Looking out for LGBTQ in the labour movement

Sebastian Trujillo recently became the first official representative of the LGBTQ community on the executive board of SEIU Healthcare, the healthcare union representing 55,000 working in Ontario’s hospitals, long-term care homes, and homecare agencies.

Seb, as they like to be called for short, was born in Mexico and came to Canada in 2001.

“It feels awesome,” says Seb about representing the LGBTQ community with the union. “I became a member steward four years ago…they gave me training. One thing led to another.”

Seb tells us a bit about coming out…twice, Seb laughs.

Sebastian and Premier Wynne

“I was open as a lesbian. Almost a year ago I decided to come out of the closet for the second time as I call it, because one was not enough.”

Seb recently came out as a proud trans man.

“At Mount Sinai [where Seb works as a mail room clerk] I felt confident talking to my co-workers but I needed supervisors and HR to be trained on what trans means and which pronouns I want them to use. They were very respectful of everything.”

Before, Mount Sinai didn’t have any bathrooms, lockers, or showers for trans people. Seb is happy to reveal that they recently made that change – it took them just two months. In total, 5 people are using the new facilities.

At the Convention where Sebastian was recently elected LGBTQ rep, he presented Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne with a thank-you gift for coming to speak to the 500 attendees.

The Premier spoke about the need to transform the healthcare system and praised the healthcare workers that make it all possible – cooking, cleaning, caring, and holding the hands of our family and friends during some of the most difficult times in our lives. It was the second time Seb had met her.

“We usually do the 5k run for pride and she’s always there. Having people in the LGBT community in these positions where they can help our community is amazing. People can see she’s a normal person and part of the community.”

Seb’s position as mail room clerk at Mount Sinai requires them to interact with everyone. “I talk to everyone in this hospital, I deliver their mail and lab reports, I go in and out of every single department. It gives me a chance to talk to all our members.”

Seb has a 2-year-old, Gavriel, and took time off last year to spend with their wife and son before returning to work at Mount Sinai.

When you’re the new kid at Convention

Many of the 400 healthcare workers and official convention delegates have never been to such a union gathering, where members vote on officers and members of the Executive Board and discuss political direction.

Some people are seeing friends and other familiar faces; lots came alone and are meeting their fellow union members for the first time.

Pam Arnold, a healthcare assistant, has been working at a private retirement home in Brampton for 28 years. It seems like she has her union rep to thank for inviting her to apply to attend SEIU Healthcare’s convention.

“My union rep said ‘come and see what it’s all about’ and I said ‘why not?’ It’s something new and different. I’ve never been outside my realm like this.”

Pam mentioned the opportunity to listen to the Ontario Premier speak to convention delegates as an example of one of the advantages to getting more involved with the union.

Reena and Pam

Reena Panchoo describes her entry into the union in a wry, humorous way, saying “my ex-manager [now a union rep for SEIU Healthcare] bullied me to come in as a steward.”

A homecare personal support worker (PSW) in Brampton for the last 13 years, Reena points out that it’s really hard to get everyone at work together for union meetings and events.

Still, she says:

“I love it. It’s really good helping other co-workers. You’re aware of what’s going on in the company, you’re more aware of the issues that we have not only as one person but all together. It’s a very fulfilling role.”

Here’s hoping people like Pam and Reena will return to their workplaces and inspire others who are curious about unions to get involved to fight for a better life for working people in Ontario – in individual workplaces and beyond.

Stepping up for her co-workers

Marlene experienced remarkable emotional cruelty at work when she got some terrible news about a co-worker.

An administrator for the long-term care home where she works east of Oshawa was rude and dismissive about it, and didn’t allow the staff to discuss it, or give them the time or space they needed to process.

That’s when Marlene decided to become a union steward. She stepped up for her co-workers and provides them with representation and support, especially when traumatic events happen at work.

Marlene at work

Marlene lives with her husband and two daughters (12 and 17) and has worked as a personal support worker (PSW) for 23 years.

