The Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW) is a provincial caucus of the union that focuses on strengthening human rights and equity.

Listen to this episode

Thomas 00:01: Hi everybody, and welcome to another addition of OPSEU/SEFPO Talk!

I’m Smokey Thomas, President of our union, and today we’re going to talk about one of OPSEU/SEFPO’s equity groups, the Coalition of Racialized Workers. The Coalition is a provincial caucus of OPSEU/SEFPO and works within the regions to develop, promote and increase awareness and understanding of equity, human rights, anti-racism and that’s just to name a few things that they work on.

So, last month, our First Vice President/Treasurer Eddy Almeida sat down with 3 members of the collation to discuss the history and the theme of Black History Month. So, today, we’ll continue this discussion with key members of the Coalition.

So with me here today in the studio, socially distanced of course, are Peter Thompson. Peter is the Chair of the Coalition. Peter is from the Broader Public Service. He’s an activist from Region 1. Peter’s been an active member of OPSEU over the last two decades in various capacities including as the Co-Chair of Equity Chairs. Peter was also instrumental in leading the “Living Wall” initiative and the Social Mapping Project, which I’m sure he’ll touch on in a bit.

And with us also is Carol Mundley. Carol is Chair of Region 5’s Coalition and also a member of the Broader Public Service. Carol is a Steward and Health and Safety Co-Chair of Local 500 at CAMH. That’s the Center for Addiction and Mental Health here in Toronto which is a unit that represents mental health workers. Carol on the mental health division is also the Health and Safety Coordinator and previously Carol’s been the Chair of the Provincial Women’s Committee and she certainly continues to be very active within her region and her local.

And also with us today for the first time doing anything like this Renford Thomas. Renford is one of the newer members on the Coalition. Renford is an Ontario Public Service member from Region 4, my region. And Renford works for the Ministry of Attorney General and he’s also a shop steward and treasurer for his local.

So let me start by saying thank you Peter, Carol and Renford for taking the time to be here today. And just so you know Peter drove in from Windsor and Renford drove in from Ottawa today so that’s a long drive.

Thompson 02:30: Thank you very much glad to be here.

Thomas 02:32: So let’s get right to it. So Peter, let me ask you this, the coalition of racialized workers has come a long way since its inception in 2003. So for anybody listening, can you share with our members, a brief history of the coalition and some of its past successes?

Thompson 02:48: Well it’s been over 20 years so that’s a real daunting task but I can, you know, starting right from the beginning, you know, we were the last equity committee-caucus to be created. We still are what we call unconstitutional, meaning that we’re not really in the Constitution although that we do act as a committee. We’ve had very various accomplishments, I mean, the one that comes to mind the most is social mapping program, which had started out to be the living wall. That was like our first project in which, in that we brought to Convention every year for five years. Just like equity seats, that’s been there for almost five years now but then, you know, the Convention delegation finally passed it and it became, you know, a program and a standing item in the budget. And, you know, with help of the administrations, it’s been, it’s lived now I think, well two administration anyway, Leah Casselman and you. But I mean, it’s something that’s never gonna go away and we take pride in that because it’s leading the way for other organizations. You know, just to mention a few, like my, you know, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation they just did a survey just this year, last year for the first time, following what we have done. UNIFOR has something that’s called the equity audit, where they’re going around and profiling their staff and their locations right across Canada that came from us. So, these are little things that people don’t take, we take for granted as union activist cause we’re always yelling and screaming and stamping our feet, we want this but these are things that when we look back on, it’s instrumental what we’ve done for the labour movement and we’re gonna be an example going forward for years in terms of… we were the first ones to do that. And I believe that other people like including my workplace are gonna follow suit because you need the numeric data in order to truly analyze your operation, your organizations whatever it might be. You cannot go forward without looking in the past so and that’s what social mapping does, right. So, I mean, that’s just to name a few.

We’ve had, you know, just recently had changed the statement of respect by including people of African descent, you know, as Asian and South Asian. These are things again are small potatoes for some people but for us it meant because it included a group that wasn’t necessarily in there and the transition of the Workers of Colour Caucus to the Coalition of Racialized Workers. All these name changes are insignificant for a lot but means a hell of a lot to other people. So, you know, as we go forward, I can brag a bit more about some of the stuff we do but those were to me these are the significant things that really happened, you know from the beginning.

