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Here are some great examples of unions tackling difficult challenges with innovative campaigns and long, multi-year efforts that raise standards for thousands of workers.

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Organizing Outside the Legal Framework

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has taken a giant step forward in its fight to win the right to collective bargaining for part-time faculty and support staff in Ontario’s 24 community colleges. There are over 12,500 part-timers and an additional 5,000 students in government-subsidized programs working in colleges across the province, now more than the number of full-time workers

Barred from unionization by the 1975 Colleges Collective Bargaining Act, college part-timers formed an association (OPSECAAT) as a first step in a fight for full union status. As crown employees, part-time college workers are also denied most of the provisions of the Employment Standards Act, including the right to statutory holiday pay and vacation pay. For these excluded workers, the issue is fairness. The part-time teachers and support staff of 24 Ontario colleges work side by side their full-time counterparts but are paid far less for doing the exact same work.

OPSEU has devoted significant resources to both organize the workers and pressure the government to allow a bargaining unit to be formed. The Ontario government did set up a Review of the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act in the fall of 2007 and we are anticipating a government response to this report by Kevin Whitaker. OPSEU is not just waiting for legislation to change, however. The union has launched the largest single card-signing campaign in the history of the labour movement in Ontario. It is right now in the process of one final request to the College Compensation and Appointments Council to voluntarily recognize OPSEU as the bargaining agent for part-timers and sessionals. The Council handles collective bargaining for the colleges.

If the Council refuses to recognize OPSEU as the part-timers’ bargaining agent, the union will make a formal application for certification to the Education Relations Commission on Monday, April 14. The union will present thousands of signed union cards to the Commission and ask it to order a certification vote.

While there is no guarantee of the outcome, one thing is certain. Providing the commitment to fund, resource and staff a multi-year campaign shows that a union like OPSEU is serious about organizing thousands of workers in its jurisdiction. It is particularly heartening that the campaign is on behalf of part-time workers, who are an increasingly important part of the economy but an exploited group in Ontario. OPSEU’s efforts on behalf of these particularly vulnerable workers in itself is a victory.


Janitors for Justice

The highly innovative Justice for Janitors campaign started in Los Angeles building power for immigrant service workers, and has taken hold in major cities across North America. It is the subject of the inspiring movie “Bread and Roses”.

Sunday, Jun 18, 2006 - Trying to Make A Decent Living
While some janitors struggle to get by, others are climbing into the middle class. Behind the new battle over America's low-wage workers

by Jeremy Caplan, Time Magazine

It's 9 P.M., and Craig Jones has just finished dumping 400 trash cans' worth of garbage into the Cincinnati Textile Building's basement compactor. The weighty refuse he carries each night hardly fazes Jones after five years on the job, but the grime he has to scrub off dirty wastebaskets still gets to him a little. "Wiping spit is a tough thing to get used to," he says. Jones, 27, earns $6.50 an hour without benefits, vacation time or sick days. His employer, Professional Maintenance, a cleaning contractor, usually schedules him for just four hours a night, five nights a week, so Jones' biweekly paycheck amounts to about $260, before taxes. The monthly rent for his spartan ground-level apartment in a once industrial part of town is $215, so there's little left after phone and utility bills and food. He hasn't bought a new piece of clothing in years.

Less than 300 miles away, Robyn Gray is in the midst of cleaning 48 kitchenettes, dusting 90 conference rooms and scrubbing 40 glass doors at One Mellon Center, a financial building in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa. Although her work is equally grueling, Gray, 44, is paid well, compared with Cincinnati, Ohio, janitors like Jones. For working a 9:30 p.m.-to-6 a.m., 40-hr.-a-week schedule, she earns $12.52 an hour and gets health insurance, three weeks' vacation and three personal days a year. Her $26,000 annual salary has helped Gray and her husband--who works for a company that erects cell-phone towers--buy their own home, send their two daughters to college and even go on the occasional family vacation--in May they took their first trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.

The major difference between Gray and Jones, say advocates for low-wage workers, is that she lives in a city where janitors are unionized and have collectively negotiated salaries considerably above the minimum wage, what they call a living wage. The living-wage movement has been building steam as outsourcing moves millions of relatively high-wage manufacturing jobs overseas, leaving behind less mobile, low-paying ones such as health-care aides, security guards and janitors. But it may have got a new burst of energy when the Change to Win Federation, made up of seven labor unions that split from the AFL-CIO last year to focus more directly on the lives of low-wage Americans, officially launched its first national initiative on April 24. Dubbed Make Work Pay!, the campaign aims to convince the public in 35 U.S. cities that all Americans who work hard deserve to earn a wage they can live on. "Someone working full time should be able to support themselves and their family," says Anna Burger, Change to Win's chairwoman.

The new campaign's supporters range from clergy like the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., former president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, to politicians like former North Carolina Senator and likely presidential contender John Edwards. "The perception exists that [a living wage] is not a politically popular subject, and that people in general aren't interested in it," Edwards says. "But my feelings now on the subject are stronger than they've ever been. You can't live on $6, $7 or $8 an hour and have anything to fall back on. Instead of getting ahead, which most families want to focus on, they're focused on survival."

The model Edwards and others want to replicate is the Service Employees International Union's (SEIU) Justice for Janitors campaign, which over the past 20 years has helped to raise wages for workers in 27 cities, including Boston, Houston and Pittsburgh. Last week SEIU organized Justice for Janitors Day, with public protests in cities around the country. One of the key battlegrounds of the new offensive is Cincinnati, which gained 8,400 service jobs in 2004 alone. "It's a crucial test," says Stephen Lerner, head of SEIU's property workers' division. "What happens in Cincinnati is more of a lens into the future of work in this country than what happens in New York City or Los Angeles. It's workers in these smaller cities doing the low-wage work who set the tone for how workers are treated throughout this country." SEIU's primary strategy is to show how higher wages and job benefits have improved not only the finances of workers like Gray but also the lives of their families and the economic and social welfare of the cities in which they live.

Pittsburgh is its Exhibit A. Once hailed as America's Iron City, Pittsburgh has gone from a manufacturing stronghold to a service-dominated economy, a shift that is evident in its abundance of converted mills. The Homestead Grays Bridge, near the site of the famous 1892 steel-mill strike considered by many to be the birthplace of the labor movement, now overlooks a Filene's Basement and a Barnes & Noble, instead of the towering smokestacks that once defined the city skyline. The first Justice for Janitors initiative began there in 1985. The campaign sparked an 18-month standoff in which employers locked out unionized workers and brought in replacements willing to work for lower wages. The janitors eventually triumphed, and in the years since they have bargained their way to health-care coverage, personal days and vacation time. When Gray recently told a group of Cincinnati janitors about her wages, health-care coverage and vacation time, "they didn't believe me," she says. "They wanted to see my pay stub."

