An extraordinary opportunity

After twelve years, the most fitting “last word” is gratitude

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For the last three months, the editor of Education Forum has been harassing me to submit my final “Last Word” column. And I’ve been avoiding it. Not because I don’t think it has value, but for the simple reason I found it more than a little daunting. How do I summarize, in less than 800 words, my gratitude for the experiences, growth and opportunities I’ve had for the last 12 years.

I realize, more than anything, that I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude to have had this extraordinary opportunity, and I want to express that gratitude by saying thank-you to some of the people who have significantly enriched this experience for me.

Thank you—for the opportunity to work internationally with education unions from around the globe, and for the experience of attending union meetings with labour leaders who literally lay their lives on the line in order to do the work they do. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to help those unions and their members through initiatives in Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and our union training school in Bolivia. Ultimately our international work has taught me just how important unionism is, how vital it is not just for working conditions, but for allowing people to live their lives with dignity and some sense of security.

Thank you—to the Provincial Executive (PE) members I have worked with over the past twelve years, as well as the Senior Staff at Provincial Office. During that time I have been fortunate to serve on the PE with 14 strong elected representatives. There were, of course, contentious issues and some disagreements, but ultimately we were always able to work collaboratively and focus on the best interests of OSSTF/FEESO members.

Thank you—to all the local leaders I’ve worked with, particularly those who worked so hard to change the culture of the union and to alter the structure of Provincial Council from strictly District representation to Bargaining Unit representation. That may be the most inclusive step we’ve ever taken as a union. It bridged a gap between teacher and support staff members by ensuring that all job classes have representation at Provincial Council. We are much stronger and more unified than we were before, and it is now widely known across the province, and even across the country, that OSSTF/FEESO represents education workers from junior kindergarten right through to post-secondary institutions. Key government ministries, along with the opposition leaders, all recognize that we represent the entire education team. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be involved in this important transition in our union.

Thank you—to the support staff at Provincial Office, members of COPE 343, as well as the Provincial Office administrators. Whether it’s the preparation of countless documents and presentations, their presence and organizational support at conferences and committee meetings, or their integral involvement in all of the day-to-day endeavours of the Federation, including the layout and production of this magazine, the staff are tireless in their support of the work this union does. Their efforts benefit not just their colleagues at Provincial Office, but the entire membership of OSSTF/FEESO.

Thank you—to the Secretariat, the members of the Staff Association at Provincial Office. The dedication and support they provide to our members and to the Provincial Executive is
second to none in the education sector and beyond. As with many members, my first initiation into union activism was through the Field Secretary assigned to my District. Throughout my entire OSSTF/FEESO career, whether it was at the end of a phone 2400 kilometres away or face-to-face at AGMs or committee meetings or at Provincial Office, I have never doubted their support or their commitment to doing whatever needs to be done on behalf of our members.

Thank you—all the individual members I’ve had the opportunity to meet all across the province. I want to thank them for raising issues, for speaking up and coming forward. It’s not possible, of course, to resolve every issue that every member raises, but the opportunity for me to listen and to understand how specific issues affect individual members has been invaluable, and has always reinforced to me how important it is for the provincial leadership to be accessible to the membership. And thank you for your solidarity on issues that affect all of us, directly or indirectly. You have always been there when you were needed.

And finally, I want to thank my assistant, Fiorina Ditta, for her hard work, her unfailing support, and her invaluable advice. Her knowledge and experience has been indispensable to me. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how valuable her work is to this organization.

It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as your president. I’ll be moving on to new challenges, but I also look forward to continuing to work for unionism, and its ideals, in our province and across the country, and to advocating on behalf of the members of OSSTF/FEESO whenever I have the opportunity to do so.

About Paul Elliott
Paul Elliott is OSSTF/FEESO's 65th provincial President. He was elected to the Provincial Executive as an Executive Officer in 2005, and then served as Vice President from 2007 until 2013, when he was elected President from 2013-2017.

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