Unifor

Rise of the right a major focus at convention

Delegates to the third Unifor Constitutional Convention committed to pushing back against the rise of right-wing populists by taking an active role in elections, at the bargaining table, in organizing drives and in the fight for gender equity.

“We will always spend a lot of time talking about politics because it affects our lives each and every day,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias in his closing address to the convention, held in Quebec City.

Delegates adopted a new Political Action Program and released Unifor’s plans for the coming federal election, including a dedicated website and an aggressive advertising campaign.

“We’re going to get involved in the tough debates. We’re going to stick our nose in the political arena,” Dias said.

Social media will be a big part of Unifor’s election effort, which get a big boost at Convention with a Twitter storm of delegates posting selfies with signs reading “I am voting to stop Scheer.”

Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to the convention, stressing the vital role unions play in social justice and building the middle class – especially in the face of increasing right-wing populism.

Dias was acclaimed to his third and final term as President. Lana Payne became Unifor’s first female Secretary-Treasurer. Renaud Gagné was elected at Quebec Regional Council and was acclaimed by the membership as one of the top three officers of Unifor.

Replacing Payne as Atlantic Regional Director is Linda MacNeil. Gavin McGarrigle was chosen as Western Regjonal Director, replacing Joie Warnock, who is now an Assistant to the National President and will lead Unifor’s efforts on Indigenous issues. Naureen Rizvi, former Toronto Area Director and Director of Telecommunications, will continue as Ontario Regional Director.

A tribute was held for Bob Orr, who retired as secretary-treasurer after 35 years of union activism.

Delegates adopted several resolutions, including supporting greater rights for migrant workers, a call to ensure a faster start to contract talks for new bargaining units and an increase in financial and volunteer support for LGBTQ refugees.

Constitutional amendments included increased representation for retirees on Local union executives at former CEP Locals, an increase in strike pay and provisions to give equity seeking groups a stronger voice.

Thousands of delegates rallied outside the Bell Canada building in Quebec City demanding that the phone company maintain good jobs in Canada’s telecommunications industry, and not outsource the jobs of tomorrow.

The same political climate that is fueling Unifor’s political action plan is also behind a new bargaining strategy adopted at the convention to ensure the rights of workers are not only protected, but expanded.

Similarly, a new Organizing Strategic Plan was launched at Convention. The rise of the right and the growing number of Conservative governments in Canada puts unorganized workers most at risk, and Unifor is committed to bringing more workers into the union.

Just weeks after Jason Kenney’s election in Alberta, for example, Unifor successfully organized a hotel in Calgary. In the face of a government attacking their rights, including making organizing more difficult, workers at the hotel voted overwhelmingly to join Unifor, Organizing Director Kellie Scanlan said.

Throughout the week, gender equity was the focus of much of the discussion, from the work of women hockey players fighting for pay equity to a moving address to delegates by Me Too founder Tarana Burke.

“Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” said Tarana Burke, who founded the Me Too movement long before it came known as a hashtag.

A Wednesday night fundraiser sponsored by Unifor raised $150,000 for local women’s shelters.

 

Shirley Egan wins 2019 Bud Jimmerfield Award

For more than 20 years, Shirley Egan has stood up for the health and safety of gaming workers – not just in her workplace of Casino Windsor, but across the industry.

“When we take on these roles, we need to think about these injured workers. Their lives are on the line,” Egan said as she accepted the award.

Egan credited the training she received in Port Elgin for not only the skills to be an advocate for her co-workers, but also the confidence to do so.

“When we are sitting at that table, we are their equal. I may not have a law degree, but I’m their equal,” she said.

Egan is the 2019 recipient of the Bud Jimmerfield Award, handed out annually to someone who has demonstrated strong leadership and a proven commitment to health and safety, and preventing future occupational diseases, deaths, and injuries.

Egan played an integral role in organizing Casino Windsor in 1994, and soon after became the health and safety representative for the workplace.

She was also part of the Gaming Workers’ Health and Safety Research project published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, an innovative project that for the first time asked front line workers how the fast-expanding gaming world of work was affecting their health.

In 2015, Egan became the Workers’ Compensation representative at her casino and continues to work on behalf of Local 444 members on health and safety and workers’ compensation issues.

She has served as a workers compensation discussion leader in Port Elgin for more than two decades, and has helped develop and update course materials. Egan is also the on-site Employee Family Assistance Program representative for the casino members.

Her work has continued the legacy that Bud Jimmerfield left behind as a determined health and safety, environment and workers' compensation activist in his own workplace, as well as in other workplaces and communities across Canada.

Hockey stars Coyne, Spooner and Poulin thank Unifor for supporting women’s sports

Three hockey superstars thanked Unifor and its members for their support of the newly-formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), a players’ union fighting for pay equity for women’s hockey.

