By Zaid Noorsumar
Part 5 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA
In late February 2021, the Globe & Mail reported the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association (OPSWA) had 49,000 members. If this is to be believed, then the association represents about a third of the province’s 130,000+ PSWs.
According to the news media – which has taken the organization for its word – OPSWA’s membership has risen to 49,000 in 2021 from 6,500 in 2013. There is no way to independently verify these figures.
Based on interviews with former insiders who held prominent positions at the OPSWA, the organization’s membership lists and finances are only accessible to its president, Miranda Ferrier.
Lindsay Couture, who was part of OPSWA’s “president’s council” in 2020 before resigning, said she is skeptical of the organization’s claims of representing such a large number of workers.
Earlier during the pandemic, Couture says she suggested OPSWA form a “SWAT team” of Personal Support Workers who could be deployed to healthcare settings facing a shortage of PSWs. But Ferrier responded that she didn’t have contact information for her members, making Couture question whether there is any record-keeping at OPSWA.
“I had said to Miranda, well, why don’t you form like an official [OPSWA] SWAT team? I said, because you have all these members, you should have information on where these members live,” she says. “And Miranda said to me, ‘Lindsay, I don’t keep any of that information on any of the PSWs,’” Couture says.
Ferrier’s answer raised Couture’s eyebrows. But such skepticism is not new.
In January 2016, the U.K.-based Professional Standards Authority, studying PSW regulation for the Ontario government, said it couldn’t confirm that OPSWA actually had the 15,000 members it claimed at the time.
Stefanie Lynn, who worked with Ferrier from 2014 until 2016, says the membership figures the organization claims are not close to accurate.
“Her membership numbers are complete garbage. Well, they have to be because if they’re not, and she’s charging $150 times 20,000 people [in 2016], that would be $3 million? Give me a break,” she says.
“I never saw that kind of money ever. She promised me that, ‘Oh, yeah, when we get more members and more money, you can work for OPSWA full time. And it would be a legit paying job.’”
Other ex-OPSWA insiders say they never saw any evidence to suggest the membership numbers are accurate. They all believe that the real figures are far lower than what OPSWA claims.
Where does the revenue go?
Assuming OPSWA’s membership figures are accurate, 49,000 members paying an annual $150 annual membership fee would generate an annual membership revenue of $7.35 million. This doesn’t include money it’s generating from sponsorships. Where does this money go?
In an interview with Alice Chen, Ferrier said that after administrative expenses, criminal background checks and provision of insurance and badges, the organization is left with about $29 per member. This money is said to go towards paying staff, developing PSW education programs, and running OPSWA’s annual conferences (which also have major sponsors).
If OPSWA generates $29 per person, a membership of 49,000 would net them $1.4 million. However, in their recent testimony to the Long-Term Care Commission, Ferrier and Ian DaSilva (OPSWA’s HR Director) said they did not have a marketing budget to do outreach to immigrant nurses who could be recruited as PSWs. OPSWA did not return requests for comment.
Decision-making in OPSWA does not involve the membership. This also means there is no financial transparency with members. The OPSWA’s by-laws centralize power in a board dominated by Ferrier, DaSilva and their close associates.
Unlike, for example, the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the leaders of which are elected by its members, OPSWA members have no way of voting for who sits on the OPSWA board.
OPSWA’s membership figures as stated in news media
- Apr. 2013: The Windsor Star says OPSWA has “6,700 accredited members”
- Jan. 1 2015: OPSWA’s blog says they have 11,000 members
- Jan. 2016: U.K.-based Professional Standards Authority, studying PSW regulation for the Ontario government, says it can’t verify that OPSWA actually has 15,000 members
- Mar. 2016: According to Healthy Debate, OPSWA had 16,000 members
- Aug. 2016: Ottawa Citizen reports that OPSWA has 21,000 members
- Aug. 2016, Toronto Star reports OPSWA has 21,000 members
- Oct. 2016: OPSWA’s membership is at 22,000, according to Globe and Mail
- July 2017: OPSWA membership at 25,000, according to Ottawa Sun
- Aug. 2017: York Region says OPSWA has more than 25,000 members
- Aug. 2017: According to Ottawa Citizen, OPSWA has 30,000 members
- Sept. 2017: According to York Region, OPSWA has 31,000 members
- Nov. 2017: According to CBC, OPSWA has 31,000 members
- Nov. 2017: According to OPSWA, it has over 30,000 members
- Nov. 2017: Newmarket Era reports that OPSWA has 33,000 members
- Jan. 2018: According to CBC’s Marketplace, OPSWA represents 35,000 members. The broadcast segment says 31,000.
- Feb. 2018: Toronto Star says it has 31,000 members
- May 2018: OPSWA’s membership is 32,000, according to CTV
- July 2018: Ottawa Citizen says OPSWA has 33,000 members
- Jan. 2019: According to Muskoka Region, OPSWA has 30,000 members
- May 2019: Miranda Ferrier tells the Canadian parliament that OPSWA has 32,000 members
- June 2019, According to The Spectator, OPSWA has 32,000 members
- July 2019: According to Mohawk College News, OPSWA had 32,000 members
- Apr. 2020: According to Healthing, OPSWA’s membership is 40,000
- Apr. 2020: OPSWA’s membership is 41,000, according to Toronto Star
- September 2020: OPSWA tells Alice Chen that her membership is at 43,000 members
- February 2021: The Globe and Mail reports that OPSWA has 49,000 members
with files by Alice Chen
This article is Part 5 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA