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Labour Day 2006 – Celebrating the past, imagining the future

Working people in communities right across Canada will soon be in the midst of the last long weekend of summer 2006. It’s Labour Day, an especially celebratory time when you think of the many benefits those who came before us achieved.

Can you imagine your community without its hospital, school, public recreation facilities or libraries? Unions fought for the social programs we have today. These are fights workers will continue to wage.

But they are also victories well worth celebrating. And what better time than Labour Day to wave a banner, join a parade, strike up the band, share a picnic and a sing out proudly.

Considering that paid overtime, maternity leave, health and extended benefits, workplace safety, disability insurance and pay equity are fairly recent achievements, the banners, picnics and Labour Day celebrations are a proud way for working people to show their pride.

Unions work hard at making our workplaces better, safer, places to earn a living. And unionized workers are mindful that while the days of child labour, sweatshops, and death-trap factories are mostly over, many, awful working conditions continue to exist, even here in Canada.

So while we’re celebrating Labour Day we can also remind ourselves to be vigilant and stand strong to protect the hard-won, but always vulnerable, improvements made to working conditions by working-class heroes.

Every year on April 28, for example, union members and others in Canada and across the world gather to remember workers who have died or been injured on the job. We gather to remind ourselves, as much as anyone else, that an average of three workers are killed every day in Canada. CUPE helped start what is today known internationally as the Day of Mourning, and we’re proud of that, including the CUPE health and safety canary symbol.

CUPE members are a diverse group – delivering some public services to people in every community in Canada. We work outside in the elements, paving roads and cleaning streets. We work inside too, in hospitals, planning and engineering offices, libraries, schools, universities and more. By helping to create and ensure safe working conditions, we make it easier for people to get to their jobs, to be treated with care and dignity, and hopefully to make society a more functional, literate and better place for all.

So, this Labour Day, wherever you are – relaxing, catching a few rays, dancing in the streets or celebrating at your community’s Labour Day picnic, take a moment to reflect upon your own life and workplace. Consider offering up a toast to those who came before us and fought so hard so that we could all enjoy our weekends, our hours of work and our days off. Then, get ready for future struggles and for victories to celebrate in the days to come.

PAUL MOIST, National President;
CLAUDE GÉNÉREUX, National Secretary-Treasurer

Workers built Canada; they and their unions help keep it strong

By Paul Moist

Labour Day is a good time to reflect on the key issues faced by Canadian workers and employers alike. It is also a time to remember the great social and economic advances that have taken place both through struggle and through cooperation in our workplaces.

On a daily basis commentary on Canada’s macro-economic fundamentals indicate that our country, and by extension its citizens, is doing well. Unemployment rates are low, inflation is in check, and the Canadian dollar is strong. In general, the economy is performing well. But there is another perspective that tells a different story.

While our national unemployment rate fell to a 32-year low of 6.1 per cent last May, a closer look indicates stubbornly high rates of young workers unemployment, about 12 per cent.

While employment growth fuelled by a resource and construction boom is solid, Canada has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2002. Most of these were good paying, full-time jobs in manufacturing. But more and more industrial base rests in foreign hands, a trend that will have significant consequences for our future workforce.

Our country desperately needs a national industrial strategy; our future prosperity depends upon it.

Incomes are on the rise, but a closer look reveals a disturbing pattern. For unionized workers in workplaces with over 500 employees, negotiated pay increases have averaged 2.5 per cent so far this year. Meanwhile, CEOs gave themselves a 39 per cent increase last year.

There is indeed more wealth being generated in Canada. However, it is distributed more unfairly than at anytime in our history.

Real wage growth for workers measured over the decades also reveals a disturbing trend. From 1940 to 1970, real incomes grew by double digits in each decade. This slowed in the 1970s and 1980s, but families still saw their real incomes increase by almost 10 per cent during each decade. During the 1990s, real income growth plummeted and was stagnant for most of the decade.

While the economy has grown at a solid rate in recent years and labour productivity has rebounded, workers are getting a smaller and smaller share of the economic pie, while corporate profits and CEO salaries are taking a bigger and bigger share.

The income experience for Canadian women is an even bleaker story. While there has been a dramatic increase in the participation of women in the paid labour force, full-time women workers still only earn about 71 per cent of what men earn (2003 figures), reflecting an inequity that governments and employers have failed to remedy.

Labour force development issues abound in Canada and while much attention is appropriately focused on immigration levels to fill anticipated job vacancies, little discussion is focused on our education systems and employer investments in the current workforce.