Kendall Coyne and Marie-Philip Poulin spoke in person at Convention and CWHL great and Team Canada Olympian Natalie Spooner joined the 3rd Unifor Constitutional Convention on Thursday morning by pre-recorded video. The three hockey players said Unifor’s support has been invaluable in allowing players to continue to train after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League disbanded suddenly earlier this year.

“After the league disbanded, the leadership at Unifor stepped in and immediately made an impact assisting us in securing ice facilities across the country,” said Spooner in the video. “I want to say to all the delegates and you, Jerry, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support and solidarity. Women's hockey is in a better place because of Unifor.”

When the women’s league disbanded, players took action, with many opting to sit out the upcoming season to protest the shocking state of professional women’s hockey. The players launched the #forthegame movement and formed the PWHPA with the goal of creating a viable professional North American women’s league.

Part of ensuring equal pay for women hockey players is raising the profile of women players. Coyne made huge waves when she became the first woman to compete in the NHL Skills Competition, finishing with the second-best time in the Fastest Skater match.

“It was after that moment that I realized the power that we have,” Coyne said to delegates. “When I was getting messages from thousands of young girls, and young boys telling me they wanted to skate as fast as me, I knew that moment had an impact on the sport.”

Members spoke at the microphones to share personal stories of their daughters and other young girls who are fighting for recognition, ice time and funding in sport. Jerry Dias presented Coyne and Poulin with Unifor hockey jerseys and, sporting one himself, cheered them on and promised Unifor would stand alongside them in their campaign for equity.

“Now, when you ask kids their favourite players, it isn’t always Sidney Crosby, but now it can be Kendall Coyne and other women players,” said Poulin.

The PWHPA members look forward to the creation of a WNHL one day, where women’s hockey can be equally valued, supported and watched.

 

 

Unifor fundraises $150,000 for Quebec City women’s shelters

Delegates to Unifor’s 3rd Constitutional Convention being held in Quebec City collectively raised $150,000 for La maison des femmes de Québec and other smaller shelters across the city.

“No woman should ever have to experience violence, let alone in her own home,” said National President, Jerry Dias. “Unifor is proud to make this contribution to the work of La maison. It is the least we can do.”

During the convention’s proceedings, Dias asked male delegates to stand and take an oath to play an active role in stopping violence against women. The convention also featured a keynote address by Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement.

After raising more than $90,000 from local union donations and ticket sales to a Wednesday fundraiser, Dias pledged to top up the amount to $150,000 from the union’s Canadian Community Fund. The first $100,000 will go to La maison des femmes de Québec, and an additional $50,000 will be divided among a number of smaller shelters in the Quebec City area.

“I was very heartened by the collective effort to support this important cause. Unifor is clearly a union that wants to make a real impact in communities,” said Dias.

The mandate of the Quebec City Women’s Shelter (La maison des femmes de Québec) is to create and maintain a safe and stimulating environment where women who are victims of violence can seek refuge with their children and regain control of their lives. The organization also promotes and defends the interests and rights of women and fights against the oppression they face, particularly the violence experienced in their intimate relationships and in society in general.

Quebec Director’s report emphasizes commitment and activism

The devoted commitment of our members and local unions is, without a doubt, a central theme of the report presented by Quebec Director Renaud Gagné today at the convention. Starting with the federal election that’s just around the corner, Brother Gagné stressed the importance of making sure we elect a government that listens to our demands. “The coming months will be crucial for the future of our organization, our jobs, our members, our families, our children and grandchildren,” he said.

On a more sombre note, Brother Gagné also spoke about the suicides of co-workers in recent months, including that of François Beaudoin, a National Representative in the Organizing Department. But this tragic story also brought to light a wonderful community-based project involving local unions in Abitibi that pooled their efforts to raise $16,000 and create an application to help teens struggling with suicidal thoughts. In addition, thanks to a donation from Unifor, $10,000 was granted to develop a similar application for adults.

Mobilization is another factor that makes a huge difference in the daily battles we wage, including labour disputes such as the conflicts at Vopak in Montreal, Old Castle and Delastek. Mobilization also made a real difference in struggles such as that involving the GM plant in Oshawa and in protecting forestry and aluminum workers against unfair duties imposed by the Americans. Mobilization allows us to make major gains when negotiating and renewing our collective agreements. To cite just one example, we succeeded in negotiating 10 days of leave in cases of domestic violence for the Intercontinental Hotel unit of Local 62, not to mention several clauses providing for the position of women’s advocate in our workplaces.

Another current issue that has us very concerned is the announcement by Groupe Capitales Médias, which owns six newspapers in Quebec, that it is launching a major restructuring of its business. Unifor represents nearly 100 GCM employees working at La Tribune in Sherbrooke and Le Quotidien in Saguenay. Although the news came as no surprise – just last week, we submitted a request for emergency financial assistance to the Quebec government – it is imperative that we find a long-term solution in order to protect our media industry.

