Élections!

Le temps des réélections est arrivé et je suis ravi de m’offrir à nouveau pour le poste de représentant régional. Je crois qu’au cours des trois dernières années, nous avons accompli de grandes choses ensemble, mais il reste encore beaucoup à faire. J’espère pouvoir compter sur votre soutien pour continuer à faire le travail que je fais depuis trois ans pour défendre nos intérêts devant un employeur de plus en plus organisé et toujours intransigeant.

Mes réalisations les plus fières au cours des trois dernières années ont été le retour au travail d’employés licenciés injustement, ou l’annulation de mesures disciplinaires injustes. Notre équipe a pu obtenir de l’employeur le paiement des salaires perdus, y compris des sommes liées à la discipline, de plus de 40 000 $ à divers membres. J’ai interjeté avec succès dans plusieurs décisions de la CSPAAT et des compagnies d’assurance de l’employeur, qui a eu pour résultat des paiements aux membres de plus de 20 000 $. Nous avons ajouté des psychologues et des massothérapeutes à nos avantages sociaux, et avons finalement augmenté d’ici la fin du contrat le montant que nos membres reçoivent en raison d’une invalidité de courte durée de 610 $ à 670 $ par semaine. Nous nous sommes débarrassés des déjeuners non payés et avons ramené les 4 et 3 dans plusieurs départements pour la convention no. 1. J’ai aidé plusieurs membres dans le processus de retraite, y compris les demandes de pensions d’invalidité.

Cela dit, il reste beaucoup de travail à faire. Nos membres se blessent plus souvent et ont plus de problèmes avec les compagnies d’assurance que jamais auparavant. L’approche de l’employeur semble être d’imposer une discipline lourde et de ne pas négocier avec nous pour l’atténuer, ce qui nous oblige à soumettre les cas à l’arbitrage. Ils refusent également de négocier avec nous en ce qui concerne des questions importantes, comme l’ouverture du terminal d’Ottawa, et d’autres décisions stratégiques qui pourraient avoir un grand impact sur nos membres.

Dans des moments comme ceux-ci, nous avons besoin de quelqu’un avec de l’expérience, de l’intelligence, de la prévoyance et de l’intégrité pour défendre nos droits. Je crois que je suis cette personne et je vous encourage à me soutenir dans cette élection.

Si vous avez des questions, n’hésitez pas à me contacter. J’ai hâte de vous parler.

Off to the races!

Re-election time is upon us, and I’m excited to offer myself once again for the position of Regional Representative. I believe that over the last three years we have done great things together, but there remains more to be done. I hope I can count on your support to continue doing the hard work I’ve been engaged in for the last three years defending our interests before an increasingly organized and always-intransigent employer.

My proudest achievements in the last three years have been when we have brought unfairly terminated employees back to work, or reversed unfair disciplinary measures. Our team has been able to secure payment of lost wages from the employer, including sums related to discipline, in excess of $40,000 to a variety of members. I successfully appealed a number of WSIB and employer insurance company decisions, ending in payments to members exceeding $20,000. We added psychologists and massage therapy to our benefits package, and finally increased the amount our members receive on short-term disability from $610 to $670 per week by the end of the contract. We got rid of unpaid lunches and brought back 4-and-3’s across several departments for Agreement 1. I have helped several members through the retirement process, including applications for disability pensions.

This said, there remains a lot of work to be done. Our members are getting hurt more often and have more problems with insurance companies than ever before. The employer’s approach seems to be to issue heavy-handed discipline and then fail to negotiate with us to mitigate it, which forces us to take the cases to arbitration. They equally refuse to negotiate with us when it comes to issues like opening the Ottawa terminal and other strategic decisions that could have a large impact on our membership.

At times like these we need someone with experience, intellect, foresight, and integrity to stand up for our rights. I believe I am this person and I urge you to support me in this election.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you.

Activism

Since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, we have seen a very impressive display of activism from survivors, parents, and community members. They serve as a potent reminder of what we, as everyday people, can accomplish if we work together to achieve our goals.

This concept is the foundation of the labour movement. As workers, we deserve to have our voices heard by our employers and our elected leaders. Our strength lies in our unity, and if we stand together, we can accomplish nearly anything.

Unionism isn’t just about writing grievances and arbitrating disputes, however. The Union is our outlet to create the world we want to see, not just in our workplaces, but across our society. Virtually anything you’re interested in can become one of the focuses of your Union: women’s issues, LGBTQ+ issues, the environment, health and safety, education, affordable housing… the list goes on and on.

If you want to get involved but don’t know how, it’s as simple as showing up to a meeting and asking a few questions. Your reps will be there and can offer guidance with getting the ball rolling. After that, it’s up to you!