The Conference Board of Canada cites Canada’s slip from 12th to 20th place between 2002 and 2004 in terms of the priority Canadian employers placed on employee training compared to our major trading partners. The Board’s own surveys continue to show that Canada’s employers invest less than other developed countries in per-employee training levels, including about 20 per cent less than employers in the United States.

The high school dropout rates for Canadian youth remain worryingly high, and for those who complete a post-secondary bachelor degree, government retreat from post-secondary investment leaves graduates with an average personal debt of over $20,000.

Alberta, Canada’s richest province, has the country’s highest high school drop-out rate with one in four failing to graduate. Many view this as a scandalous disgrace. Yet there is little commentary and concern that the same 25 per cent failure rate occurs in the province’s apprenticeship programs. This is shocking in a province experiencing a resource/construction boom with almost daily commentaries about labour shortages.

A recent Alberta Federation of Labour study talks about a “chaotic diversity of trade definition, trade training and trade standards” having created a “rigid, inflexible labour market by preventing or discouraging the movement of skilled workers and apprentices between jurisdictions”.

The AFL study strongly urges that “the Alberta government should make it a priority to work toward harmonization of provincial training programs, standards and trade definitions across Canada”.

I can’t think of a more important labour force development issue than this recommendation, yet such issues seem mired at the bottom of the heap when we witness dialogue amongst federal and provincial leaders.

There is indeed much for workers to celebrate this Labour Day. Workers built Canada and we continue to enjoy the stability and benefits of one of the most productive and stable economies in the world. Their unions help create the certainty and stability Canadians want and deserve.

Still, much remains to be done to address past and present inequities, and to fortify our communities to deal with the challenges of an increasingly uncertain world.

Union grieves unjust firing at SFU

BURNABY – The Simon Fraser Student Society has been embroiled in controversy since the firing of CUPE Local 5396 President Hattie Aitken and an unwarranted investigation involving six other union members who were employed as support workers for the SFSS.

Aitken was fired following a five-hour interrogation by the employer after the seven CUPE members had been placed on leave, had their staff computers confiscated and were locked out of their offices.

At issue appears to be a history of animosity towards some active CUPE members and the current SFSS president’s displeasure over the health plan provider used for grad students at Simon Fraser University. The plan was approved by grads last year and administered largely by Aitken in her role as graduate issues and university relations officer.

Aitken’s unjust firing is now being grieved, but the actions of the employer have set off a maelstrom of controversy at SFU. Several student groups have officially complained to SFSS and an ad hoc group has launched a petition to attempt to impeach the society president.

The actions of the employer have led to the filing of several grievances, and CUPE is investigating the seizure of union files.

Union withdraws flag-raising grievance

PORT PERRY, Ontario – Township of Scugog municipal workers have the highest regard and respect for Canadian soldiers and their families and support lowering the Canadian flag to honour soldiers killed in the line of duty.

“We would never do anything to take away from honouring those who died in the service of our country,” said Liz Drebitt, from CUPE Local 1785-01, in announcing that CUPE is withdrawing a grievance filed after a Scugog councillor did the work of the municipal bargaining unit by lowering the township’s cenotaph flag.

It’s very unfortunate that what is basically a technical administrative issue in a workplace is being confused with honouring our fallen soldiers. And it goes against our principles and deep appreciation for our Canadian soldiers to dishonour them in any way,” Drebitt said.

This is why after meeting to discuss the issue the union has decided to withdraw the grievance.

The scope of work of front-line Scugog municipal workers is clearly defined in the collective agreement. Recently management has attempted to sidestep the labour relations processes and has not communicated on this issue with the union.

CUPE Local 1253 pleased with Tentative Agreement

FREDERICTON, N.B.CUPE Local 1253 school bus drivers, custodians, tradespersons and maintenance workers have reached a tentative agreement with the provincial government.

We have been able to reach this tentative agreement without the assistance of a third party,” said local President Delalene Harris-Foran. “And we will be recommending the acceptance of this five-year contract to our members.”

The details of the agreement, which expired March 2005, will be withheld until the ratification vote next week. CUPE Local 1253 represents 2,600 members.

Marching for fairness at Salus Corp.

OTTAWA – Mental health and social service workers, members of CUPE Local 3942, protested stalled contract talks outside a Salus Corporation board meeting on August 28, 2006.

“The message to management is loud and clear,” said CUPE National President Paul Moist who joined the protest. “Back away from concession demands.”