And, last but not least, Brother Gagné brought us up to date on Unifor’s lengthy battle in the fisheries sector in Gaspésie. He took the opportunity to break the news that an agreement had been reached with Crustacés de Gaspé after intensive negotiations last week. This plant, you will recall, was shut down for the 2019 season in the midst of the bargaining process to establish the first collective agreement. There is no question that it’s thanks to the mobilization put in place by Unifor in the Grande-Rivière region that we were able to achieve this outcome. Since June, hundreds of members from all regions took turns crisscrossing the region to raise awareness about the issue among the local population. A petition demanding the reopening of the plant and a review of fisheries industry regulations to ensure a more equitable distribution of fishing revenues gathered over 7,000 signatures in just a few weeks! “This is yet another huge victory for Unifor, just as we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of the fishermen’s revolt in Gaspésie,” the Quebec Director concluded.

Le Service du recrutement lance son plan stratégique

Alors que le monde du travail change et que l'économie évolue, le Service du recrutement d'Unifor lance un nouveau plan stratégique de recrutement pour intégrer de nouveaux groupes de travailleuses et travailleurs dans le mouvement syndical.

« On ne peut pas rester coincés dans les mêmes méthodes. On ne peut pas continuer à regarder en arrière. Nous devons être prêts à nous adapter aux nouvelles opportunités, à l'évolution des lieux de travail et des paysages politiques », a déclaré Kellie Scanlan, directrice du Service du recrutement d’Unifor, au congrès cet après-midi.

Le nouveau plan repose sur quatre piliers : instaurer une culture de recrutement, développer les ressources, attirer de nouveaux travailleurs et travailleuses au sein du syndicat en leur montrant ce qu'Unifor a accompli dans des milieux de travail similaires et en identifiant des objectifs stratégiques de syndicalisation.

« Nous avons tous un rôle à jouer, qu'il s'agisse des déléguées et délégués syndicaux, des militantes et militants locaux, des conseils sectoriels ou des dirigeantes et dirigeants élus », a déclaré Kellie Scanlan.

Depuis sa fondation, Unifor a consacré d'importantes ressources au recrutement et à la constitution d'une équipe solide et diversifiée de représentantes et représentants, et de militantes et militants, qui aident les non-syndiqués à se joindre à Unifor.

« L'élément vital d'un syndicat est la syndicalisation, et nous avons créé Unifor pour en faire un syndicat axé sur le recrutement », a déclaré Chris MacDonald, adjoint au président.

Les travailleuses et travailleurs dans les lieux de travail autres que ceux représentés par Unifor ont remarqué que les membres d'Unifor dans des milieux similaires ont de meilleures conditions de travail et de meilleurs salaires, et qu'ils veulent réaliser des gains semblables. C'est ce qui s'est produit récemment chez Scieries Chaleur, au Nouveau-Brunswick.

« Les travailleuses et travailleurs chez Scieries Chaleur connaissaient de première main les avantages d'avoir une convention collective, simplement en discutant en personne avec les membres d'Unifor dans une usine voisine », a déclaré Kellie Scanlan.

« Ces membres d'Unifor ont alimenté cette campagne de recrutement. Ils incarnent le genre de culture de recrutement que nous devons encourager partout. »

En même temps, Unifor n'attend pas simplement que les travailleuses et travailleurs se présentent pour demander à adhérer au syndicat. Le Service du recrutement d'Unifor identifie des cibles stratégiques pour de nouvelles campagnes, comme chez WestJet, où Unifor aide les travailleuses et travailleurs de première ligne des aéroports à adhérer au syndicat.

« Nous avons vu à quel point l’élan de syndicalisation prenait de l’ampleur chez WestJet. Nous n'avons pas attendu d'avoir des appels téléphoniques ou des recommandations sur le terrain », a déclaré Kellie Scanlan.

« Nous sommes un syndicat pour des milliers et des milliers d'employés de compagnies aériennes. Nous nous sommes donc positionnés stratégiquement dans les aéroports, d'un bout à l'autre du pays. Et nous avons commencé à parler aux travailleuses et travailleurs. »

Un plan stratégique de recrutement est nécessaire pour contrer les attaques coordonnées des employeurs contre le mouvement syndical, a déclaré Kellie Scanlan.

« Les travailleuses et travailleurs ont besoin de nous, ils comptent sur nous, et nous sommes prêts à relever le défi. »

 

 

 

Organizing Department releases strategic plan

As the world of work changes and the economy evolves, Unifor’s Organizing Department is launching a new organizing strategic plan to bring new groups of workers into the labour movement.

“We can’t get stuck in grooves. We can’t get stuck looking backward. We have to be ready to adapt to new opportunities, changing workplaces, changing political landscapes,” Unifor Organizing Director Kellie Scanlan told the Unifor convention this afternoon.

The new plan is based on four pillars: building a culture of organizing, developing resources, attracting new workers to the union by showing them what Unifor has achieved in similar workplaces and identifying strategic organizing targets.

“All of us play a role, from shop stewards and local activists to industry councils and the elected leadership,” Scanlan said.