Thomas 05:51: Yes, I remember that you went to Cape Town, South Africa and you presented at a conference of academics from around the world and I remember the feedback I got was they were absolutely amazed that you could come in and change the world that way. So, the feedback was quite amazing. So, Peter that should be one thing that you should be personally proud of, I think.

Thompson 06:12: No, I mean, that was an experience for sure. I mean, they, when we got there we had, I think, 90,000 members at that time. And we had a response of 30,000 surveys and at that time I was a little disappointed. I was like, why didn’t we get 50? Why weren’t we closer to over 50 percent? But when we went to South Africa and we were with these professors and everybody doing their thesis’ and dissertations we found out that 200 sample was a lot. So, when we came in with our 30,000 people were like astonished that we had collected that much data and we were amongst the elite. It was the International Diversity Conference of the world and we were amongst professors. There was only one other union there from Alberta and I cannot remember the name of the union. But we were, and we got presented, you know we were a presenter. There’s a lot of people there just as participants but we were and actual, they took our presentation on social mapping and allowed us to present to these professors. So ya, it was a real honour and it really changed my life to tell you the truth, going there, going to Africa.

Thomas 07:19: And so just before I go to you Carol. So for anybody who’s gonna be a delegate or alternate to convention, there is a constitutional amendment coming to actually include the Coalition of Racialized Workers as a committee in the constitution, which is a big thing. And it takes two thirds to pass so this is my pitch for everybody attending there to support this constitutional amendment and make sure it passes unanimously.

So, Carol over to you. Throughout OPSEU/SEFPO’s 7 Regions, Region 5 which, if folks don’t know, it’s the Greater Toronto Area, has the highest concentration of Black and racialized workers. So Carol, in your view, what are some of the challenges and what opportunities would they open up in the work of the Coalition?

Mundley 08:08: Thank you very much Smokey for inviting me to this space. One of the things one of the greatest challenge that as blacks and racialized workers we are faced with is access. Having access to be able to participate. So, you have information that disseminated whether it’s from the central location, central OPSEU and it will go to local president’s office or the local LEC. It stops, at times it stops right at the president’s office, so it doesn’t get disseminated amongst the members. When you look at what’s happening in every single local or most local, people don’t, if you’re racialized or black workers you’re less likely to have a position in the LEC. So, in turn you don’t get the information because at times it stops right at the president’s office. And so with that, it does create that barrier. The barrier to for workers to actually have information. Information that would be pertinent to actually be able to participate. And so when you talk to workers I’ll give my, for example within my local, I can speak to my local, and I’ve also been speaking to other workers throughout the province, throughout, you know, the region. You have information around training but a mere one percent of that information that comes forward, usually stops at the president’s office or it doesn’t get trickled down to anywhere else. So, workers don’t know what’s happening. When we talk to, we go around and talk to workers, you ask them about what concerns do they have? They have the problem of getting access. So that’s the big concern that most people have and they and so they’re not able to participate in things such as whether it’s, you know, they merely can get participation going in for local events, anything happening locally. But just consider how much more difficult it is to get involved in what’s happening in a regional basis, right, and so they’re least likely, less likely to be participating in Convention and stuff like that. So most workers we, you would speak most racialized and black workers you would speak to, they don’t have that access. So one of the things that we constantly talk about is, how can we as a labour movement ensure that workers are getting the information that’s being disseminated to them down to their locals? We talk about, ok maybe the information should not be stopping at the president’s office only, the local president but it should be going to the LEC. So it gives it a wider length to actually get that information out.

We also looked at having information sessions whether it’s through lunch and learn or, you know, having contact and resources within those locals. So through education you will absolutely get that opportunity to actually speak to the members and once you’re able to start engaging members in information sharing you will see where it actually does makes that difference. So the biggest concerns we’ve been having is access, education and just knowledge overall on what is the union and what are my rights and responsibilities as union members.

Thomas 12:21: So just on the communications piece, I’ve been around for a long time and you’re right about when people get educated about the union. That’s when you see people get interested and become a steward, run for the local LEC, you know, run for the Executive Board or run for Sector Chair. And so, I, the work that the Coalition has done and the education part, I do really hope that in the upcoming elections that we have that, I’m hoping for, to see some racialized workers, you know, rise up and run for the board and win. And that would help, we need more diversity on the Executive Board.

