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Topic: The Ways We Win

Ontario workers win $15 min. wage doing it their way


CALL IT A REVERSE ROLLING STONE MOMENT. Workers in Ontario won’t get all they need. But they will get a lot of what they want: beginning with a $15 an hour minimum wage—something most workers in North America can still only dream of.

A big, big win: remarkable on its own, but even more remarkable because of how it was done.

The $15 and Fairness campaign was built from the street up. Its success was built on the self-reliance and spontaneity of its supporters. There was no set script to follow—just a desire to win a $15 an hour minimum wage. In the end that’s what made all the difference.

Realistic but bold

In 2013, community and union groups—including the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto and the Ontario Federation of Labour—launched the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage to $14 an hour. It failed. But it did get the newly elected Liberal government to promise a review of provincial employment and labor laws.

In January 2015, the Liberals did create the Changing Workplaces Review—with the explicit directive that raising the minimum wage would not be on the agenda. Many others had other plans.

Leading the way were the low-wage, nonunionized workers organized by the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto. These workers spent several months developing a list of demands they thought would be realistic enough to achieve but bold enough to inspire. The drive for a raise in the minimum wage was relaunched in April 2015 as the Fight for $15 and Fairness.

The campaign set out to unite union and nonunion workers and to use the Changing Workplaces Review as a province-wide setting in which to advance their cause. From the outset, the activists were clear that simply lobbying politicians for legislative changes would never produce the concrete gains they wanted and needed.

The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign got solid support from many unions. The Ontario Federation of Labour joined in with its own Make It Fair campaign. But it was continuous worker energy and commitment that the campaign counted on most—and it worked.

Local roots, provincial coordination

Activists used centrally produced materials such as leaflets, petitions, and buttons, but each chapter was free to determine its own activity level—often in coordination with other chapters.

Topic: This Working Life

Restaurant owner makes personal choice to pay staff $16 per hour


Restaurant owner makes personal choice to pay staff $16 per hour

JAKE MOGGERIDGE IS NOT YOUR AVERAGE DISHWASHER. He gets paid $16 an hour at the Union Local 613 restaurant in Ottawa. He’s probably the highest paid dishwasher in the city, maybe the province, maybe the country.

“I feel very appreciated,” says Jake. But he’s not alone: all the workers at the Union  recently got a raise to $16 per hour. Thanks to owner Ivan Gedz.

Gedz wanted to be fair to his workers and prove it wouldn’t cost him—contrary to all the hand-wringing over the new Ontario law that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018. Gedz crunched his numbers and discovered the raise in pay wouldn’t drive his prices up.

“We raised a few prices here and there,” he said in a tweet. “You wont notice. I didn’t....To all those local restaurateurs that said a fair living wage couldn’t be done well, frankly you are full of shit.”

Union Local 613, despite its name, isn’t unionized. But workers say it’s a good place to work.

The restaurant employs eight kitchen workers, more or less full time, three to five bartenders, and 4-5 servers. Some part-timers are employed, many former workers coming back for a shift or two.

The kitchen staff gets a share of the tips at Union, plus some other perks—a drink per shift, a staff meal—along with access to a medical/dental plan. It all makes the restaurant a place where people like to come to work.

“Management wants feedback at all times, and the employer is not afraid of criticism,”says line cook Peter Webster.

Webster, formerly a computer technician, has worked at Union Local 613 since January, making $14 per hour until the recent change. Cooks tend to stay at Union for years—“a little unusual in the industry,” says Webster.

They pay a lot of attention to making the staff comfortable, says Jake Moggeridge. The workplace atmosphere is very friendly. He notes that while sexual harassment is widespread in the industry Union 613 management is aware and pro-active about that sort of thing. Respect is a dominant workplace value there. “You just get written off at other places.”