Since its founding, Unifor has dedicated great resources to organizing, building a strong and diverse team of staff and activists who help non-union join Unifor.

“The lifeblood of a union is organizing, and we created Unifor to be an organizing union,” said Assistant to the President Chris MacDonald.

Workers in non-Unifor workplaces have been noticing that Unifor members in similar workplaces have better working conditions and wages – and want to achieve similar gains. This happened recently at the Chaleur sawmill in New Brunswick.

“Chaleur workers knew first-hand the benefits of having a collective agreement, simply by having face-to-face conversations with Unifor members at a nearby mill,” Scanlan said.

“Those Unifor members fuelled this organizing drive. They embodied the exact sort of organizing culture we have to foster everywhere.”

At the same time, Unifor is not simply waiting for workers to come to it asking to join the union. Unifor’s Organizing department identifying strategic targets for new drives - such as at WestJet, where Unifor is helping frontline airport workers join the union.

“We saw how quickly momentum was building at WestJet to unionize. We didn’t wait for phone calls, or hot shop tips,” Scanlan said.

“We are a union for thousands and thousands of airline employees. So we positioned ourselves strategically in airports, right across the country. And we started talking to workers.”

A strategic plan for organizing is needed to counter the coordinated attacks on the labour movement by employers, Scanlan said.

“Workers need us and they are depending on us, and we are ready for the challenge.”

 

 

 

Labour can and must do more about sexual assault says Me Too founder

The founder of the Me Too movement told Unifor Convention Delegates that organized labour has been a strong force behind advancing diversity in the workplace and the role of women.

“Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” said Tarana Burke, who founded the Me Too movement long before Hollywood scandals made the #MeToo hashtag go viral.

Burke founded the movement in 2006, inspired by a young girl at a youth camp who gathered up the courage to tell her about the horrific assaults she had suffered as a child. It was a story the girl had never shared before.

“In that moment I could not muster up the courage of this child,” Burke said.

“These nightmares, this triggering, this fear, this anxiety, this pain, this shame that she carrying in the pit of her stomach, I carried it the same way because it happened to me too,” she said.

“I carry the courage of that child in my heart every day.”

Burke said Me Too grew from that experience into a worldwide network that supports survivors in their healing while working to end sexual violence.

Such work goes well beyond a hashtag, Burke said, while crediting #MeToo with exposing the epidemic of sexual violence faced by women and girls.

Burke said sexual violence is a workplace issue, pointing out that 19 per cent of working women in Canada report being sexually harassed at work, and 40 per cent have experienced some form of sexual assault since the age of 16.

“This is not about just changing policies. This is not about giving lip service.,” said Burke, whose mother was a UAW shop steward for 22 years.

“It’s about the sanctity of our humanity.”

Burke received a standing ovation before attending a meet and greet meeting with Unifor delegates.

Analysis of France’s “yellow vest” movement

Julien Tourreille, a PhD in political science with the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, presented an analysis of the “yellow vest” movement in France. He focused notably on the real impact of this crisis on the different political parties and social institutions, including trade unions. Where did this movement come from? Does it reflect a fundamental shift? What legacy will it leave, if any? These are just some of the questions he touched on.  

“It seems to me that all the main ingredients of this yellow vest crisis can be found in the mixture of a feeling of being left behind, the unpopularity of political decision-makers and a deep discontent with government decisions,” explained Mr. Tourreille.

Despite the spectacular aspect of the numerous protests that have swept the country, the researcher considers that it is still a relatively modest social movement. He attributes this to several factors, starting with the violence that has marred many of the protests and alienated many people. That is why the movement has been unable to build capital and rally more people around it. Another explanation lies in the movement’s inability to produce a recognized leader.

The French context and what Mr. Tourreille calls the “doom and gloom” and typically defiant attitude of the French people have also acted as catalysts of this movement. 

Nonetheless, the yellow vest protesters have managed to wring concessions worth some 10 billion Euros from the government. In doing so, they have at the same time helped reinforce the perception that labour unions have lost much of their power, since they not won any major victories in a long time.

Thus, while the yellow vest movement may not have benefited trade unions, nor has it succeeded in reshaping the French political landscape. For example, the movement has not garnered mass support; in fact, the contrary is true, as is reflected in the outcome of the European elections. Sympathizers of the movement have mainly thrown their support behind the Rassemblement National, a right-wing party.

But does this mean that the yellow vest movement is just a flash in the pan? No, according to Mr. Tourreille, who says that the phenomenon of the “yellow vests constitutes a serious warning to both the political establishment and other organizations, including unions.”

More fundamentally, Mr. Tourreille believes that “the yellow vest movement could herald the potential slide toward populism of French democracy, similar to what happened in the United States with the Tea Party, which paved the way for the election of Donald Trump.”

Analyse du mouvement des gilets jaunes en France

Julien Tourreille, a PhD in political science with the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, presented an analysis of the “yellow vest” movement in France. He focused notably on the real impact of this crisis on the different political parties and social institutions, including trade unions. Where did this movement come from? Does it reflect a fundamental shift? What legacy will it leave, if any? These are just some of the questions he touched on.  

