Working Together Towards Equality
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) comprises working men and women from a variety of fields. From education to health care to social services, OPSEU represents about 130,000 workers across Ontario. One of the many causes OPSEU fights for is gender equality, an important issue for so many of its members.
Chrisy Tremblay joined OPSEU as a full-time contract worker in Nov. 1998. After graduating from George Brown College and working as a trauma youth counsellor in Toronto, Tremblay moved to Ottawa, where she began working for a social services agency as a family support worker. Through her work, she became interested in the social aspects of union activism and decided to get involved. Since joining OPSEU, Tremblay has taken on many roles within the union. She is currently the local president for OPSEU Local 454 and an executive board member for Region 4, which covers Eastern Ontario. Having worked in both private and unionized environments over the course of her career,Tremblay recognizes the value of union involvement for all workers, especially women.
OLM: What do you like most about being a part of OPSEU?
I like the support our work environment receives in many aspects. Working in a non-unionized environment, you don’t necessarily get trained on health and safety, on employment standards, on the right to refuse unsafe work, about the benefits of working collectively and having mutually agreeable, respectful language.
In a unionized workplace, when there are difficulties, there is a process to deal them. If a manager behaves in an inappropriate or an abusive manner, there is a process where you can effect change simply by following the collective agreement. The labour standards and the employment standards are more effectively enforced. This is particularly important for women in a female-dominated area such as social services. When you look at wage disparity, there is a huge difference between the private and the public sector, and statistically overall, a gender wage gap as well.
OLM: How has your involvement in OPSEU shaped your career?
It has evolved my career because when I started off, I was looking at all the positive attributes of working in a unionized environment, everything from having benefits to holidays, language and collective agreements. I had the benefit of working with strong advocates who had been involved in the labour movement for quite some time. They spent time mentoring me and teaching me the values of my collective agreement. I was encouraged to take on more active roles, and being somebody who likes to advocate for social change, both in my work and in the union, I embraced the challenge.
OLM: Have you ever experienced any form of gender inequality in your career?
I’ve been very fortunate over the last 16 and a half years, working in a predominantly female work environment that is about 85 per cent women.
I have worked on the Provincial Women’s Committee, so certainly I have heard about barriers for women. Let’s face it, women are predominantly more likely to be the caregivers for dependents or for children.They often face financial impact because of it or if there is a separation or a divorce. Finding affordable child care can be very difficult for them. We do see all of this as union activists and OPSEU is fighting to make things better for all women.
OLM: How do you think women in the workforce can combat gender discrimination and inequality?
I think by what we’re doing in the labour movement is making a difference. This is not just a women’s issue. It is about building support from males as well. I have found a tremendous amount of support from male coworkers and male activists.
Education is also critical. It is key to eroding negative perceptions and, of course, we need financial investments. We need to continue to fight our government to reverse cuts… Women are facing a lot of precarious work and a lot of low wage conditions. So, working together and fighting for better working conditions are really the keys to what we need to do.
For information on OPSEU, visit opseu.org.