The city appears to have benefited too. In Pittsburgh neighborhoods with high concentrations of janitors and other service workers, high school graduation rates and home ownership rates have risen steadily over the past two decades, according to Census data. Among janitors surveyed by SEIU, the rate of home ownership had grown to 57% by 2005, an increase of nearly 20% since 1990. Meanwhile the number of families below the poverty line has fallen.

As janitors' wages have risen, salaries for other Pittsburgh jobs have followed suit. Security guards, for instance, working in buildings where unionized janitorial workers are employed, have seen their earnings advance in parallel. Over the past three years, the median household income in the city has grown nearly 3%, from $39,643 to $40,699, adjusted for inflation. And annual janitorial-job turnover, as high as 300% in Cincinnati, is just one-tenth that rate in Pittsburgh. As a result, contractors' costs for recruitment and training are significantly lower. "For a community and its families, wage gains for low-income workers mean the difference between living precariously at the edge of the economy and having a stake in the American Dream," says Beth Schulman, author of “The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans.”

Cincinnati shares many attributes with Pittsburgh. Both are Rust Belt cities with midsize populations--314,000 for Cincinnati and 322,000 for Pittsburgh--and workforces similar in size and composition. Each has seen its once mighty manufacturing base crumble, with Cincinnati losing 17,000 manufacturing jobs over the past decade and Pittsburgh 22,600. But they diverge in their treatment of janitors and other low-wage service workers, and living-wage advocates say the results are telling. In Cincinnati neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine and the West End, where Jones lives, poor wages coupled with high rates of drug use, street violence and truancy have created a cycle of interdependent problems. More than half the adult black males in the two neighborhoods are without full-time work. In the West End alone, 76.5% of the children under 5 are living in poverty, and per capita income is $9,759 a year.

Still, achieving the Change to Win Federation's goals in Cincinnati won't be easy. Opponents of living-wage proposals argue that they will do more economic harm than good. The Employment Policies Institute (EPI, a Washington think tank known for its industry funding and pro-business positions, released a study in March claiming that a proposed bill to raise Ohio's minimum wage (at $4.25, one of the lowest in the country) could lead to a $308 million hit on the Ohio economy and the loss of 12,000 jobs. John Doyle, EPI's managing director, says that state and federal earned income tax credits and worker training would be more effective in helping low-wage workers rise out of poverty. "If employers are forced to increase wages," says Doyle, "jobs will be eliminated, there will be a decrease in the number of hours worked, and these low-skilled adults may find themselves out on the street."

Studies cited by liberal-leaning research organizations such as the Economic Policy Institute, the Fiscal Policy Institute and Policy Matters Ohio, however, show that minimum-wage laws rarely lower employment. "We now have 19 states that have raised their minimum wages above the federal minimum, and nothing like that kind of effect has occurred," says Jared Bernstein, senior economist for the Economic Policy Institute. "In the best research done by nonpartisan academics, the impact of moderate wage increases on job growth and displacement is about zero."

Daniel Radford, who served as executive secretary of the Cincinnati AFLCIO Labor Council from 1984 to 2005, laments that the standard of living for workers in his hometown has failed to keep pace with that of similar workers in Pittsburgh. "They've got high union density, politicians in their pocket and strong community support," says Radford. "But Cincinnati is completely different. It's a tough town for workers."

Craig Jones knows that firsthand. It is 10 p.m., and he is back home after another four-hour janitorial shift. He microwaves a Stouffer's dinner and grabs a Coke from his cabinet, which is mainly stocked with canned corn and some pumpkin filling that Jones got from a food pantry around Thanksgiving. He has been looking for a better-paying job during his off-hours but hasn't found one, so he is pinning his hopes on the Justice for Janitors campaign. "I'm not looking for a handout," he says. "But I feel like I'm stuck."

Hotel Workers Rising Across North America
by Nicole Cohen

A few days before International Women’s Day in early March, Zeleda Davis, a room attendant at Toronto’s Doubletree International Plaza Hotel, stood up at a meeting of her co-workers and women from various feminist groups and explained the details of her job. Her typical eight-hour shift includes loading a large, burdensome cart and pushing it to the other side of the hotel (which takes about 30 minutes), then thoroughly cleaning and making up beds in 16 rooms.

Lately, her job has become increasingly difficult. Beds have changed over the years as hotel ownership has consolidated under a few multinationals, which now compete to out-luxuriate each other at workers’ expense. Chains such as Starwood, Hilton and Marriott have introduced what they call “heavenly beds,” with bigger, heavier mattresses and fluffier pillows, making rooms more difficult and time-consuming to clean.

Davis now makes up heavier mattresses with duvets and extra sheets and places five pillows where there used to be two. She still has only eight hours in which to do the work, and her rate of pay has not increased. She suffers from back and shoulder pain and, like many room attendants, carries painkillers with her at all times. Many of her co-workers are on modified duties due to bed-related injuries and have had a difficult time being compensated. “We are walking injuries,” Davis says. “Everyday our jobs get harder.”

The feminist meeting was part of Hotel Workers Rising, a North America-wide campaign organized by hotel workers and their union, UNITE HERE, to raise standards of work and living for those employed in some of the most strenuous, underpaid jobs in the service sector. Hotel workers, especially room attendants, are overwhelmingly immigrants and women of colour.

The median wage for Toronto hotel workers is $26,000 per year, and many work two or three jobs. According to UNITE HERE, room attendants’ injuries are escalating: 91 percent of 600 room attendants surveyed in Canada and the United States say they suffer from work-related pain, and room attendants report more injuries than heavy construction workers.

As 23 hotels across Toronto geared up to negotiate new employee contracts in the spring, hotel workers and UNITE HERE Local 75 began mobilizing community support, support they need to demand better pay and lighter workloads, benefits, training and promotions and subsidized transit. The Fairmont Royal York, which reached an agreement in November, has now set the standards for equal opportunity training and subsidized transit passes, both critical to improving standards of living and work. The campaign’s broad goals include raising wages throughout the industry, easing housekeepers’ workloads and winning employer neutrality during organizing drives. (Only three-quarters of Toronto hotels are unionized. Key non-unionized sites include about half of the airport-area hotels and several hotels in the Marriott chain, which has the fewest unionized workers).