“It seems to me that all the main ingredients of this yellow vest crisis can be found in the mixture of a feeling of being left behind, the unpopularity of political decision-makers and a deep discontent with government decisions,” explained Mr. Tourreille.

Despite the spectacular aspect of the numerous protests that have swept the country, the researcher considers that it is still a relatively modest social movement. He attributes this to several factors, starting with the violence that has marred many of the protests and alienated many people. That is why the movement has been unable to build capital and rally more people around it. Another explanation lies in the movement’s inability to produce a recognized leader.

The French context and what Mr. Tourreille calls the “doom and gloom” and typically defiant attitude of the French people have also acted as catalysts of this movement. 

Nonetheless, the yellow vest protesters have managed to wring concessions worth some 10 billion Euros from the government. In doing so, they have at the same time helped reinforce the perception that labour unions have lost much of their power, since they not won any major victories in a long time.

Thus, while the yellow vest movement may not have benefited trade unions, nor has it succeeded in reshaping the French political landscape. For example, the movement has not garnered mass support; in fact, the contrary is true, as is reflected in the outcome of the European elections. Sympathizers of the movement have mainly thrown their support behind the Rassemblement National, a right-wing party.

But does this mean that the yellow vest movement is just a flash in the pan? No, according to Mr. Tourreille, who says that the phenomenon of the “yellow vests constitutes a serious warning to both the political establishment and other organizations, including unions.”

More fundamentally, Mr. Tourreille believes that “the yellow vest movement could herald the potential slide toward populism of French democracy, similar to what happened in the United States with the Tea Party, which paved the way for the election of Donald Trump.”

Unifor delegates adopt new bargaining priorities at 2019 Convention

Delegates at the third Constitutional Convention adopted the 2019 Unifor Bargaining Program, Stronger Together. This program outlines the challenges ahead, assesses progress made toward achieving the overarching goals of the union and sets specific goals for the years ahead.

“From the earliest days of the labour movement workers have always aimed to establish common wages and working conditions - in their workplaces, industries and even across the economy,” said Unifor Research Director Bill Murnighan.

“The goals have been to raise the floor for everyone, and make sure employers cannot pit workers against one another.”

Since its founding, Unifor has provided in-depth market analysis, observed developing trends in workplaces across the country and used its considerable expertise to inform, guide and support bargaining committees large and small.

At Unifor, nearly half of our members bargain in some form of coordination within their sector, often known as master or pattern bargaining. These coordinated efforts add to the strength of individual committees and offer incredible opportunities for sharing best practices, innovative language and important advances for workers.

This year’s priorities reflect current challenges such as the steady decline of “good jobs” as companies move to out-source and replace full time workers in favour of part time workers. We are also watching  as technological change and automation continues to threaten jobs.

“No one has felt the uncertainty of these economic and trade-related headwinds more than Canadian workers,” Unifor Researcher Angelo DiCaro said.

The priorities for 2019 also build on the incredible work done since 2016.

Key achievements toward equity include having 375 active Women’s Advocates across Canada through our internationally-recognized Women’s Advocate Program; targeting incidences of unpaid internships and increasing employment opportunities for young workers.

The union has also negotiated Paid Education Leave (PEL) and encourages participation in education courses for equity-seeking groups; and continues to develop joint labour-management committees and processes to investigate and deal with workplace harassment.

More and more agreements are also adopting gender-neutral language, and important job security provisions.

Read the full 2019 Bargaining Program adopted at Unifor’s third Constitutional Convention for full details on the 2019 priorities.

 

 

 

Convention delegates pay tribute to Bob Orr

More than 2000 convention delegates an guests gave outgoing secretary-treasurer Bob Orr an emotionalstanding ovation for his life-long commitment to Unifor and the labour movement.

“My individual achievements would not have been possible without the will and strength of our membership,” said Bob Orr, National Secretary-Treasurer. “When we formed Unifor, the membership set out to change the labour movement, and we have done just that!”

As a son of trade union activists, Orr started his working life in a union shop in 1978 in St. Catharines, Ontario. After being laid off, Orr went on to work at the GM Windsor Transmission plant.

Orr became active in his union, and passionately defended the rights of his co-workers, He was elected to ten positions over 14 years. In 1999, former National President Buzz Hargrove appointed Bob to a staff position at the CAW. Since then, he has worked in the Windsor, London, Chatham, Kitchener and Toronto offices. He quickly rose through the ranks  and was appointed National Coordinator, National Staff Representative in Organizing and Service, and he served as Assistant to National Secretary-Treasurer’s Jim O’Neil and Peter Kennedy and later was apoointed Assistant to President Ken Lewenza and Jerry Dias.

“The pride Bob puts into your work and the commitment you’ve made to this unionis unmatched,”said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “For more than 35 years, you have shown us that through integrity and humanity, a better world is possible. Bob, thank you for being a tremendous leader and for all your service to our union.”