Mundley 13:00: Absolutely and even as the coalition, the role that the coalition has been playing is connecting with different local. And I’m not saying it’s easy because it is quite difficult engaging throughout, you know, so you have, so I’m from the BPS but so the only way I can do it is actually being able to break down those barriers that exist and try to communicate with people, not just from the BPS but the OPS, the CAAT Academic and Support staff. And right across the board and that’s the only way you can actually start engaging workers, engaging members because again we have found that the key to success of anything that we do, it will be through engagement. We have to have intentional and deliberate engagement of workers.

Thomas 14:01: And I agree completely. Education is the key and participation is the way forward.

Renford, so I just recently met Renford and I must say I was instantly impressed. We were with the high commissioner from Jamaica and Renford you handled yourself extremely well. And the sister she’s a lovely lady and I’m that hoping we can do more with her in the future. But Renford, so, I’d like to ask you, so OPSEU/SEFPO’s equity work, particularly with regards to member education has been well received. At least that’s been my experience has been well received. So, what would you see as some of the key educationals that are available to members looking to be able to build their capacity and understanding of equity issues?

R. Thomas 14:54: For sure. Before I even answer those questions Smokey, I just would like to let you know that you are now an honourary Jamaican.

Thomas 15:01: Oh!

R. Thomas 15:02: Now that we’ve met you at the High Commissioners Office. So anytime you do anything you can say, yah man! And yah right! You’re one of us.

Thomas 15:11: I’ll try that. Ya man!

R. Thomas 15:18: But in terms of the educational pieces and learning workshops, what I found as the greatest attribute from this coalition is just being around such seasoned individuals who have had so much knowledge of what the union is about. What the coalition is about. How some of the small minutiaes are run. So just being able to be in conversation and at the table to be in ear shot of some of these individuals has been one of my greatest learning tools. That going on, I’ve participated in three learning sessions. Those anti-discrimination sessions that we’re we did. There’s a train the trainer that is going to be taking place soon dealing and focusing on anti-black racism. There was a members support and advisor training that I attended. And these are very valuable. These are things that allow us to have a different perspective. Allow us to challenge ourselves and challenge our thinking. And some of the best way to just learn is through the conversation, through the dialogue, being open to that dialogue and because of these training initiatives that have been brought forth through the coalition, I’ve not only learned, I’ve been able to participate. It’s been a great opportunity just to be able to add to my knowledge. Build on the foundation that I’ve already had. I’m not sure about anyone else but in my local, we don’t necessarily get a lot of union time carved out to start finessing what the union is all about. To understand the collective agreement, to understand the grievance process. We have to do our regular day work job and then the union is on the side. So, we’re very limited, I find at least, I was very limited in my knowledge and learning just on a local level. Learned a lot of things at the steward training, learned a lot of things but being involved with the coalition, again, in a relatively short amount of time has just been very fruitful and I’m indebted to the coalition for providing opportunities for me to learn and also to share my knowledge as well.

Thomas 17:30: So you do understand they’ve kinda roped you in here. Everybody’s got their eyes on you as a future leader, just so you know.

R. Thomas 17:37: That has been mentioned a time or two. I keep telling them to just calm down, wait but, I mean, again succession planning is something that needs to be done in every single organization. So, if I’m someone that is being looked towards as that, I am honoured and hopefully I can just fill Peter’s big shoes properly but it won’t be anytime soon. So come back for another term, Peter!

Thomas 18:02: Well, just for anybody listening, so OPSEU we have, I think made great strides in education around anti-black racism, anti-racism, anti-hate but as with society of itself, we still got a long long way to go. And it’s a never ending job, I think, you know, there’s gonna be things I hope the union is gonna continue to work on forever. And again, for those delegates going to convention, having the coalition become a certified committee in the constitution means no body, no future leader could ever turn back the hands of time, which is key. It’s very important.

Thompson 18:38: So, just that a lot of people, you know, should know that we’re rolling out the anti-black, anti-racism course. I’m actually gonna be co-facilitating in this month in March in Region 1. I think Region 3 and Region 4 now has had it and I think it’s yet to come to Region 5 but probably this year. So these are the tools that are out there that Renford’s talking about that can be accessed and we should just make note that our last training session included not just racialized people but all members who wanted to participate in that membership support training. And a lot of the people just like a few from corrections who came there and said I want to know how to represent my members with these issues that pertain towards racialized people cause I don’t know. And that’s why I’m here and this is what this is for and we trained 57 people on that last one. You virtuals made it a little bit easier, a little bit cheaper but still it’s overwhelming that, you know, the people who applied to be part of that course. That’s our second course on it and so, you know, like we have, you know, post George Floyd murder, whatever you want to call it. The Coalition and OPSEU is already on the road of education around black and anti-racism education. For a long time we were there, we started our program in 2018 with a strategic plan and we’ve never looked back. So, all I wanna say for, you know, the future leaders, whose ever gonna be there taking Smokey’s place that don’t stop what has been started. Don’t use it for political gains to be on one side or another. This is something that we’re doing and we’re trailblazers and we gotta remain that. So, let’s not lose what we’ve gained and let’s stay there and stay fast.