“The power of companies has grown so power of workers needs to grow,” says Andrea Calver, a UNITE HERE Ontario Council organizing coordinator. Hotel multinationals are earning record profits. According to a UNITE HERE fact sheet, “the overall lodging industry earned an estimated $20.8 billion in profit before taxes in 2005, and those earnings are expected to increase by 21 percent in 2006.” Hotels have grown into global corporations that frequently change ownership and are resistant to organizing. As Steven Tufts notes in Paths to Union Renewal, hotel multinationals have developed sophisticated resistance to organizing: they employ union-busting consultants and offer some workers wages above those of unionized workers to tame the “union threat.” For these reasons, Hotel Workers Rising is concerned with organizing non-unionized workers to consolidate worker power.

The campaign launched in December 2005. At a press conference, of supporting low-waged workers’ campaigns, while hotel workers discussed the racialization of hotel work: while white employees work the front-of-the-house and management jobs, black workers and immigrants are concentrated at the back-of the- house. Often, back-of-the-house workers can’t even walk through the hotel’s front door. “I want to be at the front of the house too,” Felix Odong, a dishwasher at the Royal York for the past seven years, told the Toronto Star. “I’ve been going to university for four years and I haven’t been promoted.”

In February, Filipino hotel workers held a forum for their community, co-hosted by Filipino migrant worker organization SIKLAB. Women spoke about their working conditions and rallied community solidarity. The meeting was a chance for organizers to make critical links between the political economy of Filipino migration and the current situation of female Filipino workers who clean hotel rooms. Organizers detailed the poverty caused by neoliberal globalization and government policies that have caused mass migration of Filipino women to Canada in search of better work. These women, many of whom are university educated, often end up as domestic workers, live in caregivers in a problematic government-sponsored program, or in low-paid service jobs. They send billions of dollars in remittances back to the Philippines, which is used to pay down foreign debt. Their government has called them the “modern heroes” of the Philippines and, more recently, “internationally shared human resources.”

Acutely aware of the global context in which she works, Victoria Sobrepená, a room attendant at the Delta Chelsea, made it clear that hotel workers are serious about this campaign being a global one. They have requested language in their new contracts that guarantees non-unionized workers at hotels in foreign countries the right to organize. Says Sobrepená, “If we keep quiet they are going to eat us alive.” Lilian Salvador, who also spoke at the forum, has been a room attendant for nine years. Thanks to a shoulder injury sustained on the job she was on modified duties at the Holiday Inn on Bloor Street until they told her they had no work for her. While she survives on worker’s compensation, she is involved in the campaign, sitting on the health and safety committee of UNITE HERE and on the executive board of her local. “It’s time for us to make a change,” she said in her brief speech. Salvador has helped bring about change before. She used to have to clean 18 rooms per eight-hour shift, for $9.25 per hour. After a five-month “work and walk” job action, her workload was reduced to 16 rooms per shift and her hourly wages rose to $14.25. Victories such as this one, along with worker solidarity, have fuelled this campaign.

In September, overworked attendants at the Fairmont Royal York took their 15-minute breaks simultaneously to protest escalating workloads. Last fall and winter, UNITE HERE held six room attendant workshops across North America on consciousness raising, developing leadership skills and brainstorming ways to solve problems in housekeeping departments. Facilitators from Toronto, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles were trained together and workshops were held simultaneously, reflecting the need for unified resistance to global companies that have uniform corporate standards. “It literally is impossible in some cases to change things one hotel at a time,” says Calver. “To change standards it has to be a global campaign.”

In a show of global solidarity, hotel workers from Hawaii, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Jersey joined their Toronto counterparts in the rally and march for International Women’s Day. A delegation of room attendants and laundry workers performed as the UNITE HERE choir, then hotel workers led the 3,500-strong demo through the downtown core. About 100 workers from the Delta Chelsea hotel who were on break emerged as the march passed and were greeted with the chant, “Women’s work has value too, Delta Chelsea shame on you!” They were overwhelmed by the support.

“What transforms people in their understanding of the humanity of the issue is meeting each other and struggling together,” says Calver. Making community connections is critical to this campaign. Several hundred women signed letters at the rally outlining their concern for room attendants’ working conditions. At the end of March, letters were delivered to hotels by feminist delegations. “This action empowers workers and the community, it’s crucial if we’re going to build a movement that’s going to address issues of the low-wage community.”

According to the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, one million workers in the Greater Toronto Area earn under $29,800 per year. From a pool of just over two million workers, this means half of workers in the GTA are not making enough working one job to support their families. The Hotel Workers Rising campaign intends to address this poverty head-on.

It’s a broad-based effort to raise awareness and support for hotel workers’ struggles and to mobilize hotel workers to demand better standards of living and work from employers. The campaign is mobilizing on a global level and organizing across borders, raising awareness about the value of women’s work and the work of immigrants and low-paid workers in the service sector. Led by women like Zeleda Davis, Lilian Salvador and Victoria Sobrepená, thousands of hotel workers across North American are rising up to resist, refusing to suffer for a few extra pillows.

Nicole Cohen is a freelance journalist and a graduate student at York University. Reprinted from Relay Magazine


Good Jobs, Green Jobs

The United Steelworkers (USW), the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership of the USW and Sierra Club, today launched the national Green Jobs for America campaign. The campaign will focus on the ability of a serious commitment to clean, renewable energy to make us more energy independent, help us end our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels and create over 820,000 new green jobs nationwide.

The time for a national push for renewable energy is now, said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. What is really exciting about this campaign is the opportunity to create jobs, help fix our broken economy and contribute to solving the biggest environmental challenge of our generation at the same time.

The Green Jobs for America campaign will demonstrate that investing in clean, renewable energy is the best way to fight global warming, bring skyrocketing energy costs back under control, create new, good-paying jobs and put us back on the path toward economic growth and prosperity. In addition to encouraging the right investments from the private sector, the campaign will also focus on the kinds of policies that are needed to fight global warming, expand clean energy production and reform unfair trade agreements.

The public education campaign will take place in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Oregon, and Nebraska. The campaign will run through September 15, 2008.

Teams of organizers from the USW, Sierra Club, NRDC and Blue Green Alliance will undertake grassroots organizing activities, conduct a series of public events, release independent studies highlighting the potential for tens of thousands of new green jobs in each state and generate thousands of signatures on a petition calling for green jobs, clean energy solutions and fair trade agreements.

An independent study conducted last year for the Blue Green Alliance by the Renewable Energy Policy Project found that these twelve states in particular stand to gain nearly 170,000 new manufacturing jobs in wind turbine manufacturing and almost 93,000 new manufacturing jobs making the parts for solar power equipment.