She’s attending SEIU Healthcare’s Convention this week (November 15-18) in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Together with 400 other healthcare workers from across the province, she will learn about union engagement and the union’s priorities and direction for the next four years.

Leadership matters

“I’m excited. It’s my first Convention. I’m going to further my education, and to learn more about the union so I can benefit the members at my facility.”

When she’s not busy with work at the long-term care home, taking care of her fellow union members, and spending time with her family, Marlene loves to sew, and wanted to prepare lots of different things for Convention.

“I even made three new nightgowns,” she laughs.

Take a moment today

Take a moment today to remember all the lives that have been lost defending our country, our communities, in war.

Remembrance Day was first marked to commemorate those that died in World War I. It was about that war that John McCrae wrote his famous, haunting poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Take a moment today to think of those who have died in other battles, in other times. You might have that special person you always honour on Remembrance Day. For me it’s my grandfather, who fought with the Allies in World War II after fleeing occupied Poland.

But let’s also remember to think of those who come home from war. Think of those who come home traumatized, sometimes, as the Globe and Mail recently reported about Canadian soldiers coming back from Afghanistan, paying with their lives not overseas, but once they come back.

Lest we forget.

By: G.W.

Jillian and Living Organ Donation

A young woman’s race to find a liver donor has started exploding online. She’s from London, Ontario and at 28 years old, has a disease that has severely affected her health and is threatening her life.

Jillian Di Bernardo’s liver is failing due to a hereditary disease. Saving her requires organ donation – but not from a deceased donor, a different type. Living donation. This means she needs to find someone who is willing to give her a piece of themselves. Someone who will take time out of their life to save another.

Before and after: a picture of how Jillian’s disease has affected her physical health

For the generous person who does the living donation procedure, there is a program available to apply for funding to help with costs such as travel and accommodation, and loss of income associated with the time one must take off work to heal.

The London Health Sciences Centre has prepared an information booklet for those considering volunteering to save Jillian’s life – or helping others like her.

Unfortunately, the number of people waiting for life-saving transplants in Ontario far exceeds both the deceased and living donor lists. Consider having the conversation about organ donation with your family today.

Click here to find out more about Jillian and help out with some of her health-related costs.

Can youth teach us how to be healthy?

Deanna in her basketball jersey

Deanna spent the day with SEIU Healthcare as part of the “Take Your Kid to Work Day” program.

Hi. My name is Deanna but people call me De. My mom works for the SEIU Healthcare as an accountant. I’m not really a numbers person but I do know a lot about health.

I am what I like to call a sporty, outgoing girl. I play basketball as a point guard at my high school in North York.

I do track (short distance running), and also enjoy volley-ball (my favourite sport). Being healthy is one of the most important things if you want to be athletically built. I know being healthy all the time is hard. I don’t always follow the rules but there will be consequences. I learned this the hard way.

I am a person that would eat junk once in a while…which really means a lot. Sometimes I would eat so much that I would get sick. Sometimes I knew when to stop and eat something healthy, but others days I wouldn’t care what is healthy or not as long as it tasted good.

It wasn’t until I joined my high school basketball team that I noticed how consuming junk food/drinks made me feel. When I made it on the team, my coach drilled it into my and my teammates’ heads that we are not allowed to eat anything unhealthy.

Let me tell those who don’t know anything about basketball: my girls’ basketball season is from September to November. That is 3 MONTHS of eating healthy and being fit.  At first I didn’t follow the rules but during the games that I would get tired easily, and that affected the game.

My brother told me a story, saying “If you have a car and it breaks down one day, would you give the car fuel or juice?” I said fuel, because putting juice in would make it worse.”

The same goes for our body. You need to give what it needs and not give it what it doesn’t need, damaging it more. Being healthy gives our body natural sugar that helps your energy more than putting sweets in it.

This is my story about my experience with getting healthy and would be happy if it helped someone else’s life.