Before his speech, convention delegates watched a farewell tribute video that included heartfelt testimonials from members, elected and former officers  tofurther illustrate Orr’s life-long commitment in fighting for the rights of workers across Canada.

Watch the video here.

Roméo Dallaire presented with Unifor Nelson Mandela Award

Retired Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, whose warnings of a coming genocide in Rwanda went unanswered 25 years ago, is the 2019 recipient of the Unifor Nelson Mandela Award.

“No one is worthy of a Nelson Mandela award. No one is worthy of comparison to that human being,” said Dellaire. “I am more than humbled to receive such an award, particularly as a soldier, to receive a peace award.”

Dellaire was head of a United Nations mission in Rwanda in 1994. He repeatedly tried to warn the UN Security Council that action was needed in the weeks leading up to the genocide, but was denied permission to act.

In just under 100 days that year, more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed by the Rwandan military and Hutu militia. Most of those killed were Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Dellaire wrote about his experiences in Rwanda in his 2003 book, Shake Hands with the Devil, and has spoken openly about his post-traumatic stress disorder, helping to bring the condition into the open.

“Twenty-five years ago yesterday, I came back from Rwanda. Well, my body came back, but part of the man I was is still there,” said Dellaire, as he called on delegates to support colleagues facing mental illness.

“Peer support within your organization is crucial to saving lives.”

Dellaire is also founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which works to end the use of child soldiers. The organization receives funding from the Unifor Social Justice Fund.

“It is darn near supernatural the way General Dellaire has managed to corral the most recalcitrant, often bloody-minded governments and militias into preventing the use of child soldiers,” former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis said as he introduced Dellaire.

Lewis called Dellaire a perfect recipient of the Nelson Mandela award, because both men emerged from atrocities with a determination to build a better world.

“Nothing can move his optimism. He looks for the best in everyone he meets, and somehow he finds it.”

The Nelson Mandela Award is named in honour of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa from 1994-1999 and an anti-apartheid revolutionary. This award recognizes the struggle, courage and achievement of Mandela to advance human rights and social justice. Recipients are recognized for their human rights and social justice efforts.

Strong unions needed in Canada, Freeland tells convention

Strong unions are not only vital to protecting good jobs and the middle class, but to fending off the rise of the radical right in Canada and around the world, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told the Unifor Convention today.

"When it comes to defending workers’ rights and supporting the middle class, one thing is certain. No political force is more essential or more effective than strong unions,” Freeland said.

Freeland said a strong middle class is the best protection against the rise of right-wing populism.

“Populism develops where the middle class is eroding, where people are losing ground and hope,” Freeland said.

“When people feel that their economic future is threatened, when they believe that their children have fewer opportunities than they had in their youth, this is where people are vulnerable to the demagogue.” 

The rise of such leaders around the world poses a real threat to smaller countries such as Canada, saying we cannot survive in a world with no rules and where only the law of the jungle prevails.

When it came to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and fighting the U.S.’s 232 tariffs on steel aluminum, then, it only made sense to treat it as an opportunity to fix what was wrong with the original NAFTA, Freeland said.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias was a consultant to the NAFTA talks, a role that Freeland said was key to the new deal containing significant improvements to worker protections, including a requirement for major changes to Mexican labour laws.

“None of this would have been possible were it not for our very strong partnership with labour unions and labour leaders, including the amazing Jerry Dias and his team,” Freeland said. 

“We all stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight over NAFTA and 232. You were fighting for your own jobs, of course, but you also knew you were fighting for your whole country.”

Joie Warnock highlights incredible work for equity, fair contracts in western region

Outgoing Western Regional Director Joie Warnock gave a passionate update on activities in the western region to Unifor Convention delegates on Tuesday, highlighting the commitments to reconciliation with First Nations.

“As usual, it is our members on the ground making the biggest difference toward reconciliation,” said Warnock.

Crediting the testimony and wisdom coming from Indigenous communities, she urged members across Canada “to listen and act upon what we have heard.”

Activists in Manitoba earned thanks for leading Unifor’s fight for paid domestic leave. In May 2016, the province became the first to pass legislation mandating paid time off for those fleeing domestic violence.

“Now, there is domestic violence leave legislation in every province and territory,” said Warnock. “Our success has served as a valuable example of what’s possible through our mobilizing and political action.”

Warnock spoke directly to Saskatchewan Crown workers who are preparing to take job action.

“We are fighting against a premier who saw fit to increase MLA wages by 2.3 per cent and offer nothing to front-line workers – needless to say, we’re not accepting this,” said Warnock. “We’ve held rallies, days of action in our workplaces and launched an advertising campaign to get the message out there, so we’ll do whatever it takes to achieve fair collective agreements.”

The 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike reminded all workers of their collective power.