Minimum Wage

Ontario has just increased its minimum wage to $14, with a further increase to $15 per hour planned for January 1, 2019. This is good news, not only for those who will see their incomes rise immediately, but for everyone in the economy.

When workers earn less, we have a hard time paying our bills. This can eventually lead to huge problems for families who go into debt, often to short-term payday lenders, and increased stress. Low wages create higher need for government-funded programs like food banks, walk-in clinics and emergency rooms, etc. Extended periods of low wages lead to poor health outcomes, especially where children are involved. This becomes a “vicious cycle” of poverty that can span generations.

When workers earn more, however, the economy as a whole embarks on a “virtuous cycle.” Workers can afford to pay the rent as well as buy food for their families. This leads to better health for everyone, which, in turn, takes the strain off our medical system.

Because over half of GDP growth is rooted in consumer spending, it means a lot when workers have a few extra dollars to spend. Lower-wage earners already spend a larger proportion of their income than their wealthy counterparts, so the extra money they’ve earned tends to go right back into the economy. This, in turn, creates more jobs, which leads to more consumer spending, and so on…

On top of this, businesses benefit as well. When workers don’t have to worry about whether to pay the rent or buy food this month, they can focus on their jobs. This means a boost to productivity. If workers don’t have to look for a higher-paying job somewhere else, they become more committed to their current employers, and if they can afford childcare, they don’t have to book off from work in order to tend to a sick child. This reduces employee turnover, which in turn reduces the employer’s labour costs.

Sadly, most employers these days don’t see the value of paying their employees more, because all they see is the initial cost. They don’t want to share their success with the workers who put them in that position in the first place, even though in time they would do better as well. This is why a minimum wage is necessary, despite the right-wing arguments you may be hearing in the news or from your family.

Don’t be fooled: higher minimum wages help our entire economy, while also being the right thing to do. Every job should be a good job!

Labour Street Art

The history of the labour movement is the history of ordinary people, organizing to secure a better life for themselves, their families and their descendants. Walking around Toronto on the weekend, I spotted this sculpture on streetcar right-of-way along Spadina Avenue at King Street, commemorating the early labour movement’s fight for justice for all workers. We continue this work to this day.

From past to future

My birthday is in a couple of weeks and because we were travelling by train to Montréal for a couple of days, my wife gave me my gift a little early. I am very touched by the 50th anniversary CBRT&GW wallet, with a name card inside. Here it is, pictured, with my Unifor pin and membership card. Plus the wallet is made in Canada!

Le plus ça change…

What is a Regional Representative?

One of the questions I’ve been hearing a lot lately is, “what does the Regional Representative do?” The answer is pretty complicated, so I decided to write this synopsis for those members who may not know what the job is all about.

The Regional Representative is responsible for Step 3 grievances: the final step of the grievance procedure before the case could be referred to arbitration. This step is addressed to VIA Rail’s Labour Relations department, and is our last opportunity to make our case to the Corporation. Accordingly, we need someone with a clear understanding of the circumstances pertinent to any given case, as well as the specific legal and labour relations climate surrounding the case. This includes someone with good language skills and the ability to make sound judgements based on fact, not emotion.

Similarly, the Regional Representative is charged with preparing briefs for mediated arbitration and arbitration. This includes compiling the grievances made at each step of the procedure, in addition to writing several pages regarding the relative merits of the case. This presentation is our opportunity to refute the employer’s arguments and strengthen our own, based on the actual or anticipated positions taken by the opposing side. The Regional Representative then argues the case before an arbitrator: this aspect of the job requires the successful incumbent to be able to think quickly on his or her feet and rebut any arguments the employer presents that may not have been part of their responses to our grievances. Frequently, VIA does not respond at Step 3, choosing to keep their arguments for arbitration: therefore, the ability to do broad-based research of past arbitration cases, federal court decisions, etc. in preparation for the arbitration process is very important.

Regional Representatives are also tasked with representing members before the CSST (Québec) and WSIB (Ontario). Therefore, the Regional Representative needs a good understanding of the relevant legislation and procedures of these two bodies in order to protect the membership he or she serves.

The Regional Representative serves as a resource for other Union representatives, and therefore must have a firm grasp on a wide variety of labour relations issues. He or she must understand how a particular case relates to the history of our Union, past decisions by arbitrators and courts, other active grievances, and many other things. For this reason, a Regional Representative needs to be able to focus on the details of a given case while keeping a constant eye on the big picture, fitting the issue at hand into the broader context. He or she must act as a leader, with a solid understanding of the hurdles we may face in advancing a case; while simultaneously exercising patience, understanding and encouragement to the other representatives and members he or she comes into contact with.