Blue Green Alliance Executive Director David Foster said that green jobs are not only those that produce a green product designed for a specific environmental purpose but also include existing jobs that involve a green process or a green purpose. He said that steelworkers building components for wind turbines are performing green jobs, as are chemical workers making products that are not harmful to humans or the environment.

The green revolution isn't just creating new and different jobs," Foster said. "It's revitalizing and creating new investment in a lot of the jobs we already have.

The campaign builds on the momentum of the Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference held in Pittsburgh last month, which brought together over 1,000 participants, over 80 organizations, elected officials, and leaders from industry, community groups, environmental organizations, and labor unions. The Green Jobs for America Campaign expects to add additional allies to this new national movement focused on making the clean energy future a reality.

We saw a glimpse of the clean energy future last month in Pittsburgh, said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. The Green Jobs for America campaign will bring the power of that future to communities across the country. We aim to show people that we can start building that clean energy future today a future that promises a strong economy, good jobs, fair trade agreements, a clean environment, and a stable climate for our children and grandchildren.

Energy efficiency is a largely untapped resource that can save consumers and businesses money on their energy bills and cut our global warming emissions, all while creating tens of thousands of new jobs.

Technologies like wind and solar are just part of the story. This is also about job security. Making homes, offices and factories more energy efficient not only saves money, it also represents a huge growth opportunity for the people who build our communities and keep them running, said Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Were talking about architects and engineers. Drywall and lighting contractors. Electricians and carpenters. Everything from construction to computing. And these are jobs that cannot be shipped offshore, and pay lasting dividends to the American economy.

Founded in 2006, the Blue Green Alliance is a strategic partnership of the United Steelworkers, North Americas largest manufacturing union, and the 1.3 million members and supporters of the Sierra Club, the nations oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members.


CUPW: Organizing Rural Route Couriers
by Deborah Bourque and Geoff Bickerton

On January 1, 2004, 6,600 rural and suburban mail carriers (RSMCs) ended their status self employed entrepreneurs and began a new life as unionized employees of Canada Post and represented by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).

There were some immediate changes. As of January 1st the RSMC's were covered under Worker's compensation and employment insurance, and earned pensionable credits under the Canada Post Corporation pension plan. They became entitled to basic bereavement leave, the right to unpaid parental leaves, paid statutory holidays, paid vacation, protection from unjust dismissal, health and safety protection under provisions of the Canada Labour Code, and protection from harassment in the workplace under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

There was a pay increase for all routes. Workers also gained effective control of their route. The practice of allowing "master contractors" to further sub-contract out routes to other workers ended.

And equally important, these newly designated employees obtained the right to be represented by a trade union under a collective agreement.

Obtaining employee status for rural and suburban mail carriers represented a great victory for the workers and for the Canadian trade union movement. It was a fight that spanned decades and involved thousands of people from a broad spectrum of Canadian society.

It was necessary to overcome many obstacles to first organize the RSMC and then win employee status. Isolation was a serious issue. Altogether the 6,600 workers are spread over 2,377 separate workplaces in all regions. If the geography was not bad enough the law was even worse. Section 13.5 of the Canada Post Corporation Act expressly excluded postal contractors, such as rural and suburban mail carriers, from coverage under the Canada Labour Relations Act. The employer, Canada Post Corporation (CPC) also vehemently opposed the efforts of RSMC's to organize. The ability to periodically tender the routes to the lowest bidders had provided CPC with a cheap and vulnerable labour force. In larger centres, where RSMCs worked side by side with unionized members of the CUPW, management complicate organizing by tendering dozens of routes to single master contractors who then hired RSMCs as employees instead of contractors. As employees of master contractors these workers had the right to unionize but the fact that their employment was dependent on CPC renewing the contracts with the master contractors meant that Canada Post continued to call the shots.

Ultimately the RSMCs, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and their many allies were successful in overcoming these obstacles. It took over two decades, including eight years of dedicated and uninterrupted mobilization. It required millions of dollars. It depended on the selfless dedication of hundreds of RSMC activists. It required a combination of unorthodox tactics and a strategy that recognized that a traditional certification campaign could not be a substitute for a lengthy campaign of capacity building among the membership and with its political allies. This paper will examine the major features of the campaign to organize the rural and suburban mail carriers.

The Work of RSMCs

Rural and suburban mail carriers have been an integral part of Canada Post's delivery network since the postal service was first established. The work of RSMC's is very similar to that of motorized letter carriers. The normal workday consists of several hours of sorting and preparing mail and several hours of delivery. The number and density of delivery points determine the mix of inside and delivery work. Although the basic components of the work may resemble that of their urban colleagues the rules and conditions of employment are vastly different.

RSMC routes are not standardized with respect to work content. The average route is designated as requiring 6 hours per day. Approximately 12% of routes are assessed at greater than 8 hours per day and 10 per cent have less than 2.5 daily hours. RSMCs are expected to provide their own vehicles and are provided a mileage allowance. Prior to January 1, 2004 the average annual wage of RSMCs was $23,929.50 based on a 6 hour day. From their pay RSMCs had to provide for relief coverage during any time that they might be absent due to illness, parental responsibilities, bereavement leave or vacation. Not surprisingly few RSMC's ever took vacation leave. They were not covered by any labour legislation, workers compensation or employment insurance. Routes were typically put up for tender every five years. Often RSMC's would be required to deliver the notice of tender of their own routes to prospective bidders.

The majority of RSMC's work in facilities in which there are three or less workers in their classification. Fifty-seven percent of the RSMCs worked out of 2,073 small rural post offices where the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association (CPAA) represent employees with the remainder working from 456 larger offices where operational employees are represented by CUPW.

The average age is 46 and 71% are women.

Decades of Struggle

The modern struggle for employee status for RSMC's began in 1980 during the consultations between the postal unions and the federal government over the terms of the Canada Post Corporation Act. The legislation was being drafted to convert the Post Office Department into a separate Crown Corporation under the Canada Labour Code.

Under the terms of the Post Office Act the maximum ceiling for postal contracts was $10,000.00. Anything above that required tendering and the RSMC risked losing their route to a lower bidder. This served as a strong incentive to keep the routes under $10,000.00. However the $10,000.00 threshold had been established in 1956 and no longer represented adequate compensation for the vast majority of routes. With the spiraling price inflation of the 1970's many RSMC were forced to choose between gradual yet stead impoverishment or the risk of losing their route if it was placed to tender.