“Many things have changed since 1919, but workers’ collective power is still the most important political force in our society,” said Warnock. “Capital knows damn well that we pose a direct threat to their unfettered ability to mistreat workers and concentrate their wealth even further.”

She closed her speech with special recognition of union organizers and a call to every member to deepen their involvement in the union.

Warnock has been appointed to work in the President’s office as an assistant following Convention.

Watch Joie Warnock’s entire speech here.

Ontario Unifor members face challenges head on

Across Ontario, Unifor members rallied in support of one another and for all workers and their communities whenever and wherever needed, Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi said.

“In Ontario, we are being tested every single day,” Rizvi said in her address to the Unifor Constitutional Convention today. “The story of Ontario in the last year is one where Unifor members have truly, openly, and honestly come together.”

When General Motors threatened the jobs of Unifor members, the union pushed back by rallying the community behind the workers and an aggressive publicity campaign.

“The entire country stood with us, while we took back GM headquarters, while we welcomed Sting and the cast of The Last Ship, and we felt solidarity from workers across the province when we brought the fight to Windsor, across from the Detroit headquarters,” Rizvi said.

“We don’t accept that this engine of Ontario’s economy should be allowed to slowly fall idle.”

The same solidarity was shown when Casino Rama announced layoffs, prompting a rally at the facility in support of the Unifor members there.

“Every sector, every corner of the province was in Rama to support gaming workers. That’s how we do it in Ontario,” Rizvi said.

Unifor also pushed back when Premier Doug Ford rolled back workers’ rights. Using the power of collective bargaining, Unifor put those rights on every bargaining table across the province.

“Since implementation seven months ago, close to 9,000 Unifor members have gotten back what was legislated away from them,” Rizvi said.

When staff ratios at long-term care centres fell, Unifor rallied members and the public with an award-wining campaign spoofing the ads used by long-term care centres to point out the poor working conditions in the industry.

“In typical Conservative style, the Ford government pushed for privatization, and a wage cap,” Rizvi said. “This, in a sector where many make minimum wage, for a backbreaking, exhausting, and vital job.”

Unifor is working hard to make sure Ford’s first term in office is his last, including having a nine-member team of on the ground organizers across the province. In the past year alone, they have pulled together more than 600 events, including member meetings and rallies.

“They have built local coalitions, supported parents of children with autism, made their Members of Provincial Parliament squirm, and inspired new activism across the province,” Rizvi said.

Such activism will be vital as Unifor pushes back against Ford’s cuts and in the coming federal election, she said.

 

Lana Payne inspires delegates in last speech as Atlantic Regional Director

Unifor Atlantic Regional Director Lana Payne delivered an inspired address to the 3rd Unifor Constitutional Convention delegates, stressing the importance of fighting back and building solidarity. 

“When you consider what’s ahead of us as working-class people – climate change, automation, and right-wing populism – we are going to be tested in new and profound ways,” said Payne. “We can respond with our hearts, with passion and by using the power of our solidarity to win even in the toughest of times.”

As an example of strength in tough times, Payne reflected on the hundreds of Unifor members, staff and leadership who descended on the town of Gander in Newfoundland and Labrador in September and October to support 30 aerospace sector workers who were locked out by their greedy employer.

“It didn’t matter that it was 30 workers, or 300 workers or 3,000; what mattered is that our union, the right to a union, was under attack,” she said. “We sent the strongest of messages to bosses everywhere that we will resist every attempt to try to break us and our union.”

The lock out in Gander played out for as long as it did largely due to weak labour laws, and this is why Unifor demanded stronger protections for workers in the Newfoundland and Labrador election this past Spring.

“That’s why, even when we don’t always get the political outcomes we wish for, that we work for, we must never stop fighting for governments that work for workers,” said Payne. “Even though politics has failed the working class, political decisions affect our working lives and in order to fully defend our members, we can’t sit politics out.”

Payne congratulated the work of activists in New Brunswick during their fall 2018 election and emphasized the importance of member mobilization during the upcoming federal election. With Ontario and Alberta as startling examples of anti-worker governments taking hold across Canada, she said it is more important than ever to push for policies and laws that protect and support workers.

“Friends, as we stare down a vicious assault on trade union freedoms, we must turn every obstacle into an opportunity to build solidarity and to organize and strengthen worker power,” said Payne. “We know what bosses and their political allies want. They want to push us out of politics because they want to run the country as they see fit. Well, this country doesn’t work without workers, and it won’t work without unions.”

Payne is standing for election as Unifor’s National Secretary Treasurer at the convention.

For more details on the incredible work in sectors across the Atlantic and impactful wins at bargaining tables, watch Lana Payne’s full speech.

Pushing back is a victory for all workers, Dias tells convention

When you take on Unifor, whether government or an employer, you can expect a fight, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said in his opening address the Unifor Constitutional Convention today.

“Unifor is not getting pushed around. Not now. Not ever,” Dias said as the convention began in Quebec City.

