This week, host Mary Otto sits down with fellow members of the NSGEU’s Political Action Committee (PAC), to find out what it’s like to get involved in politics and the union!
Featured on this episode are Hugh Gillis (a Correctional Officer from Local 480); Robert MacDonald (an Operational Support worker at SMU from Local 170); Suzanne MacIntyre (a Registered Nurse and member of Local 101); and Lindsay MacKenzie (a Client Service Assistant with the VON, Local 29).
They talk about the highlights of the work they’ve done over the past three years, and how their work is affected by the resolutions that come out of Convention!
See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:
Hi and welcome to the NSGEU Podcast Union Matters, My name’s Mary [Otto] and I’m going to be your host toady.
I am really happy to have with me today members of the Political Action Committee. I’m also a member. The NSGEU’s Political Action Committee is made up from members from right across the province. Our mandate is to take political action on resolutions that are passed at convention. At the upcoming convention when a resolution is passed to do political action, the new political action committee will take those on. We also take part in political action on behalf of the Board of Directors and the Provincial Executive. I’m really happy to have fellow members here, and to introduce them we’ll have a round table:
My name is Hugh Gillis, I live in Sydney, I’m a Correctional Officer and a member of the committee.
I’m Lindsay MacKenzie, I live in Stewiacke and work in Truro at the VON and I’m the president of my local.
I’m Suzanne MacIntyre, I’m a registered nurse working in Dartmouth, front-line health care worker. I’m a member of Local 101.
I’m Rob MacDonald from Saint Mary’s University, Local 170. I’m the president and a member of the committee.
MO Have any of you been on the Political Action Committee before? I know it’s my first time around.
[and the first time on the committee for all the guests]
MO I think we’ve had a really successful term. I know I was really excited when I got to be on this committee. I’m a bit of a political nerd. Some of the projects that we’ve been working on that I’ve been most excited to take part in — this is one. The podcast actually came out of the Political Action Committee. The other thing I’ve really enjoyed is the lobbying. How about you, Hugh?
HG One of the things that stood out for me, Mary, is the 2017 Provincial Election, where we engaged with members. We had a campaign called Vote or Lose. And although the McNeil government was re-elected, we did manage to defeat several Liberal MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, so that certainly was one of the highlights over the term for me.
MO How about you, Lindsay?
LM I really enjoyed going to the Legislature. It was certainly an eye-opener. I plan to go back!
MO So that was your first time — we went yesterday [Feb. 28] for the opening of the Legislature. We met with a whole bunch of MLAs. Yesterday was your first time, wasn’t it?
LM It was, my very first time.
MO So would you recommend all our members to go?
LM Absolutely. It’s easier than you’d think to actually get in and observe in the gallery. You basically just have to show up with your ID and they’ll give you a pass.
MO It’s pretty exciting to see them insult each other.
LM It was very exciting. I encourage everyone to take the opportunity.
MO How about you, Suzanne? What’s been your favourite part of the term?
SM I agree with Lindsay and say going to Legislature was probably my favourite part. I think that I was pleasantly surprised that as the Political Action Committee of the NSGEU we were, first of all, recognized on the floor and our names were read out and we were welcomed there. And that several MLAs actually came to the gallery during the day and asked us to step out and asked us for an opinion on what things were important to us. After the session was over they invited us to a room, some of the MLAs, and really engaged with us. So it hit home at that point just how influential we can be.
MO It is something to point out. And it wasn’t just MLAs from one party. We met with the leader of the NDP, we met with the leader of the PC Part, Tim Houston. We met with Liberal Cabinet Minister Mark Furey. So it was right across the political spectrum, which really does show you how much power we actually do have as union members. I think politicians are realizing how much power we do have and when you show up, they will talk to you.
SM And they’ll seek you out, in fact. And that was somewhat surprising and pleasantly surprising for me.
MO And what was your favourite part, Rob?
RM I think the support for fellow union members in a different union when we supported the workers of the Chronicle Herald in their strike. We walked the picket line with them and appreciated the long bitter strike they were on and helped to support them and show they weren’t alone. It was a very enlightening thing to see. They’d been on strike at that time for over 250 days when we showed up and walked the picket line and brought them some hot coffee and heard their stories. They appreciated the fact that they were supported by the NSGEU in their strike. And also our support for other institutions outside of NSGEU in our lobby to Ottawa for the National Health Coalition for Pharmacare. I went up to represent the committee to Ottawa and MPs Geoff Regan and Andy Fillmore and Bill Casey furthered National Pharmacare Program and it was very well received by the MPs up there and it was good.
MO Yeah, that was one of my favourite parts of being in this committee as well. Getting to go to a lobby organized by Bloodwatch and to be able to go and speak to the MPs in their offices and see how things function was such a fantastic opportunity. I was really excited that so many of us got to go and participate in these lobbies. I know that four out of the five of us here got to go. You got to go as well, didn’t you, Suzanne and Hugh.
SM Yeah, I went a year ago to Ottawa and we were also lobbying for a national pharmacare program. Interesting that during our lobby time there, that was in 2018, the government had announced that they would be looking into the feasibility of that and more or less gave us great hope at the time. However, once we left after our few days of lobbying, the government did did a back track and suggested a “pharmacare lite.” I think that they were feeling the influence of our lobby group and only changed after we’d gone, to it’s enlightening to see the type of power we have.
MO How was your experience, Hugh?
HG My experience lobby was positive as well, but in addition to lobbying we’ve had a number of very interesting guest speakers this past term. Danny Cavanagh from the Federation of Labour, Christine Saulnier from the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Chris Parsons from the Citizens Coalition. Those are some of the names. Interesting people from Interesting organizations. We’ve also been involved in some community projects: Capers for Health Care in Cape Breton. There’s serious concerns for health care across the province but especially for the hospitals in Cape Breton because of the closures. We attended rallies in North Sydney and New Waterford. I also was able to participate in a March to Randy Delorey’s office in Antigonish. We came [marched] across the causeway in the middle of winter and the waves were coming across the causeway and it was very cold. That’s definitely one memory that stands out as well. It’s not only here in the city, but our in the communities in all the regions. Just engaging with other community people as well.
MO This is a provincial committee. It’s not just based out of Halifax. We are made up of members from right across the province.
SM I think one of the positive aspects of this committee as well is that we’re meeting together, members of different occupations, different locals, and we’re learning that, as citizens of the province, we have a lot more in common than what divides is, like having different occupations or living in different places. The issues are very similar across and this is giving us an opportunity to get together as Nova Scotians.
MO Absolutely. So would you recommend people put their name forward to be on a provincial committee, like the Political Action Committee? Would you want to do it again?
Sm I certainly would. I think, not knowing what I was selected for — my name had going forward into a committee pool — and to be honest, I thought, if there were any committees I’d be asked to attend it might be something else other than political action, although I am very interested in politics, it didn’t seem like that was something where my particular skill set might be useful.
MO I think you’ve been fantastic. Suzanne is a force to be reckoned with. I’ve seen her in action yesterday with the MLAs. She’s got a way about her! She can talk!
SM Thank you very much.
HG Certainly one of the things I could reflect on is the number of bills that have been passed in legislation, it really effect Nova Scotians. It not only effects members of the NSGEU. So that was interesting to see legislation coming forward and NSGEU’s response to it. It was very interesting and very relevant.
MO How about you, Lindsay. Would you want to be on this committee again, or recommend people to put their name forward to be in the pool?
LM I certainly would. I’m with Suzanne when I got picked I didn’t know what I was up against, but it’s definitely been a positive experience.
MO I know I’ve loved getting to know everybody on the committee. I think it’s one of the wonderful things about something like this is you really get to know what’s going on, not only within other peoples’ occupations, but just what are the things that are relevant to your communities. The fact of the matter is there can be different political concerns right across the province. It’s pretty awesome. I think that’s one of my favourite parts is getting to know all of you guys.
HG And even when we came up with some of the ideas, like the podcast for example, we really didn’t know, some of the committee members didn’t know a lot about podcasting, so that was all new to us. We had to learn and we’re still learning.
MO It’s definitely been a learning experience and hopefully we’re doing an okay job with it and we hope our members who are listening are enjoying it. We’re going to be at convention pretty soon. Are you excited about convention?
HG Yeah, today we worked on a number of resolutions that we’re continuing to work through and we’re optimistic that those resolutions will hit the floor at the convention and we’ll know that some of them came right from the Political Action Committee. We’ll see how that goes.
MO One of the things that’s really exciting is that our members can put in a resolution and if it’s passed at convention it really does have an impact. That’s what we’ve been spending a lot of time on this term is resolutions that came directly from convention. It’s super exciting. The members do have power and influence. I really care what our members say and I feel like we’re representing them.
SM And WE are the NSGEU. Not the building, not the executive. It’s the members that make up what we really are and what we achieve is coming directly from the members, the front-line people. And for all members to have access. For example, if I’m working a shift and I have co-workers who have issues, I can bring that back. And you’re exactly right, those resolutions are coming directly from the membership and what’s impacting them and their families all over the province.
MO And it has a direct impact on how the union functions. I love that it really is such a democratic union. That convention sets out direction for the next three years. So basically what comes out of convention is what the next Political Action Committee is going to be working on for the next three years. Obviously that could be adapted a little bit depending on what’s going on politically. We have the flexibility to fight back. We’re pretty good at it, aren’t we? Fight back politically.
SM And we’re getting better all the time.
MO Alright. Well thank you so much for doing the podcast with me. And thanks everybody for listening. We’ll talk to you again soon. You may see some of us at convention looking to talk to one of you. You could be next talking to us! Thanks so much. We’ll talk soon.