The idea that restaurant workers don’t deserve a fair, living wage irks Webster. He points out his job can send him home with sore knees and sore hands—not to mention the occasional burns. The raise to $16 per hour makes it all seem more worthwhile. “I’m happy to be there,” he says.

Topic: The Ways We Win

Forty years of success for book publisher without bosses

books without bosses


It works so well the collective is one of the most successful small book publishers in Canada. It has managed to stay in business for 40 years to publish over 350 books, many still in print. No small feat in an industry where long life with strong sales are rare.

Between the Lines (BTL) is celebrating their success with a book titled Books Without Bosses. The book is a light-handed, graphic history of the life and times of BTL. The story is presented with thought and speech bubbles floating around caricatures of the main players. The comic-book-like style captures the overall open and audacious approach that seems to be big part of the BTL success.

“We had no business plan. Any accountant or businessperson would have just laughed,” recalls Ken Epps, a founding member of Between the Lines.

From the beginning, BTL was a collective, a workplace where no one —and therefore everyone —was boss. The original collective had nine members—many of whom are still active participants in the whole BTL project.

The BTL goal in 1977 was to “ask uncomfortable questions, challenge the status quo, amplify the voices of marginalized peoples, and help us to rethink Canada’s history and place in the world.” And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for the last 40 years.

Their first book was The Big Nickel: Inco at Home and Abroad. It was a muckraking attack on Inco. A steady stream of books followed, including books on critical race, culture, history, identity, politics, labour activism and social movements.

The newest BTL books continue to do what they have always done: namely, to call on readers to arm themselves with knowledge and to challenge the powerful.

Political principles more than ‘sixties idealism’

How BTL operates continues to be as important as what they produce. It is a matter of turning what some would likely call “sixties idealism” into political principle and sticking to it—for forty years.

The BTL small office staff and Editorial Committee make decisions—from what to publish to how to run the place—by consensus. The Editorial Committee includes a number of original and longtime members, as well as several younger academics and community activists eager to carry on the publishing work started by the generation before them.

Topic: Feed Your Head

Sobeys uses language to downplay blow to 800 fired workers


GETTING FIRED IS BAD ENOUGH. Calling it a “layoff,” when we all know the jobs are never coming back, is twisting the knife and then spinning it as a good thing, is twisting it again.

But Sobeys Inc. twisted away when it fired 800 more workers in November—a key part of their “corporate turnaround strategy” called Project Sunrise with a final goal of firing 1200 workers in all.

The broad public acceptance of the duplicity, doublespeak language, and hypocritical hand-wringing over it all is common to such corporate actions. It’s all part of our “you can’t say shit, even when you’ve got a mouth full” relationship demanded by our corporate overseers. Something that usually slides by unnoticed. But not this time.

This time Mary Campbell noticed. She edits the Cape Breton Spectator, a great online newspaper on the people’s side in Sydney, NS.

Here’s what she wrote about it all on November 24 in her column “Fast & Curious: Short takes on random things.”

First, Sobeys is firing 800 office workers. (Why do some news outlets persist in calling these things “layoffs?” Do they really believe these are temporary measures?) This will affect its corporate offices in Stellarton, among others.

It’s part of something called — I kid you not — “Project Sunrise,” which Sobeys Inc launched in May 2017 and which is intended to “deliver $500 million in annualized savings by 2020.”

The press release announcing the project contained this incredible quote from Sobeys President and CEO Michael Medline:

"We have an aggressive goal to transform our organization, better serve our customers, empower our employees and assuredly move from defense to offense in the market. To do this we need to unleash the talents and scale we already have at our disposal. The future Sobeys will operate with a simpler, leaner structure, more efficient core processes and tools and will better leverage its $24 billion national scale. This will free us up to be extremely nimble, thrill our customers and grow market share. Results of this transformation will take time, but we are committed to seeing them through given the compelling prize."