The unions' argument for employee status was simple. There was no need to maintain contractor status for employees who did essentially the same work as urban delivery personnel. Since all RSMCs worked out of offices where there were existing supervisory and administrative capacities there was no justification to keep these workers as contractors. Since the post office was being placed under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code it was only logical to apply the broader definition of employee to the RSMCs.

The post office's argument for maintaining the RSMCs as contractors boiled down to money. Postmaster General Andre Ouellet argued that the costs of rural delivery would double or even triple if RSMCs were to obtain employee status. This would jeopardize the financial health of the new Crown Corporation as it struggled to reduce its current annual deficit of several hundreds of millions of dollars. Ouellet also argued that the vast majority of RSMCs were part-time and they would press for full time hours if they were unionized.

Instead of employee status the government offered to remove the requirement that contracts above $10,000.00 had to be tendered. This would permit the vast majority of RSMCs to significantly raise their contract without risking losing their jobs.

In the end the government's parliamentary majority won the day. RSMC's were denied employee status Clause 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act specifically exempts mail contractors from the provisions of the Canada Labour Code.

The elimination of the $10,000.00 cap on tenders did nothing to address many of the longstanding problems experienced by RSMCs. Wages were still much too low. Difficulties finding relief staff stopped workers from taking vacations and sick leave. Favouritism and discrimination was rampant. These and other problems led Sue Eybel, a rural route mail courier, to send out 100 letters to other rural route couriers in the Hamilton area asking if they were interested in working together to address their common problems. This initiative led to the formation of the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers.

Also in 1985 the Report of the Review Committee on the Mandate and Productivity of Canada Post Corporation recommended the consolidation of the bargaining units at Canada Post. The following year CPC applied to the Canada Labour Relations Board (CLRB) for a review of the bargaining units.

The prospect of a bargaining unit review gave new energy to the organizing drive of RSMCs into the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers. In February 1986 the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers organized a Valentine's Day demonstration on Parliament Hill, to publicize their demands to be recognized as a union.

On May 2, 1986 the Association of Rural Route Mail Couriers applied for standing at the Labour Board hearings. On October 7,1986 their application was granted over the opposition of Canada Post Corporation.

In January 1987 the CLRB held hearings to determine if RSMC's were employees within the meaning of the Canada Labour Code and if section 13 (5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act could negate such a finding. During the course of the hearings Canada Post Corporation announced that it was breaking the commitment made in 1981 and would open all RSMC contracts for bidding as they came open. In February, 1997, the Canadian Labour Congress issued a separate CLC Charter for the Rural Route Mail Couriers, Local 1801. Sue Eybel becomes president. By December 1987, Local 1801 had 2,600 members.

The decision of the CLRB was rendered on April 29, 1987 and was a complete victory for the workers. The CLRB ruled that the RSMCs were economically dependent upon CPC and that CPC directed their work in the same manner as it did the employees. The CLRB ruled that RSMC's were employees under the Canada Labour Code and that the provisions of the Canada Post Corporation Act did not apply.

The RSMC's celebration did not last long. Canada Post Corporation appealed the ruling to the Federal Court and won. In may 1988 the court ruled that the CLRB had exceeded its jurisdiction and that Section 13(5) of the Canada Post Act applied and prohibited RSMCs from being recognized as employees under the Canada Labour Code. The unions appealed to the Supreme Court but lost.

This period also witnessed another major attack on rural postal services by Canada Post. On November 5,1986 Canada Post tabled its Five-Year Plan in the House of Commons. Under this plan all rural post offices were to be closed and/or privatized over the next decade. This decision to contract out retail services led to a seven year battle with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the labour movement.. Also in December 1986, a grassroots activist group called "Rural Dignity" was formed with a mandate to fight for rural postal service.

Having lost the legal battle the CLC Local 1801effectively stopped functioning on an ongoing basis. However the struggle of the RSMC's did not die. In December 1990, Member of Parliament, Bob Speller introduced a Private Member's Bill calling for the repeal of Section 13.5 of the Canada Post Corporation Act "to eliminate discrimination against rural route couriers".The Bill did not pass.

1995 The Beginning of the Beginning: Building the Organization

In 1995 the CUPW initiated a new phase in the struggle for employee status for RSMCs. Many significant changers had occurred between the defeat in 1988 and 1995.

In 1989 all of the operational urban bargaining units were placed under the jurisdiction of the CUPW. In 1989 Canada Post also posted a profit for the first time since the creation of the Crown Corporation. The Post Office had gone from losing almost $800 million per year in 1978 to being financially self-sustaining in 1989, thereby achieving one of the major objectives that had been placed on the Crown Corporation in 1981. In 1993 the Federal Conservatives were defeated and the new Liberal government moved fast to honour its promise to stop the privatization of retail services. This paved the way for the CUPW and CPC to negotiate a collective agreement in late 1994 without recourse to strike action. In this agreement CPC agreed to voluntary recognition of 10,000 admail delivery workers who had existed as a separate non-union group delivering undressed admail primarily on weekends. The new collective agreement, together with the end of raiding by the former leadership of the Letter Carriers Union of Canada, gave the CUPW the breathing room required to look outward to organizing new units. In terms of strategic significance to the urban workers there was no group more important than the rural and suburban mail carriers. RSMCs did essentially the same work as many motorized letter carriers and the geography covered by RSMCs was the greatest growth area concerning new delivery points of call for CPC.

In the summer of 1995 the CUPW leadership approached Sue Eybel, the leader of the former association, and obtained a membership list. The Union sent out a letter to the RSMCs outlining its reasons for supporting employee status and unionization for RSMCs and asking if the workers were interested. The response was very positive. In February, 1996 CUPW submitted a brief to the Canada Post Mandate Review chaired by George Radians, detailing the history of the struggle of the RSMCs to obtain employee status and recommending, among other things, that the Canada Post Corporation Act be amended to permit rural route mail couriers to organize into unions and exercise collective bargaining rights. Sue Eybel also made a very strong submission concerning the deplorable situation of many of the RSMCs due to the denial of the rights and the tendering of their routes. The final report of the Mandate Review ignored the issue. He did recommend that CPC exit from the unaddressed admail delivery. The government followed this recommendation resulting in the layoff of 10,000 workers.

In 1995 the CUPW believed that there was several possibilities by which RSMCs might obtain collective bargaining rights.

  • The union could negotiate with CPC to contract in this work and include these workers in the master collective agreement either in the letter carrier classification or another separate classification 
  • The union could negotiate voluntary recognition with CPC in a separate agreement.
  • Parliament might be convinced to change the legislation.
  • CUPW might be successful in a court challenge to the constitutionality of Section 13(5) of the CPC Act. RSMCs could then organize themselves into a union.