CUPE represents 60 full-time and part-time workers at Salus Corporation, including counsellors, occupational therapists, caseworkers and residential property managers for people living with severe and long-term mental illnesses.

“We are facing uncertainty with the arrival of LHINs (local health integration networks) in Ontario, and we need a fair contract that respects the work we do and provides some job security,” said Paul Boileau, Chair of the negotiating committee.

“Instead of listening to our concerns, management has demanded a long list of concessions, essentially backing us into a corner,” he added.

The workers will enter conciliation talks on September 7 to try to avert a strike or lockout.

You can help by sending an e-mail to Margaret Singleton, Executive Director of Salus Corporation. Tell her to stop demanding concessions and start treating workers fairly. All it takes is a fair contract to prevent a strike or lockout.

Agency employees “working for nothing”

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. – Members of CUPE Local 2330 at Highland Community Residential Services say their employer pays them for five hours work on a 10-hour overnight shift and it should be illegal. They are mounting a public campaign to highlight the unfair practice.

We are in bargaining with HCRS and this is so important it has become a strike issue for us, said CUPE Local 2330 spokesperson Margie Daley. “We also believe the department of community services, which funds the agency, is turning a blind eye to this form of wage discrimination.”

Daley added that “This employer expects residential counsellors who work in group homes and small options homes on an overnight shift from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m., not be paid for the hours between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. because they are supposed be “asleep” during that time.

Of course there is no consideration given to the fact that we work with clients who have physical and mental disabilities, some of whom have aggressive behaviour and very high needs. When you are working alone in this kind of setting, trust me, there is no kind of sleep going on.”

I think most people would agree that in this day and age, employees should get paid for each hour they are at work, and not for 50 per cent of their shift. We have some instances where employees can work 40 hours for free in a month,” she said. “It’s outrageous.”

CUPE will launch a public information campaign that will also be addressed to Minister of Community Services Judy Streatch.

Members of CUPE Local 2330 are back at the bargaining table in conciliation on September 25. They have already voted 80 per cent to strike if they do not get this and other outstanding issues resolved with their employer.

Livingstone Range school employees settle

LETHBRIDGE – Livingstone Range School District employees have voted 70 per cent in favour of a deal that averts a job action expected to disrupt schools from opening next week.

CUPE Alberta President D’Arcy Lanovaz said the members supported the deal after the employers took their concessions off the table, including the contentious issue of removing casual employees from the union.

The four year deal gives employees wage increases of 2.75 per cent per year, improved benefit coverage, better recall rights, and eliminated all of the roll backs the employer was originally seeking.”

Lanovaz said that the union did not get as much protection against contracting out as it was seeking, but members felt that with the current labour shortage, the risk of losing jobs wasn’t worth the disruption of the school year.

Our members have always put the students ahead of themselves,” Lanovaz said. “The employer told us they have no intention of contracting out at this time. The threat just isn’t great enough to put families and students into turmoil.”

CUPE fights education cuts in northeastern Ontario

TIMMINS, OntarioCUPE educational assistants are warning parents and students that officials at the Northeastern Catholic District School Board have cut a third of the EA positions, jeopardizing the quality of education.

Students will not get the level of service they deserve, and it’s irresponsible for the board to make such drastic cuts without warning,” said Troy Calaiezzi, CUPE Local 4681 Recording Secretary. CUPE members found out the positions were being cut after 21 out of 69 education assistants were not recalled for the new school year that starts in two weeks.

Cutting a third of the educational assistants will have a devastating impact on the classroom and school environment,” Calaiezzi said. “Besides taking care of special needs students, our members provide school yard, lunchroom and bus supervision. With these cuts, teachers will have to sacrifice teaching and classroom instructional time to fill in the void. All students will suffer the consequences.”

CUPE is inviting parents to attend the school board meeting at the English Catholic School Board in New Liskeard on August 29 at 3 p.m. to voice their concerns. CUPE members will also be in attendance to protest the cuts, and will be available for interviews with local media representatives.

Educational assistants are essential to ensure a safe and positive education environment for our children,” Calaiezzi said. “With school board and municipal elections coming in November, it’s important to remind trustees that voters expect them to protect the quality of education – not undermine it.”

Regina Civic Coalition still going strong one year later

REGINA – A cold wind couldn’t put a damper on high spirits and smiling faces Thursday as the Regina Civic Coalition reunited to celebrate one year back on the job.