Finally, the Regional Representative is responsible for representing his or her constituent members at the bargaining table. The position requires the ability to listen well, understand what the needs of the membership are during this period, and to take those priorities with him or her to the bargaining table. This involves highly developed communication skills and the ability to synthesize information without one’s own bias interfering in the process. More than communication with members, however, the Regional Representative needs to be able to effectively communicate the membership’s demands to the employer. This takes a talent for nuance and the ability to find the appropriate moment to insert those demands into the bargaining process. Because we negotiate for all VIA bargaining units simultaneously, the Regional Representative also needs to be able to work as a member of a team consisting of the other Regional Representatives, the Secretary-Treasurer, Staff Representatives, etc., and to ensure the demands he or she is bringing to the table are consistent with those of the other regions. This is a bit of a balancing act, but it can be done with perseverance, intellect and the sincere desire to make positive change in our workplaces.

I believe I possess all of these skills in abundance, and am excited to put them to good use serving our members. I hope you will agree with me and lend me your support during this election and over the next three years. Thank you!

Precarious jobs in Canada

Future Shop has closed all its stores, forcing 1,500 people out of work

In the last six months alone in this country, we’ve seen two retailing giants close their doors. The largest case was Target, which is in the process of liquidating its supply and closing down its Canadian operation altogether. This will mean the loss of 17,000 jobs across Canada, a good proportion of which has already taken place. Another large retailer, Future Shop, announced yesterday that it has shuttered dozens of stores, and will convert the remainder to Best Buy locations. This will result in a further 1,500 lost jobs. None of the front-line employees who worked for either of these retailers had any inkling that they would be losing their positions until the announcement was made by their employer: in the case of Future Shop, many employees had no notice at all, arriving at work to find their store closed and themselves out of a job. These job losses will have a catastrophic effect on the lives of many of these workers and the communities in which they live.

These developments highlight an issue of increasing importance for working people, especially younger ones: the problem of precarious work. Many of us take for granted that a person can work one job and pay the bills for our families. But the kinds of jobs we enjoy – well-paying, relatively steady ones with good benefits – are growing rarer in today’s economy. Employers demand that their workforce be “flexible”, which allows them a greater level of control over their labour costs. This might be good for the bottom line, but is often very bad for workers.

A few decades ago, the average employee in retail was typically young and just starting out in the workforce. For the most part, these jobs were seen as a stepping stone towards something more secure and higher-paying. With the loss of manufacturing jobs and the transition towards a service-based economy that we have seen over the intervening years, however, today’s average retail worker is in her mid-30s, often with a family and grown-up expenses to pay. Often these workers need to work two or even three minimum-wage jobs just to make ends meet. If the economy continues in this direction, there may not be many good jobs left by the time the next generation enters the workforce. What kind of world are we leaving to our children?

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Through a combination of increasing union density in these sectors, changing legislation to force employers to treat their employees more fairly, targeted investment in companies and industries that provide good jobs both from the government and the private sector, and informed decision-making by consumers (amongst other things), this trend can be reversed. As workers, we need to support our non-unionised sisters and brothers in their attempts to gain fair treatment from their employers, and participate in boycotts of those companies that rely on unfair labour practices to increase their bottom line. As citizens, we need to put pressure on our elected representatives and candidates for office to enact worker-friendly legislation and to focus on creating good jobs for Canadian workers, instead of continuing the laissez-faire economic strategy that has failed us for the better part of 40 years.

Workplace Democracy

Many different things come to mind when we talk about democracy. The most common element, of course, is elections; but is this the only thing that makes a democracy? In fact, the exercise of democracy relies on participation from the people who are directly affected by the decisions made by their leaders. Without this participation, even an organization that has democratic practices and institutions can be undemocratic if not enough people participate in the decision-making process.

Democracy is an important concept to the labour movement. Most corporate workplaces are designed to be top-down, autocratic institutions, where the boss makes the rules and his/her subordinates have no choice but to follow those orders. Unions seek to address this fundamental power imbalance by introducing a democratic element into the workplace: Union membership gives employees the ability to vote for their representatives, bargaining proposals, contracts, strikes, etc. The idea that each member has one vote is important to establishing an important level of equality amongst the employees in a workplace, as well as giving those employees a say into the terms and conditions of their employment.

Unifor is one of the largest and most democratic unions in Canada, where the membership is the highest voice in the Union. Each member in good standing may vote on motions at meetings, stand for elected office, and elect Union officers. Between meetings elected representatives are empowered to make decisions on behalf of their coworkers and are subject to regular re-election.