“There will be a fight, I can promise you that - and if what we did forces employers to take a pause, to take a step back, and think twice before attacking our members, then that’s a victory for this union. That’s a victory for all workers.”

Across Canada, employers and governments have learned that lesson as Unifor has mobilized members, staff and entire communities when the interests of workers are challenged.

And we haven’t been shy about it, Dias said.

In Gander, Unifor sparked some controversy with a video naming and shaming scabs at DJ Composites, where workers were locked out for almost two years. Some people told Unifor they were outraged by the video.

“Let me tell you what’s outrageous. Twenty-one months on the picket line. Scabs doing our work. Scabs dragging this out. Scabs keeping food off our members tables,” Dias said.

“You know what’s outrageous? A government that sat and twiddled their thumbs, while workers suffered.”

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador wasn’t the only one to sit on its hands while workers and communities were threatened. In Ontario, Dias said. Premier Doug Ford was ready give up when GM said it planned to shut its Oshawa assembly plant.

“Big, tough-talking Doug Ford, threw in the towel on GM even before he stepped in the ring,” Dias said. “In less than 24 hours, the premier threw up his hands, saying – and I quote – ‘The ship has left the dock.’”

Ford might let corporations roll right over him, but Unifor never will, Dias said.

Whether it’s long-term care facilities undercutting the services and the wages of its workers, a salt mine or a doctor’s office taking a hard stand on negotiations, a rich grocery store chain cutting hours while taking government subsidies, Conservative governments in Alberta and elsewhere attacking the rights of workers, the search for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, trade deals, and more, Unifor will not only fight hard, Dias said, we will show others how it’s done.

“We bargain. We fight. We don’t back down. We do whatever it takes,” Dias said.

Author Nancy MacLean issues call-to-action to convention delegates to save democracy

Keynote speaker Nancy MacLean addressed the Unifor 2019 Convention and shared her research into the political maneuvering of the super-rich, and the tactics they use to undermine workers across the United States and Canada.

In her book Democracy in Chains, she takes readers behind the scenes of today’s political establishment – led by billionaires – and reveals their decades-long strategy to change the rules of democracy itself in their favour. She outlined key points of her book to delegates and highlighted the role of unions such as Unifor in fighting back.

“When future historians look back on this moment 50 years from now and try to make sense of it, I don’t think they will focus on Donald Trump the way most journalists are now,” said MacLean. “I think they will be much more interested in a quiet transformation underway that this president’s conduct distracts our attention from.”

In describing this ‘quiet transformation’, MacLean emphasized that it is not yet complete. Their endgame would mean citizens would be left to fend for themselves and, of course, those who don’t fare well would be left without government benefits and protections.

MacLean quoted leaders of this far-right ideology as saying they aim to create a system of winners and losers where even the quality of water “might not be what citizens are used to” and where “partial shantytowns” would satisfy the need for cheaper housing as wage inequality grows and government shrinks.

MacLean urged that progressive voices must work together, preserve our public services, and fight for our rights and the gains we’ve made over many decades of principled work.

“One lesson we can draw is not to let ourselves get distracted by the daily circus, which is often quite intentional,” she said. “We need to work on democracy beyond elections – on year-round involvement of the people in our workplaces, schools, communities and governments at all levels.”

MacLean left delegates with hope and even evoked the convention theme, telling delegates that we must do “whatever it takes” to win and reform democracy to save it.

Unions vital to a strong society, Trudeau tells convention

No government can claim to be standing up for average Canadians if it is not willing to work with unions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his address to Unifor’s Constitutional Convention today.

“The labour movement deserves fairness, not a government that sees it as an enemy,” Trudeau said.

“When Andrew Scheer spoke at a labour event in Ottawa recently, he couldn’t even say the word union. Canadians serve better. We all deserve better.”

This is not the first time Trudeau has spoken at a Unifor Convention. Three years ago, he pledged to delegates at the convention in Ottawa that his new government would work with Unifor and other unions to improve the lives of working Canadians.

“To have a strong middle class, you have to have strong unions.”

Soon after coming to power, Trudeau’s Liberals repealed the anti-union legislation brought in by the previous Stephen Harper Conservatives. When the North American Free Trade Agreement came up for renegotiation, Unifor played an active role.

“Millions of families were counting on us to get the new NAFTA right, and together we put the interests of Canadian workers at the very heart of our negotiating strategy,” he said.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias was a consultant to the Canadian negotiating team throughout the talks, which resulted in significant improvements to worker protections than those established in the original deal, including a requirement for major changes to Mexican labour laws.

 “In other words, we created a new standard,” Trudeau said. “That, my friends, is the power of solidarity. That is the power of putting people first.”

Trudeau said the labour movement has a long history of standing up for fair wages, reasonable working hours, and safe workplaces and for women, LGBTQ workers, disabled workers and for Indigenous communities.

“You can continue to count on our government,” Trudeau said. “We know the only way we will make real progress is by investing in people – not by cutting services.”

The labour movement is vital to that effort, Trudeau said.

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