In 1996, the national convention of the CUPW authorized the leadership to organize the RSMCs. In 1997, after consulting with RSMC activists, Cynthia Patterson of Rural Dignity, and Lynn Spinks the CUPW National Executive Board decided that it would not sign up RSMCs directly into CUPW but would instead provide necessary support to enable the RSMCs to create their own institution. CUPW decided to devote a budget of $250,000.00 per year to this project with the understanding that the campaign might take a decade. . The union hoped that its efforts and support would eventually lead to RSMCs joining CUPW but it recognized the possibility the new organization might remain independent or eventually join another union such as the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association (CPAA).

The decision to create a separate organization was contentious within CUPW. In some areas it was believed that the RSMCs were ready and willing to join CUPW directly as members. However this was not the majority view.

In March 1997, CUPW, Sue Eybel and other representatives of the former association organized the founding meeting of the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers (ORRMC). The meeting adopted bylaws for the new organization, which was dedicated to fight for rights for rural, and suburban service mail couriers. Although independent of the CUPW the ORRMC was depended on CUPW for financial and logistical support. In 1997 CUPW was also in negotiations with Canada Post Corporation. The union included a proposal to contract in the work of RSMCs in its national program of demands. This demand was not a high priority. The negotiations failed and CUPW was legislated back to work in December 1997. The issues were referred to an arbitrator. CUPW maintained its demand before the arbitrator and made a presentation in the spring of 1999. Eventually the parties decided to return to the bargaining table and negotiate an agreement rather than be subject to the arbitrator’s decision. A tentative agreement was reached on December 18, 1999. It did not include any change with respect to the status of RSMCs.

Following the March 1997 meeting the ORRMC sent out more letters to RSMCs and worked to expand its contacts. In March 1998 the ORRMC held its first annual general meeting. At this meeting an executive was elected comprised of RSMCs and having the CUPW 3rd National Vice-President as an ex-officio member. Alice Be At the meeting Cynthia Patterson, Rural Dignity's co-coordinator was invited to speak to the group. She was subsequently hired by CUPW as campaign co-coordinator. Following the meeting the ORRMC and CUPW held training sessions for organizers to prepare for a national sign-up campaign.

In the autumn of 1998 joint teams of CUPW and ORRMC activists conducted a national organizing drive. The unions organizing drive was assisted by CBC TV's "Newsmagazine" which, on Labour Day 1998, aired a 15 minute feature on the injustices faced by rural and suburban service mail couriers. Altogether almost two-thirds of the RSMCs joined the ORRMC. Although the union did not have any legal collective bargaining rights it had the mandate it needed to represent RSMCs with their employer, Canada Post and to struggle against the government for the repeal of the restrictive legislation.

The Hard Way or the Easy Way

Shortly after the sign up campaign Deborah Bourque, CUPW’s 3rd National Vice-President and ex-officio member of the ORRMC executive met with Andre Ouellet to discuss the reasons why Canada Post Corporation should recognize the rights of the RSMCs to collective bargaining. She explained that one way or another CPC would agree sooner or later. She described the plan of activities the ORRMC was discussing including demonstrations, petitions, legal challenges, political lobbying, a broadly based media campaign and the likelihood that this issue would be central to the CUPW’s bargaining when it next did so with the right to strike. She explained to Ouellet that the choice was his. The easy way was to move quickly. Otherwise the ORRMC and the CUPW would have to carry through on their plans. This would be the hard way. But either way RSMCs would obtain bargaining rights.

From its very formation the ORRMC adopted the approach that the best way to overcome the legislation prohibiting unionization was to act like a union in all respects. Pre-figuring the future in its structure and activities would assist RSMCs and CPC to get comfortable with the idea of unionization. It would also permit the RSMCs to develop the organizational base and leadership skills that would be necessary when the legal framework was changed to permit unionization.

The ORRMC had several basic challenges.

  • Expand its membership base.
  • Improve the working conditions of RSMCs.
  • Develop and maintain activism within its membership.
  • Build support within the traditional CUPW membership and build alliances with the CPAA.
  • Convince parliament to repeal section 13 (5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act.
  • Convince Canada Post Corporation to contract-in RSMC work and maintain the existing workers as employees.

To accomplish these ends the ORRMC adopted an activist strategy involving a wide range of tactics. To be successful they recognized that it would be necessary to involve the membership in activities that were compatible with their political culture, gain sustained media attention, and use the bargaining leverage and resources of CUPW.

The next four years were full of activism and development.

On the political front the ORRMC initiated a broadly based petition campaign. With members in virtually every federal riding the circulation of a petition was an excellent means of gaining public awareness of the issues while initiating members into union activities and building organizational and public speaking skills. During the next four years Members of Parliament would introduce over 150 petitions into the House of Commons from all political parties. RSMCs were also encouraged to write letters to their local newspapers. These activities coincided with an organized drive for RSMCs and local CUPW representatives to meet and lobby Members of Parliament in their constituencies and in Ottawa. In the spring of 1999 the ORRMC executive conducted an intensive lobby of MPs in Ottawa. They also met with other unions and many of the CUPW’s community allies. The name and cause of the organization started to gain a political and public profile. It was also forcing CPC to recognize the growing influence of the ORRMC. June and November of 1999 the ORRMC Executive met with André Ouellet, President of Canada Post. Promises were made, but not delivered.

Another round of lobbying occurred in the autumn of 1999 after NDP Member of Parliament Pat Martin introduced a private members bill to repeal section 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act. The Bill received broad support from many members of all political parties despite an active campaign of disinformation by Canada Post Corporation. When it was voted on May 5, 2000, it failed by just four votes. Following the vote, the ORRMC executive met jointly with the Minister Responsible for Canada Post and the President of Canada Post. They committed to make improvements in working conditions but no employee recognition. Ouellet subsequently wrote to the ORRMC saying that he saw "no point" in further meetings.
In 2002 both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP introduced private members bills to repeal Section 13(5). These bills were not voted, as the issue was resolved in the 2003 CUPW negotiations.

The ORRMC and the CUPW also decided to use the legal means available through the labour side accords of NAFTA to promote the cause of bargaining rights for RSMC’s. In this they were assisted by the National Association of Letter Carriers in the United States who helped to organize a broad coalition of unions from Canada, the United States and Mexico. In December 1998 the ORRMC and 21 unions and social justice groups from Canada, the United States and Mexico filed a complaint in Washington under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The American unions included the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, The Mail Handlers Union, the Communications Workers of America, and the Teamsters Union. Canadian Unions included CUPE, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the CAW, the Steelworkers, and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union. The Mexican postal workers were also involved and made a statement to the press conference in Washington D.C. Both the Mexicans and Americans stressed that RSMCs in Mexico and America were employees and had full bargaining rights.

