Former OPSEU president Warren "Smokey" Thomas speaking at an OPSEU event in 2020.
Former OPSEU president Warren "Smokey" Thomas speaking at an OPSEU event in 2020. Credit: Steverook1 / Wikimedia Commons

The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) announced the result of an internal forensic audit on Monday, January 16. Due to the audit findings, the union filed a statement of claim with allegations against former union president Warren “Smokey” Thomas, former First President and Treasurer Eduardo Almeida, and former OPSEU accountant Maurice Gabay. OPSEU said these former executives had received compensation they were not entitled to.

These allegations have not yet been tested in court. According to a CBC article, co-counsel for Thomas said these allegations are false and that the statement of claim is “riddled with errors.” 

The union commenced legal action after moving forward with a forensic audit when the new OPSEU board was elected in April 2022. 

“Through that process, numerous concerns came to light that required further third-party scrutiny,” OPSEU president JP Hornick wrote in a document circulated to OPSEU members. “We wanted and needed to get this right. With the support of the Board, we engaged a forensic auditor—a well-respected third party who would give us a full picture of exactly what happened, who might have been involved and the full impact to our finances.” 

Hornick said in this document, which is now available on the OPSEU website, that the union is still strong and its finances are still stable. Still, in the wake of this news, members of OPSEU have expressed a sense of hurt and betrayal. 

On Facebook, user Lynn Yule Hopper commented, “It’s like a kick in the teeth from people we trusted.” 

In a reply to another comment, Hopper expressed concern about the lack of procedures in place to maintain transparency and accountability within the union. 

“I am now retired, but when working, our local had 2 non executive members do a check of the books every year,” Hopper wrote. “It’s unbelievable that an audit was not performed every year at the highest level with the most money.” 

Hopper did not respond to rabble’s request for an interview before the publication of this story. 

This marks the second time in the span of about a year where a Canadian union alleged misconduct against former executives. In March 2022, former Unifor National President Jerry Dias was charged with breaching the Unifor Constitution by accepting money from COVID-19 rapid test suppliers that he introduced to employers of the union’s members. 

There may be troubling attitudes brewing among union executives. As Hornick said in the OPSEU document, unions are made to build worker power and push justice forward. But these alleged acts by previous OPSEU executives would constitute an erosion of union member power. 

On Twitter, user Ashlyn O’Mara responded to the story with a tweet saying, “This is what happens when the majority of union members sit idly by and just assume the union is acting in their best interest and is competent. I’ve lived it.” 

O’Mara did not respond to a message requesting further comment but this reply illustrates a sentiment that in order to keep union power in the hands of workers, executives must commit to transparency and be held accountable. 

Hornick wrote that she is committed to rebuilding trust. 

She wrote, “I recognize the privilege it is to lead OPSEU/SEFPO and assure you that I will ceaselessly honour that commitment.”

Gabriela Calugay-Casuga

Gabriela “Gabby” Calugay-Casuga (she/they) is a writer and activist based in so-called “Ottawa.” They began writing for Migrante Ottawa’s radio show, Talakayang Bayan, in 2017. Since then, she...