OPSEU Unites for Equity

OPSEU unit steward Rhonda Ferguson.

The role and responsibility of OPSEU’s Provincial Women’s Committee is to advocate for women within the union, supporting their workplace needs and rights. The committee members often take on roles as mediators, advisors and investigators under OPSEU’s Harassment and Discrimination Prevention policy. They can also help with equity language in contracts. Through this organization, as well as Local Women’s Committees (LWC), OPSEU strives to combat the issue of inequity in the workplace.

Rhonda Ferguson is a relatively new member of the Provincial Women’s Committee. She has been an OPSEU unit steward for three years and is the longest-standing labour management member in her composite. She is also a working mother of three. For the past 17 years, Ferguson has been working as an RPN in long-term home care in the Leeds and Grenville area. She is also a councillor for one of the local municipalities.

OLM: How long ago did you become involved with OPSEU?

I’ve been part of labour management in the union since 2010 but I just became really actively involved about four years ago. Every time I say I’m going to step back, I kind of step forward and say, ‘I think I would like that.’ In fact, a couple years ago, I decided to be a steward and I absolutely love it. It’s a position that needs to be filled and I enjoy helping people.

OLM: What has your experience been like with OPSEU?

It’s a big family. Any time you need help, any time you get down or discouraged, your family picks you up.

OLM: As a member of the Provincial Women’s Committee, have you seen cases of gender inequity or discrimination?

The Provincial Women’s Committee is something that I’m new to this year, and I decided to do it because of what I do and where I work. I’m very fortunate in the sense I have an employer who gives equal wages, but I’ve seen it in the community and I’ve seen it in private homes where workers are not getting equal pay for what they do. I just don’t understand how in today’s day and age we still have those inequalities.

OLM: And so, how is the Provincial Women’s Committee striving to change that?

The Committee is trying to unite us. It is trying to influence policy making by advocating for legislative changes in terms of wage equality and child care. If you make it easier on women to work, especially with day care and child care, then they feel better. Their work is better; they have a sense of purpose and know that their child is in good hands, all the while knowing that they are bringing home a living wage. The Provincial Women’s Committee is at the forefront and that is kind of why I got into that, to help bring that even farther ahead.

OLM: How does OPSEU help to mitigate the issue of inequality and discrimination?

I have to say OPSEU is an extremely tolerant corporation. It brings in minorities and supports a variety of projects. It’s not just the Women’s Committee. It’s not just the Human Rights Committee. It’s not just Disability Committee. We are uniting to bring forward the issues faced by all of these inequalities together.

OLM: Why do you think inequality in the workplace still exists to this day?

There are so many factors; it is hard to determine. Sometimes it is just easier not to make it an issue. Sometimes it’s just a matter of: ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it.’ And it’s so hard to break done that stereotype, right? Education and talking about it — having a conversation at the kitchen table goes a long way.