The complaint, filed under the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC) argued that Section 13(5) of the CPC Act contradicted Canada’s obligations under the NAALC and its International Labour Organization (ILO) commitments.

It argued that, as a signatory to the NAALC, Canada committed to promote, to the maximum extent possible, the labour principles set out in Annex 1 of the NAALC, namely:

  • Freedom of association.
  • The right to bargain collectively
  • Prevention of and compensation for occupational injuries and illnesses
  • Elimination of employment discrimination

The U.S. National Administrative Office (NAO) responsible for investigating complaints filed under the NAALC refused to accept the complaint arguing that it did not make the case that section 13(5) was violating Canadian law. The NAO based its decision on information provided by Canada Post Corporation which was not shared with the unions and which contained many factual inaccuracies.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) intervened on behalf of the ORRMC and the unions that had filed the complaint. It was agreed that the NAO’s of Canada and the United States would hold a two day public conference in Toronto at the beginning of February 2001 on The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively in Canada and the United States. At this conference there were numerous interventions in support of the RSMC’s rights to bargain including papers from the United Steelworkers of America, the CUPW, and the international trade secretariat Union Network International (UNI).

To assist in its communications the ORRMC launched a video in April 2001 today that offered a glimpse of the everyday lives of its members. Called Basic Rights: the delivery of mail in rural Canada the 20 minute video illustrated the injustices that rural and suburban couriers faced because they were denied the right to collective bargaining. The video won the award for the best public advocacy video for Basic Rights at the Canadian Association of Labour Media’s (CALM) annual conference in 2001.

Throughout the period from 1998 to 2002 the ORRMC organized a series of public events to raise public consciousness of the RSMCs situation and pressure the post office and government into taking action. In early 2000, when CPC launched its postage stamp celebrating rural life the ORRMC was there to launch its own postage stamp protesting the treatment of RSMCs. On March 8, 2001 the all-female executive of the RSMC donned suffragette-style hats and demonstrated by the statue of the “famous five” on parliament hill to draw attention to their fight to win the right to collective bargaining for RSMCs. But the activities went way beyond the executive and a small core of activists. In every region RSMCs were active working with coalitions and other justice seeking groups. RSMC representatives spoke at labour councils, union conventions and municipal councils. The ORRMC made a presentation to the assembly of the Solidarity Network. It took out membership in the National Action Committee (NAC) and joined the annual lobbying on the Hill. RSMCs marched in the Women’s March Against Poverty. They continued to collect names for petitions at malls, in community fairs and at labour movement events. 

By 2002 it hade become clear to Canada Post management that the ORRMC and the CUPW were determined to continue the struggle as long as it would take.

Beginning the Bargaining

The ORRMC did not wait to obtain legal collective bargaining rights before it began the bargaining process. In early 2000 the ORRMC executive began drafting a program of demands to be discussed and ratified at the annual general meeting. The 12-point program of demands was presented to CPC representatives in May 2000. It contained a combination of immediate reforms, such as the establishment of an arbitration system to resolve disputes over points of call, special payments and discipline. There were also demands for a 10 per cent across the board increase in all contracts, coverage for health benefits and the establishment of an employer paid RRSP. The ORRMC also demanded an end to the tendering of routes unless there was a vacancy.

The process of determining and ratifying the demands was an important stage in the development of the ORRMC. It laid the foundation for the participation of RSMCs in the CUPW negotiations of 2003.

Although Canada Post did not respond positively to the demands the lines of communications were open and discussions continued. On June 18, 2001, senior representatives of CPC met with CUPW representatives to begin discussions on the cost of the ORRMC proposals. CPC was not yet ready to recognize the ORRMC for the purposes of bargaining. But the process was beginning. The costing discussions continued until the CUPW bargaining began in 2002 and formal talks began.

Joining CUPW

By 2001 it was clear that the 2002 CUPW negotiations would be pivotal to the struggle for RSMC bargaining rights. CUPW had presented the demand for RSMCs to be contracted-in during the 1997 round of bargaining. Could it avoid the issue in 2002? Could it make the demand without the consent of the ORRMC membership? What would be the implications of making the demand and dropping it as the union had done in 2000?

In 2001 the ORRMC leadership advised the CUPW that it did not think the time was right to sign up RSMCs as members of the CUPW. In early 2002 the ORRMC told CUPW that the integration and cooperation between RSMCs and CUPW members was developed enough to attempt a national sign up campaign.

At the ORRMC’s annual general meeting in March 2002, and the CUPW’s Convention in April of 2002, membership at both conventions voted to conduct a sign up campaign directly into CUPW.

Again ORRMC activists worked side-by-side with traditional CUPW members to be trained and then hit the road as organizers. During August and September 2002, a strong majority of couriers signed up as members of CUPW.

Shortly after the sign up campaign, in October of 2002 the ORRMC Executive met in Ottawa with CUPW and worked out a transitional strategy for the next six months. At the end of the weekend the ORRMC executive unanimously voted to wind down the ORRMC within the month.

In the words of ORRMC President Alice Boudreau, “We realized it was a structure our membership had outgrown and no longer needed. We felt sad, but it was a sadness we accepted as a loss of the familiar, but great anticipation of new growth and expanded movement.”

Successful Bargaining

Employee status for RSMCs was submitted as a proposed demand by every region in the CUPW. The demand was identified as a major priority by the CUPW leadership when it began bargaining in the autumn of 2002. The CUPW also made it clear to the membership that the RSMC would be a major issue. The union identified its major objectives through the publication of four major backgrounders that were distributed to all local executives and shop stewards. The topics of the backgrounders were Justice for RSMCs, wages, health and safety and job security and service expansion.

The 2003 negotiations ended with a negotiated collective agreement. The settlement, reached in July 2003 after 9 months of negotiations involved 66 major changes to the CUPW’s urban operations collective agreement.

However the most significant breakthrough was the conversion of 6,600 rural and suburban mail carriers from contractor status to employee status and covering these employees under a separate collective agreement.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) membership voted to accept both collective agreements negotiated by the union.

Members ratified the Urban Mail Operations agreement by a vote of 65.41%. The Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) ratified their agreement by a vote of 86.79%.