Topic: The Ways We Win

Union organizing ready to go digital; bosses aren’t



Matthew Byrne shows there is no good reason for this. Bryne details exactly why there is not in Modernizing the Union Certification Process: The Benefits of Electronically Signed Union Membership Cards, the brand new research paper he wrote for the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights and the Canadian Labour Institute.

Refusing to allow unions to use up-to-the-minute digital technology is just one more example of how difficult it is to join a union in Canada—and is meant to be.

Regressive labour laws and various technical requirements have always made it difficult for workers to join a union—even when they overwhelmingly want to, and despite the fact it is their unquestioned right embedded in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Ya gotta sign the card to get ‘certified’

To be legal, unions have to be certified (except in the rare cases when an employer voluntarily recognizes one). Certification is awarded by Labour Relations Boards (LRBs) in our provinces, territories and the federal public sector.   

There are two ways in which certification can be achieved in Canada, depending upon jurisdiction:

  1. By obtaining a majority of cards signed by employees who want to join a union (“card-check”); and,
  2.  After obtaining a minimum of signed cards, by winning a vote held under the auspices of a LRB to determine whether a majority of those who vote support unionization.

In each case, however, the process begins with the signing of cards. LRBs consider these cards to be evidence that the signatories want a union. But this initial organizing task is made more difficult by the refusal of most LRBs to accept electronic signatures. Even now, they require a physical card with a written signature and date.

Matthew Byrne argues the boards just aren’t keeping up with the times.

The electronic union card

The difficulty to overcome with electronic signing is to establish two things at once: the identity of the signatory, and the date of signature. Cards must be dated when they are signed, and that date must fall within the allowable period for a unionization campaign.






  • toll roads
  • poisoned water
  • grandma left all night in a soggy diaper
  • slap dash construction of schools and hospitals
  • paying a lot more for a lot less

                                 ...A CHEAT.


what happens when politicians decide to turn government into a cash and carry trade. They do this when they contract with private business operators to deliver public services to us—at a tidy profit to them.

                                ...A CON.


theft by conversion. It is used to convert public assests we all own into private assests only individuals own.






Topic: The Ways We Win

Poison powder gets the shaft

JANICE MARTELL FOUGHT AND FOUGHT AND FOUGHT—AND WON BIG. Workers made ill by breathing in McIntyre Powder will finally be taken seriously in two big ways.

First, they will be allowed to make claims for worker compensation. Second, the Ontario government will spend $1M on research that workers could turn around and use to support their claims for compensation.

Both wins are the direct result of years of effort put in by Janice Martell and the support she won for the McIntyre Powder Project she founded in 2015.

The project’s first big win came in August when the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) cancelled their policy of automatically denying workers’ claims related to aluminum dust and the development of neurological disorders.

Along with this, they commissioned an independent study by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre that will examine historical records, including the files of over 90,000 Ontario miners, to determine if there is a link to increased risk of brain damage.

The project’s second big win came on October 11 when the Ontario government announced it would spend $1 million to fund a review by the  Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) of the information collected from miners across the country who participate in their intake clinics.

According to the Ministry of Labour, the workers “could then use this information to make claims to the WSIB for potential compensation.”

Janice Martell is clearly elated: “I didn’t think it would happen quite as quickly as it has.”       

Forced to take the ‘cure’ that could kill

McIntyre Powder was supposed to keep miners safe. The powder’s producers claimed that breathing in the aluminum dust deeply before a shift would protect miners from developing silicosis of the lungs, also known as black lung disease, a disease for which miners could claim compensation. It was a lie.

Between 1943 and 1979, over 27,500 miners in Ontario alone were deliberately exposed to this dust.

Most miners had no idea what the powder contained. But even if they had know it was dangerous to their health it wouldn’t have mattered. They had no choice. They had to inhale it.

“There was absolutely no informed consent,” said Martell. “Some of them were locked in. One of the guys told me that they would put chains on the door so nobody could get in or out. It’s forcible confinement is what it is.”

