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Forestry workers find strong support from municipal leaders at FCM

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Unifor brought forestry workers from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) conference in Quebec City to raise awareness about forestry issues and opportunities in the sector.

“Many of us have met with our local representatives at all levels of government, but FCM provided us a unique and valuable opportunity to speak with hundreds of municipal leaders in one venue,” said Ian Hutchison, Atlantic Regional Chair and forestry member in Saint John, New Brunswick. “Mayors and councillors from big cities and small towns alike recognized their community’s important connections to the forestry sector and talked with us about how vital it was to their economies.”

Big city mayors like Naheed Nenshi of Calgary, Bonnie Crombie of Mississauga and Mike Savage of Halifax stopped by the Unifor booth, in addition to hundreds of mayors and city councillors from across Canada. Members plan to schedule follow-up meetings and encourage councils to pass a municipal resolution of support for forestry. Read the Unifor lobby document here.

Unifor represents more than 26,000 forestry workers across the country. The sector is facing several challenges including the growing impact of softwood lumber tariffs, ongoing crises from insect damage, unchecked raw log exports, and several other policies that negatively impact key forestry operations and sustainable harvest levels.

“Forestry has a bright future and can be a key player in greening our economy and providing good-paying, sustainable jobs in communities big and small for generations to come,” said Jerry Dias, National President. “Most city officials understand the value-add in the forestry sector is vital and there’s huge potential for this sector to be part of the green economy policies they’re exploring.”

Dias hosted a reception for delegates and spoke to other challenges faced by municipal leaders. With increased downloading of service responsibility onto municipalities, the urgent need for affordable housing, and increasing infrastructure modernization and growth, councillors have a lot on their plates.

“We have to fight back against the aggressive cuts to services at the provincial level by conservative premiers in order to protect and grow prosperous cities with dependable services where people want to live, work and raise their families,” said Dias. “We can’t cut our way forward – we have to invest in and build the communities we want for our future.”

L-R: Hugues Perrault, Vince Lukacs, Ivan Vasko, Mike Lambert, Terry Farrell, and Shelley Amyotte

“I’ve made my career in forestry and I’m passionate about my industry. We are the tree-planters, the forest-keepers and the crafters of products we build our lives around. I’m intensely proud of that and want to share my optimism for the future of forestry with others.” – Don McLean, forestry worker, Alberta.

“It’s a privilege to have an opportunity to speak about such an important issue for our membership with elected officials from across the country. We need their support and to make them aware of the challenges and opportunities we are facing.” – Hugues Perrault, Political Action Quebec

“Forestry has grown and changed over the years, rising to meet modern standards and developing increasingly innovative and sustainable practices. We’re pushing every level of government to invest real time and resources to protect this sector, our beautiful and productive forest lands, and the hundreds of thousands of forestry jobs so many communities rely on.” – Mike Lambert, Unifor Forestry Director.

Winnipeg General Strike inspires Prairie Council

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Delegates to Unifor’s Prairie Regional Council in Winnipeg drew inspiration from the city’s infamous 1919 general strike as they vowed to build a broad coalition to push back against conservative politicians federally and provincially.

“Everything we have been doing for five and a half years has been in preparation for this campaign,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias in a speech to 260 delegates and staff.

With a federal election planned for the fall, a provincial election expected in Manitoba and a newly elected right-wing government in Alberta, Dias said it is vital that workers stand in solidarity with other progressive groups to push back against attacks on working people.

One hundred years ago workers in Winnipeg stood together in a broad coalition of union and non-union workers, women’s groups, immigrants, skilled and unskilled in a way that had rarely been seen before, and changed the country. It will be the same recipe for success in 2019, Dias said.

“An eight-hour day. A living wage. Union recognition. These were the demands of the Winnipeg general strike, and today we need to fight to advance these goals,” he said.

Western Regional Director Joie Warnock told delegates they are on the front line of the fight against the right, with conservative governments in every Prairie province determined to roll back worker rights and sell off Crown corporations.

“We’ve had enough. We’re not going to take it anymore. We’re fighting back and we’re going to win,” she said.

On the closing day of the Council, outgoing National Secretary-Treasurer Bob Orr thanked delegates for their dedication and making a real difference for workers. “It’s your hard work that makes Unifor great, and the powerhouse in Canadian politics that it has become.”

Former Unifor Senior Economist Jim Stanford spoke about the future of Canada’s energy industry and shared his analysis of the popular “Green New Deal”. He said the key to an energy sector that works for Canadians is gradual diversification and making sure that no worker’s family is left behind as it transitions away from fossil fuel sources.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he is inspired by the general strikers because they put everything on the line, including their lives, to fight for their rights and a decent standard of living for their families.

“The best way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike is to defeat Brian Pallister as Premier of Manitoba,” said Kinew, pledging to bring back card check for union certification, a higher minimum age, and a crack down on unsafe workplaces.

“I want to get tough on corporate criminals. When Mom and Dad go to work, they should come home alive and safe.”

There were two panel discussions at the council examining the importance of class unionism to build  broad coalitions, and another looking at lessons from the Winnipeg General Strike. “We need to come together as we did 100 years ago,” said Gina McKay, labour director for the Winnipeg United Way. “That’s how we build a stronger movement.”

Unifor Member Mobilization and Political Action Director Josh Coles said Unifor is ready to go as soon as an election is called in Manitoba, and planning for the union’s campaign for the federal election in the fall is already underway.


