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Partner Organizations

Topic: Feed Your Head

Sobeys uses language to downplay blow to 800 fired workers

finger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: This Working Life

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

GEDZ

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

FIGHT

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

MOUSE

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:

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

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

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

The electronic union card

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

Topic: Unions Matter

They fight for fairness for all

CHILD

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: How Fair is That

Students stood with their teachers in Ontario college faculty strike

paula
Paula Greenberg (right) and classmates support faculty action
 

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

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

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

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

The college faculty wants a contract that well give them:

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

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

Scared for my future

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

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

Topic: The Ways We Win

Poison powder gets the shaft
mining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forced to take the ‘cure’ that could kill

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

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

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

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

 

bicycle

 

PRIVATIZATION IS...A CHEAT, A CON, THEFT

PRIVATIZATION IS...

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

                                 ...A CHEAT.

PRIVATIZATION IS...

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

                                ...A CON.

PRIVATIZATION IS...

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

                                ...THEFT.

 

 

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The Ways We Win

Football players score big in battle with team owners

kneeling

BOSSES ZERO. WORKERS THREE. That’s not how the running battle between players in the National Football League (NFL) and team owners gets reported— but that’s more like the truth of it.

Houston Texans ‘take a knee’ to protest owner’s disrespect

BOSSES ZERO. WORKERS THREE. That’s not how the running battle between players in the National Football League (NFL) and team owners gets reported—but that’s more like the truth of it.

It all began in 2016 when San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the American national anthem during the ceremonies before games. He said it was to protest police killings of African American men and widespread racial injustice in the USA.

He didn’t say anything about looking to strengthen player solidarity—but it happened anyway. The more team owners tried to clamp down on player behaviour the more the players discovered their own power.

Owners at first rejected the iron fist approach. They agreed the players had a constitutional right to speak out. Their concern, they said, was that the way the players were exercising that right was not “appropriate.” They assured the players they were all on the same side. Then the truth came out.

The truth comes out

In late October Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans told reporters that catering to the concerns of players was like “letting inmates run the prison.” That did it.  

There were reports that the entire Texan team considered an immediate full-scale walkout from practice. They also discussed the removal of the team decals before their next game. Even the previously unthinkable idea of a boycott—forfeiting the game—was in the air.

Ultimately the whole team did what the boss didn’t want: they all knelt as the national anthem was played to start their next game.

McNair did apologize for what he said. But apologies carefully crafted for public consumption were never going to fix things. More was at stake than hurt feelings between members of the “NFL family.”

This is about what professor Lou Moore calls a “black labor movement.” That is: the assertion of the economic power of black workers to reclaim their humanity in response to those who would deny it.

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