MOST OF OUR UNIVERSITY TEACHERS ARE GETTING SCREWED. They have few benefits, and no pension plan for retirement. They are paid by the course, with no guarantee that they will have their contracts renewed next term. They live like this for years, even decades.
WORKED TO DEATH
Olivier Bruneau was crushed and killed on the job in Ottawa in 2016
WHO’S FAULT IS IT THAT JESUS SANCHEZ IS DEAD? Nobody asked that question in 1996. Now Oliver Bruneau is dead too.
There should have been an inquest 20-some years ago when Jesus Sanchez fell 13 metres to his death on the job. Ontario law makes it mandatory. But there was no inquest. Nobody can say why.
LIANE TESSIER HAS A BURNING DESIRE TO SEE JUSTICE DONE. It brought her victory in her battle against systemic sexual discrimination and workplace harassment in the Halifax fire department. But none of if came easy.
Halifax Fire Chief Ken Stuebing delivered a formal apology to Liane on behalf of the Halifax fire service and the the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission at a public news conference on Decemember 18.
Topic: The Ways We Win
Forty years of success for book publisher without bosses
BETWEEN THE LINES BOOKS IS A BOSS-FREE ZONE. And it works.
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: 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
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: The Ways We Win
Union organizing ready to go digital; bosses aren’t
CLICK AND JOIN. UNIONS ARE READY TO MAKE IT THAT EASY. Labour Relations Boards are not.
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:
- By obtaining a majority of cards signed by employees who want to join a union (“card-check”); and,
- 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.
Topic: Unions Matter
They fight for fairness for all
LIFE GETS BETTER FOR EVERYONE wherever and whenever unions are strong. Studies prove it.
Studies prove when unions win higher pay the wages of all workers rise—even for those not in unions.
Studies also prove overall life gets better because of union activity. The more unions there are in a country the more government does to protect human and civil rights and the more it uses taxes to provide social benefits to everyone—regardless of income level.
Unions successfully fought to expand the Canada Pension Plan in 2016, and as a result all workers will see their CPP benefits increase in the future.
It was the strength of unions that gave us all Medicare, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, and safer workplaces. Today unions in Canada are fighting for universal Pharmacare for all Canadians.
Union membership reflects how much Canadians value fairness: the more we value fairness the more unions thrive; the more unions thrive the closer we come to fairness for all.
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."