Thomas 20:18: So what I’ve learned that in the labour movement, there’s no such things as a dumb question. And I’ve been able to have conversations with Peter and many other folks from our equity seeking groups and committees and causes and ask those questions and never feel embarrassed. And Peter’s kinda chuckled at me a few times here and there but you can get the education you need and those educational sessions, I agree Peter. It is great to see folks from all walks of life, you know, take part in them and the work that the coalition has done is truly amazing. So, a couple of things Peter, just give us an idea of a couple of things that you’re currently, the coalition is currently involved in. I know you’ve touched on a few things, is there anything else you would like to add? Any initiatives?

Thompson 20:48: Well, I mean, we always have new projects. Again, we’ve been, the pandemic has sidelined us with our community activism and our community outreach program were, you know, we participated in Cariban and other events that have been across the province. This year I would really like to focus on Windsor in particular, not because I’m not, because I live there, but because in 2021 the government recognized emancipation. They recognized that and brought it back. That use to be a huge festival in Windsor before the 1962 riots. When they shut it down thinking that the people are going to come over to Windsor and burn down Windsor as they were burning down Detroit back then. So, since that, there only has been a small local type of festival presentation but this year, last year was the first time we participated local as a community and this year I’d like OPSEU to participate in it. And, so those are one of the projects. As you know, like with the virus out there, these other events that are, you know, attract millions of people, they just might not happen anymore. As, you know, well attended as they use to be. So, you know, our goals for the coalition is to continue the training. Definitely for the people that are going to convention, you’ve gotta look for us to be a constitutional committee. We’re not asking for anything different. The language is out there already enshrined in the Constitution. We just want our name behind it. We want to give people like Renford and Carol the opportunity to go to Convention and be automatic delegates just like any other committee. So these are not things that were asking for that are things that are over and above what other people are getting. These are just the same rights that everybody else has. So, you know, these are some of our main things going forward and we’d like to have our conference this year if we can get together somewhere.

Thomas 22:49: Well, and I agree with everything you’ve said. So, and I will be lobbying hard at Convention to make sure that gets passed. So just for a wrap up. I’d like to ask each just one quick question. So, can I ask just each and I will start with you Carol. What inspires you to do the work that you do? And just sorta briefly, what would your hopes be for the future of our labour activism? What do you want labour to do?

Mundley 23:18: Great question. Great question, Smokey. One of the things that inspire me, actually have to go back to who actually inspires me. My sister. My sister she’s the one who raised me and, you know, being from a large family and being number 11, it wasn’t hard to actually have people who you would look up to, ‘cause again, I was number 11. My sister always say to me, whatever you do, make sure you do it well and you do it for the right reason. It doesn’t have to be popular and again because I’m never political. I’m always looking to doing the right thing no matter what. And as we know, sometimes doing the right thing can be difficult because it can be a lonely world. Especially if you go against the grain or not really falling in line with status quo. But I do believe, when you stand for something, you know, you will always come out on top, no matter what it looks like. So that is one of the things I continue to do no matter what, is always try my best to do the right thing.

And, you ask the question, how or what I’m looking forward to in the labour movement? For me it’s very simple. It’s actually a labour movement where people’s right will never be trampled on. And everyone have a place, doesn’t matter what that place looks like but each and every single worker have a place in the labour movement. You have some who are fantastic and writing, some who are amazing at speaking but each and every single person have a role to play. And having that opportunity to actually play that role and be supported in that role is extremely crucial. And so, that is my hope that is my vision for the labour movement.

Thomas 25:31: And it’s a good vision. Renford, being a youngster and fairly new to OPSEU activism, what inspires you and where do you hope to see us go?

