which we will invest in Steward training. So you, it is an incredible learning experience. You’ll pick up a lot of valuable skills and all those skills are transferable to anything you do in life and down the road, cause really people really don’t know where life is gonna take you. And so, keep track of it all and you know, take all the steward courses. We offer a lot of courses, take them alright, and they’re fun and educational. You’ll meet a lot of good people. You’ll get your own networks, you know, of people you meet from around your region. If its central courts from around the province then it really its, it can be a really amazing experience.       

Fairbairn 15:37: Smokey, thanks for joining us. This is all, as usual, been very informative. I’m Steve Fairbairn, join us again next time for another addition of OPSEU/SEFPO Talk!