Over the years since our founding, Unifor has sounded the alarm about heavy-handed tactics and trusteeship being used to squash local democracy, workers’ rights and dissent.
In January of 2017, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 made moves to change their union affiliation, and applied under Article 4 of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) constitution to do so. The local was immediately put under trusteeship by the ATU; assets were seized, the union hall was taken over and all democratic leadership was forced to sign ‘loyalty oaths’ or face removal from their elected positions.
At the time Unifor publicly offered its support to ATU Local 113 because the union stands in support of union democracy and the rights of workers. Unifor is opposed to any union that threatens, harasses, intimidates, silences or removes duly-elected officers for simply asserting their democratic rights to choose a union.
“It’s simple, trusteeship should not be used to quell dissent,” said Jerry Dias, National President. “Workers have a right to join a union of their choosing and the CLC Constitution is not protecting that right.”
A year later the union has been successful in creating legislative change in Ontario, this is one step towards addressing the problem.
In the Ontario government’s budget a change was proposed to curb this misuse of trusteeship. The proposed change will amend the Labour Relations Act (LRA) to limit the imposition of a trusteeship (or any other interference that affects a union’s autonomy) by a parent trade union over its local union where there isn’t ‘just cause’. This expands protection that is currently only applied to the construction industry to apply to all unions covered by the LRA. Learn more about this change by reading the letter sent to all Ontario locals on March 29.
Any challenges to trusteeship that the local believes are without just cause can now be challenged through the Labour Relations Board, which should allow for speedy, public resolution.
“This will be a positive change for workers in Ontario,” said Naureen Rizvi, Ontario Regional Director. “While it would be better for the CLC to appropriately protect the democratic rights of members, this legislative move will prevent trusteeship from being used to punish workers without cause.”
Despite this change happening only in the province of Ontario, these types of rights should be enshrined directly in to the Constitution of the CLC.
Organizing for the Ontario provincial election campaign starts today with Unifor’s 2018 member-to-member Make it Count Ontario election campaign.
Workers in the province have built a solid foundation of political action, uniting in coalitions that have pressured the government to finally introduce a $15 per hour minimum wage and free preschool child care, and to address the chronic under funding of hospitals. All of this progress is at risk of being rolled back if Doug Ford’s conservatives take power.
“There is too much at stake in this election not to take action,” said Jerry Dias, National President. “We must stop the conservatives and show the next government that Unifor members will be heard.”
One way to be heard, said Dias and Ontario Regional Director, Naureen Rizvi is to sign the pledge to vote on the new election website uniforvotes.ca. If you’re a Unifor member from Ontario and you want to keep pushing for social justice in this province for workers and families it’s time to get active, said Rizvi.
The union’s election campaign focuses on the major demands that were laid out at the Ontario Regional Council this past December. Delegates voted then and decided the union should demand that all parties address inequality and protect good jobs. With the support of Unifor’s Political Action Department, the union’s campaign will also call on the candidates and parties to fix the deep-rooted health care and long-term care crisis and finally introduce universal, public child care and a pharmacare program for all.
“Workers aren’t ready to turn back the clock on the rights that we fought so hard to gain. This election should continue to raise the bar and address inequality head-on,” added Rizvi. “If this is the future that you want for Ontario, then it’s time to get to work.”
In the lead up to the June 7 election, members will be asked to volunteer to talk with members about the importance of voting and how, together, union members can make this election count for workers.
Unifor and Mexican labour leaders joined together this week to warn Members of Parliament about the dangers of renegotiating a NAFTA deal that fails to protect workers in both countries.
“The old NAFTA model was built on exploitation, as Canadian manufacturing jobs migrated to Mexico where multinationals are permitted to pay workers poverty wages,” said National President Jerry Dias. “If a new NAFTA does not address low wages and labour rights in Mexico then both Canadian and Mexican workers will continue to pay the price.”
The Unifor led delegation of Mexican labour leaders lobbied in Ottawa March 26-29, meeting with Members of Parliament, representatives of the Standing Committee on International Trade, including Tracey Ramsey NDP’s Trade Critic and Unifor member, along with members of Canada’s NAFTA Labour negotiating team.
“Of the NAFTA countries Mexico has been the most negatively impacted,” said Mónica Jiménez Acosta, representing Mexicano de Electricistas (electricians) union. “Our currency and purchasing power has decreased, our quality of life has decreased and rights have been taken from us that took years to achieve.”
A list of Mexican worker demands for the renegotiation of NAFTA was presented ahead of the next round of talks, expected to take place in Washington D.C. next month.
“We are calling for your help as Mexico’s voice is only listened to when international voices are raised up,” said Telephonists Union Foreign Relations Representative Maria del Carmen llamas Montes.
As part of the lobby week Unifor hosted the “NAFTA: A Worker’s View Roundtable”, which brought Mexican labour leaders and representatives from Canadian civil society groups together with Canada’s Chief NAFTA negotiator Steve Verheul to share experiences and concerns on the renegotiation of the trade agreement.
National President Jerry Dias hosted the roundtable and was joined by Atlantic Regional Director Lana Payne, Western Reginal Director Joie Warnock, and the Quebec Director Renaud Gagné.
“Unifor’s lobby group was able to take a direct message to negotiators that strong labour standards are needed in any new deal,” said Gagné.
During the discussion Mexican delegates shared how NAFTA has led to low wage precarious jobs, child labour, reduced purchasing power and a lack of independent unions.
“This was a wonderful opportunity for Mexican and Canadian unionists, along with members of Canadian civil society groups, to discuss the true impact of NAFTA on the lives of workers in both nations,” said Payne.
Warnock agreed calling the joint lobby effort a testament to Unifor’s international solidarity.
“To achieve real change workers must unite in the fight against trade agreements that lower living standards across the board,” said Warnock.