R. Thomas 25:44: I’d just like to point out that I’m not as young as you may think. But thank you for the complement. Two things or two people or two entities that inspire me to do the work that I do are all of those who have come before me. I understand that I have been afforded many many opportunities that people before me didn’t have. Somebody had to champion that fight. Somebody had to bring that to the forefront for me to be able to be comfortable where I am now. And number two is my passion, my heart is for the youth. So the next generation. I believe that we should leave the world in a better place then what we received it. We should be handing something off like a relay race as opposed to starting from scratch. So, I, those who came before me, those who are coming after me are the two who really inspire me to continue to do the work that I do. I might not see certain things that I desire in my lifetime but hopefully my son, my young cousins might be able to.

And in terms of what do I hope for labour activism in the future? I hope that it continues to be there. I hope it continues to be unapologetic in the fight. I hope that it continues to be advocates for individuals who need it. I hope that they’re able to continue to push the envelope for us to be able to achieve, I don’t want to say equity or equality but just fairness. That’s what I’d like that the labour activism to continue and it’s not an easy job, right. Everyone has their own understandings, their own upbringings, their own ignorances and we have to be able to acknowledge those as well. Just because we sit on a certain equity group or certain labour group doesn’t mean we understand all the facets of it. So we all have to be willing to learn and I think if we understand that we share this air, we share this space of earth, we’re in this thing together and there’s enough for all of us. So let us help each other to strive to succeed and just be able to flourish. United all the people under the sun. So those, that’s what I believe, that’s what I hope.

Thomas 28:05: Let me just say I’ve never heard anybody say it better.

R. Thomas 28:11: Thank you.

Thomas 28:13: Peter

Thompson 28:15: Well, I’m on a diversity, equity, inclusion committee now everybody has them now in the Broader Public Sector but with MPAC, I just was on a meeting with
the change of leaders which was the CEO and the head of Human Resources and a few other executive board member and they just engaged in the survey. They got the results and it wasn’t very good. They got a lot of work to do and I told them what we were doing as a team here and for the first time with the equity seats were gonna be at Convention this year as a resolution as a Constitutional amendment. I told them about the executive board getting together with equity committees and coming up and trying to come up with an answer of to pass these things through the Convention through, you know, our 16, 1500 members that come every year. And so, this is a collaboration between the executive board and equity. This is what needs to be done also at MPAC. You can’t just have the people at the top waiting for the people at the bottom telling them recommending what to do. If you’re not involved like the OPSEU leadership is now involved with these equity seats then change is gonna be harder. But if you have it endorsed like the way we’re doing it right now, Smokey and having, you know, the board having representatives there, you know, constructing and crafting out the language in order for it to make it more palatable for people so that it’ll be passed. This is the gage of the future not to sit around and have these opposing issues waiting for an election year, promising people things and then nothing ever happens. To be active is to get all levels of the change makers involved and that’s what’s happening here. And that’s what I’m excited about to go forward. Again, as an older guy who’s gonna might retire, I hope that the change is consistent when I’m gone and I hope that we don’t lose a step, you know, and hopefully if we have people like Carol Mundley and Renford that are gonna be there, you know, pulling the, you know, making you guys honest, you know, and sometimes, like look let’s face it, not all the time the administration Smokey and others been on the same page. We’ve been on opposite pages for a long time but the thing about it is that we’ve always come back to what is the logical or like Renford said, what is fair. Just what is fair. So not all the time, you know, gonna be on the same page and sometimes you gotta debate the issues, You know, not the people who put the issues but the point is that you gotta keep going and this is what this administration has done. And this is why I am excited for the future. The only thing I would miss about quitting my job is the union. That’s the truth.

Thomas 31:00: Well folks, so in closing just let me say for to Carol and Peter its been and honour and a pleasure. I’ve known you both for a long time and Peter is right. Some of the debates in OPSEU have been passionate. There have been different points of view but Peter’s right, we’ve always been fine. I like how Renford put it, what’s fair. And Renford, it’s, I’ve enjoyed meeting you. I, you know, won’t be around but I think you have a bright future. Let me just say age is relative at my age you look pretty young though. I got kids older than you so anyway. So folks, I hope you enjoyed this and we really do hope that in the future that OPSEU makes these podcasts a regular occurrence for all the committees and all the groups in OPSEU and I think it’s a great way to communicate. I thank you all for coming in and hope you found it enjoyable and hope people get a lot out of it. Thank you very much.

Mundley 32:02: Thanks for having us.

Thompson: Thank you, Smokey.

R. Thomas: Thank you for having us.

END