Asian Heritage Month - Week 3

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Unifor Local 4606 Activist and Community Leader

Barbara Fung was born in Hong Kong, and raised and educated in Thailand.  She has worked at the IWK Health Centre in Nova Scotia since 2008.  Even though Barbara may appear to be quiet, she is an active member in Unifor local 4606.  In 2016, Barbara joined the Atlantic Aboriginal and Workers of Colour committee and after demonstrating her activism, she was sent to Port Elgin for a two week Aboriginal and Workers of Colour Leadership course. During the course, Barbara met many people from other parts of Canada and this further inspired her to do more. Once she got back to Halifax, she continued her leadership.  Barbara is an activist and helps with all campaigns, rallies and community events.  She is currently volunteering in the Lucasville Community.  Barbara will always speak out against racism, islamophobia, harassment, animal abuse and any violations to Human Rights.  Barbara had this to say, “Change comes from the little things that each of us can do, and if we all do our part the world can be a better place.”

Unifor Local 673 Activist and Leader

“Unions are created for seeking justice and equity not just in the workplace, but also in the broader society. They are the protectors of the working class”, this is how Jian Huang sees the labour movement. As a long time member of Unifor Local 673, Jian has felt the power of the union and knows his place within it.  As he puts it, “I see my role as helping my coworkers; I have suffered from managerial pressure and learned how to deal with it from union brothers and sisters of the past. Now, I take the experiences they gave me, combine it with knowledge gained from union training, to help others. After all, what I gain from the union is not meant for me but is meant to be shared will everyone”.  Jian now holds several positions within his local. He chairs the Education committee and sits on several others. Beyond his work within the local, Jian has taken part in multiple job actions, most recently standing shoulder to shoulder with some of our besieged members in Goderich, Gander, and Oshawa.  In the future, Jian doesn’t see his role changing. His ultimate goal is to mobilize our members and get them to push for greater equity. As this “woke” union activist puts it, “Equity is very important for everyone, even if you don’t think the sting of discrimination will affect you, think about your future and you’ll soon remember that we all age.”

South Asian Heritage Month - Week 3

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Unifor Local 673

“I joined a unionized work environment in my late 20s and it’s only now, that I’m really understanding how lucky I was to get such a great job!” This is Akash Shanghvi, a union activist at local 673. “When I joined, I didn’t know much about unions, I just wanted a secure job and enough money to raise a family. What I didn’t realize then but do now, is there are so many hard-working people in our country who want the exact same thing but face boulder sized challenges like discrimination or gig economy jobs that make those dreams seem impossible, but I was lucky and I had help. I had a strong group of people- I never met- remove those challenges before I even got to the workplace.” Since that realization, Akash has chosen to join the fight. He now plays an active role within his local and currently chairs the Human Rights committee. In that role, he has organized fundraisers and awareness campaigns to help community groups, shelters, care homes, and youth groups. On what he hopes to accomplish over the next few years, Akash says, “I want to do my part, I have so many people to thank for the joys I have in my life, I might never be able to thank them all in person, but I can pay it forward.”

Unifor Local 6006 Proud and committed

Sapna Sagar is the Vice-president of Local 6006. She is a union activist and active in promoting workers’ rights and the rights of those without a voice in the community.  Sapna works with the community-based advocacy groups on various issues. She demonstrates her commitment in everything she does.  Sapna is the Chair of the Education Committee at the local.

Unifor Local 2002

Leanne Sookram is a proud Mother of two young adults.  Leanne is a proud Unifor Local 2002 member and activist.  She works out of the Winnipeg Area with Air Canada for over 25 years.  Leanne is newly elected to the Prairie Regional Women’s Committee, being the first woman of colour to be elected in all the regions on this committee.  Leanne holds a number of other positions within her workplace, such as Vice Chair for two terms and Women’s Advocate since 2011.  She actively participates in fundraising for Women’s Shelters along with various other campaigns.  Leanne has assisted with other Unifor Sisters to amend the Manitoba Labour Code to allow for paid domestic violence leave (first province in Canada). In 2016, Leanne represented the Women’s Advocate program at ITF Women’s Conference in Morocco. Leanne had this to say, “10 years ago or so, I didn’t have a voice. I was experiencing a storm that was meant to harm me.  Instead, with help, support, encouragement, and the power to believe in myself, that storm made me, Me. I found my voice and I am continuing to use it to help other women to find their own voices.”

Unifor Local 40 Leader and Activist

Rubeen Chauhan works at CultureLink Settlement & Community Services as a frontline worker. CultureLink is a non-profit charitable organization working to support the integration of newcomers and refugees since 1988. Rubeen runs different community connection mentorship programs and she matches newcomers with mentors to practice English, learn about Canada and get hands-on volunteer experience in public speaking, event planning and project management.

Rubeen is a steward representing members at CultureLink.  As a rep, she is responsible for dealing with management, grievances and answering questions about union matters and members’ rights. Rubeen had this to say, “We have lots of new staff members joining the organization. Therefore, we work together as a committee and organize monthly member drop-ins so they can come with their questions or just have a chat with their union reps.”  Unifor Local 40 is proud to have leaders like Rubeen who always make the membership, community and union a place for everyone.

Amendments to Mental Health Act Raise Serious Concerns

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The Pallister government proclaimed amendments to the Mental Health Act which is raising huge concerns for the MGEU and health care workers across the province. The amendments will see police officers transfer over the custody of individuals awaiting an involuntary medical examination or psychiatric assessment to “a person who is trained and qualified” or in other words, health care aides and nurses. The government has stated training will be provided.