Fair labour advocates push for progress
Published Monday, September 3, 2012 9:49AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 3, 2012 10:04PM EDT
As Canadians enjoy the annual Labour Day long weekend, fair labour advocates are zeroing in on different challenges in the lives of the nation’s workers.
But opinions on how to how to move forward differ as Canada’s labour movement looks back on a year that’s seen bitter bargaining, back-to-work legislation and widespread employer cost-cutting.
The president of Canada’s largest private sector union has his eye on non-unionized workers, saying fair labour advocates need to expand their reach.
Canada’s unorganized workers would benefit from outreach through community-based local unions, the president of the Canadian Auto Workers union said late last week.
CAW President Ken Lewenza said fewer and fewer workers have access to a union contract and as a result “our collective standard of living” is declining.
The current challenge for unions, Lewenza said, is connecting with workers who are in precarious job situations -- including part-time and temporary workers.
That challenge includes migrant workers, he added.
“Local unions will be hubs of activity for workers' rights and awareness, providing services to the membership and affiliated community members,” Lewenza said.
He added that the community-based unions will adhere to a more inclusive membership model, providing a place for all workers regardless of their title or employment status.
Labour rallies across Canada
More than 25,000 workers from dozens of unions marched through the streets of Toronto on Monday, in one of many events marking the annual Labour Day festivity across Canada.
Demonstrators dressed in shirts adorned with union logos, waved placards and danced in circles as they filed along downtown streets, chanting slogans such as, “We won’t back down” and “no cuts.”
The event was Toronto’s 141st Labour Day parade, drawing local teachers and paramedics as well as groups from as far as Denmark.
“Unions celebrate on Labour Day,” Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, told CTV News. “We are also here to stand up and demonstrate. To say, ‘we will not allow governments of any stripe to take away our rights, and to fundamentally change the kind of communities we deserve.’”
In Vancouver, hundreds of union members gathered at Trout Lake to celebrate the success of labour unions.
“What we’re celebrating today is that we fought and fought and fought for everything we had,” B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair told the crowd.
The celebration came just two days ahead of a planned one-day strike where 27,000 workers will walk off the job.
Members of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union are striking over wage increases.
BCGEU employees want a 3.5 per cent wage increase in the first year, with a cost of living adjustment after that. The province has offered a 3.5 per cent increase over two years.
Wednesday’s strike will be the largest B.C. has seen in two decades.
The average unionized worker in Canada earns about five dollars and 11 cents more per hour than a non-unionized worker does, according to a study published last month by the Canadian Labour Congress.
“That extra money in the pockets of individual workers means the union advantage is worth $793 million per week that is added to our economy,” CLC president Ken Georgetti said in a statement issued on Saturday.
Meanwhile, other advocates have their attention fixed on a different issue.
John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, says many government cost-cutting measures are coming at the expense of workers.
“Working people everywhere are resisting the austerity agenda,” Cartwright said in a statement issued Monday. “Outsourcing decent jobs, cutting public services, and attacking collective bargaining do not make for a good economic plan.”
Labour Minister stresses workplace safety
Canada’s Labour Minister Lisa Raitt didn’t touch upon austerity or local unions in a statement issued Monday, but stressed the importance of workplace safety.
She said employees need to know how to identify safety hazards.
"Of particular importance is the need to increase knowledge of health and safety issues among young people, as about one-quarter of all occupational injuries happen to people between the ages of 15 and 29,” Raitt said.
While Green Party leader Elizabeth May acknowledged that safety is a critical issue, she said she’s concerned that back-to-work legislation is threatening labour rights.
The federal government introduced back-to-work legislation earlier this year in a dispute between Air Canada and its pilots.
The airline’s troubles with its repairs and ramp crews were also sent to arbitration.
“There is a disturbing trend where as soon as worker’s begin to organize, the Harper Government swoops in and forces everyone back to work (sic),” she wrote in a statement issued Monday.
May’s statement comes as two of the nation’s largest private sector unions try to solidify their history of working together with a formal merger.
The CAW wants to join forces with another behemoth union: the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP).
Part of their plan involves organizing local unions using a $50 million fund.
The proposed CAW-CEP merger will be decided by CEP delegates, who have a vote scheduled for October.
If the deal goes through, the so-called “super union” would represent more than 300,000 workers. Most of those members would work in manufacturing, communications and transportation.
With a report from CTV Toronto and CTV British Columbia’s Bhinder Sajan