When he was a child growing up on the family farm, Eddy Almeida received some advice that’s stuck with him ever since. “My father said that we have two eyes, two ears, two hands—but only one mouth,” he says. “It means we need to be talking less and allowing our other attributes to be doing more.”
Fittingly, communication has become a driving focus of Almeida’s life. Since 2011, he’s served as first vice president and treasurer at the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). The group represents and advocates for more than 130,000 public-sector workers throughout Ontario, who work in fields such as health care, social services, education, and the justice sector. The union exists, Almeida says, to “give a voice to OPSEU members.”
The organization speaks strongly for workers who, without it, would struggle for fair wages and working conditions. “If there wasn’t a union, all of the occupational groups and people we represent would face uncertainty,” Almeida says. “Standards would erode, as would wages and benefits. Fewer people would be drawn to these important professions.” He frequently cites studies that link union membership to financial prosperity, good mental and physical health, reductions in crime, and community involvement.
Through its work, OPSEU is becoming more than a voice for its own members—it’s impacting the entire country. As negotiations bring good wages and benefits to OPSEU workers, a greater swath of the Canadian population reaps additional rewards. “Good wages make the economy thrive,” Almeida says. “Economies don’t grow if no one has money. We can have a cyber society made on credit cards and falsehoods, but that society can never thrive.” The work of his union encourages and sustains full-time jobs for Ontario’s workers, and those workers, in turn, contribute to their families and communities.
Facts & Figures
Total OPSEU members
Portion of OPSEU’s members who are female
Portion of OPSEU’s members who work directly for the government
Average salary of an OPSEU member
Number of fully staffed regional offices run by the union
Number of membership centres run by the union
During his first three years in office, Almeida has focused on finances and membership. He credits learning the value of every dollar on his family’s farm with instilling in him the values of stewardship and responsibility. “I work to reduce risks and to build up and secure the money and assets of the union so that they can be spent on membership needs, from campaigns to bargaining,” he says. OPSEU is a nonprofit entity with yearly revenues totalling $100 million. Strike and defense funds combine with equity to total another $70 million in reserves. Dues, a percentage of members’ wages, go into a trust to be used for purposes approved by the membership.
Expanding the union allows Almeida and his colleagues to increase those funds and increase OPSEU’s bargaining power. “There are so many people in Ontario that are without protection and benefits,” he says. “They might work a job with a colleague who makes more money for equal work or face an unfair layoff. We even the playing field and make sure people are treated with respect.”
Like most union officials, Almeida must address “misnomers” associated with organized labour. Family-friendly education events teach members and the public about the work of OPSEU, covering public issues such as income equality and the need for good pensions and demonstrating how the union contributes to a stronger province. According to Almeida, OPSEU strengthens Ontario’s middle class, its members earning, on average, $44,000 per year. “When you have a strong middle class, a vast set of things happens,” Almeida says. “Restaurants benefit, stores benefit, people spend money and stimulate the economy. Recreation goes up, higher education is improved, and people are happier. That’s what we want in our communities. We don’t need people working three part-time jobs they hate. We want people earning a decent wage and thriving where they live.”
To operate at its full potential and best advocate for its members, OPSEU relies on frequent member surveys. In 2014, the union will increase the interactive aspects of its website to solicit more feedback and ideas, and in doing so, Almeida believes, it will continue to contribute to a stronger Ontario.
“Our members are correctional officers and lab techs and safety inspectors and paramedics,” he says. “They care for [everyone from] youth right up to the elderly, the frail, the ill, and the disabled, … and they deserve dignity.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
First VP & treasurer
Years in the business
Where did you start your career?
I started in OPSEU as a steward in 1994 at Hamilton Wentworth Detention Centre.
Describe yourself in three words
Loves living life.
Advice to those just starting in finance
Follow policy and procedures, and get to know them before you think about changing them. If you feel changes are needed, study why the current policies are in place, and understand the pros and cons of changing them. If changes are still needed, be patient.