Topic: How Fair is That

Students stood with their teachers in Ontario college faculty strike

Paula Greenberg (right) and classmates support faculty action

PAULA GREENBERG HATES TO EVER MISS CLASS. But she hates injustice even more. So, she is stood with her teachers who abandoned their classrooms to go on strike October 16.

The12,000 community college faculty members in Ontario are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). They walked off the job to win a new contract that would improve education quality for students and treat faculty fairly. The best way to do both, say the teachers, is to offer more faculty full time jobs.

Right now a full 70% of the faculty are trapped in the so-called “gig economy” forced to work from one short-term contract to another. Perpetually worried about  how long, or if, their work will last.

Paula sees a strong connection between the bind her teachers at Humber College in Toronto are in and the world she will face after she graduates. “This gig economy of short-term, part-time contracts is not something only our teachers are facing. A lot of millennials are starting to see this become their only choice of employment.”

The college faculty wants a contract that well give them:

  • a 50:50 ratio of full-time to contract faculty
  • long-term contracts for faculty who now work on one-semester contracts
  • academic freedom to give faculty a stronger voice in academic decision-making.

James Fauvelle (back right) with fellow student supporters of faculty

Scared for my future

James Fauvelle, a student at Centennial College, is equally disturbed by what the teachers face: “I’m speaking up because I’m scared for my future. The whole reason I went back to school is so that I wouldn’t have to put in 80 hour weeks just to survive, the way I had to in my previous work. But teaching has now become a precarious occupation. If we keep going down this road, this country is just going to fall apart.”

The number of students at Ontario colleges continues to rise. The number of full-time faculty continues to drop. But the number of administrators shoots ever higher—now more than double the rise in the rate of student enrollment.

This Working Life

Worker’s death proves all work is precarious

Justin Mathews

JUSTIN MATHEWS IS DEAD. His job killed him. It happens a lot. Mostly because we just don’t care enough about worker safety. It was that kind of carelessness that killed Justin.

Justin Mathews died on the job in Edmonton on October 2 2017

JUSTIN MATHEWS IS DEAD. His job killed him. It happens a lot. Mostly because we just don’t care enough about worker safety. It was that kind of carelessness that killed Justin.

Justin was doing his job inside the Rossdale fire station in Edmonton on October 2 2017. He was checking air quality to make sure it was safe for the workers there to breathe. He didn’t know the air wasn’t safe for him to breathe. That’s what killed him.

The air was full of dust contaminated with walnut particles used in sandblasting in the building. Nobody told Justin.

Justin had a life-threatening allergy to nuts. When he breathed in the walnut contaminated dust he started gasping for air. He rushed outside.

“He went to the car outside and he couldn’t breathe. He was leaning on the car and trying to catch [his] breath,” his mother said.

Then he collapsed and fell to the ground. Edmonton fire crews responded first, followed by an ambulance. They did all they could to help Justin. But, they did not have EpiPens used to counteract anaphylactic shock. Justin didn’t carry one either. He died.

“First responders need to have EpiPens with them because 10 minutes when you’re in anaphylactic shock is too long. You can’t wait that long. Your body will start shutting down and it will result in brain death,” said Justin’s sister Shari Reklow.

Justin’s parents said he wouldn’t expect to have a reaction unless he was eating. He was very cautious when ordering food, they said.

Nuts not just a danger in foods

Shari Reklow wants accountability for her brother’s death. She believes the use of walnut-based products should be regulated in a similar way to food and warnings issued.

“There is a flaw for sure, and I’m really sorry my brother had to pay the price. We’re all paying the price now,” Reklow said.

“Nut allergies are taken very seriously in foods. How many times do you see ‘may contain nuts’, or ‘come into contact with nuts’ on a food label?”

“It’s not just in food. Nuts are being used in commercial and industrial applications and that needs to be regulated. Right now, as far as I can see within WHMIS, it’s not a controlled or regulated substance.”