Locals 7 and 21 unified last year along with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 822 to bargain with the city of Regina. The partnership they forged is still strong. One year ago, the coalition stood together through negotiations, through strike action, and finally through the signing of a new collective agreement.

Dedicate yourselves to working with your sisters and brothers through the ATU, Local 21 and Local 7,” urged CUPE National President Paul Moist in an address to the crowd, who made the trip to Regina to show his support for the ongoing solidarity among these workers.

Other guest speakers, including CUPE Saskatchewan President Tom Graham and CUPE BC President Barry O’Neill, congratulated the coalition on the unified resolve they showed last year during negotiations.

The rest of the country looked toward you last year,” said O’Neill in his address to the crowd. “And they are very proud of the strength you showed.”

CUPE Local 21 President, Tim Anderson, said Thursday’s celebration – including a lunch-time barbecue – not only marked the anniversary of the coalition’s return to work, but the excellent bridge-building between the coalition and Regina city hall since then.

We’re willing to work with new city manager, Mr. Glen Davies, to do what we need to do,” said Anderson. “And, what we need to do is work on building a good working relationship.” Anderson added that great strides have been made in that building process over the last year, making public workers, and the city of Regina, stronger.

CUPE represents more than 24,000 public sector workers across Saskatchewan at health care facilities, municipalities, school boards, universities, libraries and community-based organizations.

CUPE Local 1190 maintains job security

FREDERICTON, N.B.CUPE Local 1190, General Labour and Trades workers, has accepted the tentative agreement reached last month with the provincial government.

’It has been a long process but we are pleased with the new contract, which maintained the job security clause for our members,” explained local President Andy Hardy. “The new collective agreement is a five-year contract and our members will receive a 15 per cent increase over the life of the contract.”

CUPE Local 1190 has been without a contract since December 2003. Its 1,700 members work in transportation, tourism, natural resources, supply and services, and community colleges.

CUPE settles with Extendicare

NEWMARKET, Ontario – CUPE Local 2040 and Southlake Residential Care Village (Extendicare) have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract.

We are pleased that we have been able to come to a settlement and avoid a potentially costly arbitration,” said local President Sandy Foulds. CUPE represents 82 full-time and 71 part-time workers in nursing, dietary, housekeeping and clerical positions.

Details of the agreement will be released following a ratification vote September 7, 2006.

LRB should end Compass bargaining impasse

CUPE’s Hospital Employees’ Union has filed a complaint with British Columbia Labour Relations Board regarding Compass Group’s continued refusal to bargain single collective agreements for employees working in the company’s Morrison (food services) and Crothall (housekeeping services) divisions.

Despite an LRB ruling in 2005 directing Compass to bargain as a single unit – and a subsequent decision from B.C.’s Supreme Court upholding that ruling – the company has continued to present two separate collective agreements for housekeeping and food services workers at both the PHSA and VIHA bargaining tables.

Compass’ refusal to accept, and respect, the LRB’s ruling on this matter has created a major stumbling block at the bargaining table,” says HEU bargaining spokesperson Heather Compton. “We’ve asked the LRB to intervene because we need Compass to focus on the issues at hand and get down to the business of negotiating a fair collective agreement for their workers.”

The complaint, which was lodged on August 21, 2006, says Compass has violated sections 11 and 47 of the Labour Relations Code by failing to bargain in good faith.

First collective agreement negotiations with Compass began on January 31, 2006 in the PHSA and on April 27, 2006, in VIHA.

Day care trouble looming at Toronto City Hall

TORONTO – Trouble is looming at Hester How Daycare Centre, located in Toronto’s city hall, where a strike/lockout deadline had been set for midnight on August 30.

We negotiated a tentative agreement that our members accepted even though it fell short on some key issues,” said Janet Tiebo, coordinator of CUPE Local 2484 representing about 15 care providers at the centre. “We were shocked when the board of directors rejected the settlement.”

The conciliator issued a “no-board” report on August 14, triggering the strike/lockout deadline. A conciliation meeting has been scheduled for that day, however, Hester How management has already surveyed parents about bringing in replacement workers.

For child care providers who hear there may be temporary work at Toronto city hall, I have one message: don’t be a scab,” Tiebo said. “There’s an important principle at stake here for workers who are often expected to perform above and beyond the call of duty.”

The outstanding issue concerns compensation for unpaid, on-call lunches that are required to maintain staffing ratios.

Our members are dedicated care providers who do not want to strike,” Tiebo said. “But, they also feel they must make a stand for respect and fairness.”