The agreement for Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) was a historic moment for the labour movement. It provided employee status to 6,600 workers with Canada Post. It also guaranteed significant improvements in their wages and benefits over an eight year period. For decades rural and suburban workers delivered mail at poverty wages, while denied the legal right to collective bargaining.

Rural and suburban workers at Canada Post still have far to go before they achieve justice and dignity at the workplace. They now have a union and the legal rights that will assist them as they continue their struggle.


Made in Canada Matters
By Paul Pugh

The Bombardier Thunder Bay plant produces mass transit rail vehicles (subway cars, street cars, commuter trains). Half of the vehicles are for transit authorities in Canada, the other half for U.S. transit authorities and some for overseas. Production and skilled trades workers at the plant are represented by CAW Local 1075, and office workers by COPE Local 81. In December 2003, mass lay offs reduced the plant’s workforce from around 1,000, to fewer than 450. The lay offs were due to reduced spending on mass transit by governments in Canada and the U.S. The Thunder Bay plant struggled to remain open, on small orders of 20 vehicles or fewer.

A glimmer of hope emerged, as the Toronto & York Region Labour Council launched a campaign aimed at pressuring the Ontario government to increase TTC funding. Finally, in response to political pressure on the issues of growing pollution and urban congestion, both the Ontario and federal governments announced funding for public transit from the gasoline tax. TTC announced plans to purchase new subway vehicles. This positive news was countered when the McGuinty government terminated longstanding policy favouring Ontario manufacture of transit vehicles. This policy had been in place for decades, regardless of which party was in power, from Bill Davis’ Conservatives, to Peterson’s Liberals, Bob Rae’s NDP, and even Mike Harris’ Conservatives.

With the future of the plant at stake, we launched a campaign, calling for Canadian content in government procurement, aiming at all three levels of government. We had a common interest with the employer, Bombardier, in securing the work, so there was cooperation, while we each ran our own campaigns. From the start, we had the full support and assistance of our national union, CAW, with President Buzz Hargrove assigning staff to key tasks, and intervening, in person, to speak with political leaders. Our Local’s membership was fully involved, writing letters, signing petitions, demonstrating at the plant gate and at politicians’ offices. We made deputations, presented briefs, and argued our case to every level of government, in Thunder Bay, Toronto, and Ottawa. COPE Local 81, was also fully involved. Locally, elected political representatives from all levels supported us: the Mayor and City Council sent letters to senior levels of government, area MPPs lobbied Premier McGuinty and the Minister of Transport, and MP Ken Boshcoff, lobbied the federal government and members of his caucus. Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce President Mary Long Irwin, won over support from the Ontario Chamber and the Toronto Board of Trade.

In July 2005, NDP Federal Leader Jack Layton and Olivia Chow (then Vice Chair of the TTC) on a visit to Thunder Bay, toured the plant. On her return to Toronto, Chow made a motion that the TTC enter into sole source negotiations with Bombardier for the subway cars. With support from Toronto Mayor David Miller, TTC Chair Howard Moscoe and the TTC NDP caucus, Olivia Chow’s motion won the support of the TTC.

Conservative City Councillors attacked the Mayor and Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission for sourcing from Bombardier. They demanded that the process be open to tenders from German-based Siemens, which claimed it could bring in a lower price by building the cars in China.

CAW and Toronto labour fought back. Under the banner "Made in Canada Matters," the Toronto and York Region Labour Council linked the fight to protecting good-paying manufacturing jobs. Ontario had lost 85,000 such jobs in the past year. Twenty firms in the Toronto region, along with others across Ontario, supply the Thunder Bay Bombardier plant. Together they employ thousands of workers.

Over 5,000 petition cards signed by Toronto unionists and others, were turned over to Toronto’s Mayor at a City Hall rally. Labour Council successfully brought into its campaign, community groups and neighbourhood agencies. As a spokesperson from the African Canadian Social Development Council told the rally, newcomer communities are very worried about the loss of decent jobs.

The campaign culminated at the Toronto City Council meeting in December 2006. With the Council chambers packed during the seven-hour debate with union activists along with the Thunder Bay Mayor and Councillors, Toronto City Council voted 25-18 to support the TTC’s purchase of new subway cars from Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant.

Since then, the campaign has continued, resulting in Premier McGuinty’s April 2008 announcement of a 25% Canadian content policy for transit vehicles purchased with Ontario financing. This policy is inadequate, but it is a step in the direction of meeting policies in place in the U.S., European Union, and elsewhere. Right-wing economic ideology holds that government procurement should be tendered in order to allow market competition determine the best possible outcome, but as trade unionists, we know the unfettered market does not ensure best outcomes. That is why we fight for labour, environmental, food inspection, building codes, and many other forms of legislation, all designed to correct the inequalities and injustices of the market. We also need to campaign for government economic policies that provide for decent jobs and balanced regional economic development. We have had enough of reliance on free trade and market outcomes, our livelihoods and the future of our country is at stake.


Union’s War Protest Shuts West Coast Ports
By William Yardley

SEATTLE – West Coast ports were shut down on Thursday as thousands of longshoremen failed to report for work, part of what their union leaders said was a one-day, one-shift protest against the war in Iraq.

Cranes and forklifts stood still from Seattle to San Diego, and ships were stalled at sea as workers held rallies up and down the coast to blame the war for distracting public attention and money from domestic needs like health care and education. “We’re loyal to America, and we won’t stand by while our country, our troops and our economy are being destroyed by a war that’s bankrupting us to the tune of $3 trillion,” the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Bob McEllrath, said in a written statement. “It’s time to stand up, and we’re doing our part today.”

About 25,000 union members are employed at 29 West Coast ports, but the protest took place only during the day shift. A spokesman for the main West Coast employers’ group, the Pacific Maritime Association, said it appeared that about 6,000 workers did not show up for work, which meant that about 10,000 containers would not be loaded or unloaded from about 30 cargo ships.

The spokesman, Steve Getzug, cast the action as a strike and therefore a violation of the union’s labor contract, which is up for renewal this summer.

“What the union says and what the union does are two different things,” Mr. Getzug said. “This is genuine defiance.”

Union leaders said that the association had rejected their request weeks ago for Thursday’s one-shift work stoppage, but that local longshoremen continued to promote the protest. It went forward, the union leaders said, despite a demand on Wednesday by an independent arbitrator that they instruct members to go to work.

In many cases, dock workers were joined at port entrances or at rallies by other groups protesting the war or frustrated by economic issues or immigration policies. Some rallies seemed as much like street fairs as angry acts of resistance, with booksellers setting up stands and supporters of the presidential candidate Ralph Nader carrying banners. 

In the Seattle waterfront, members of the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union mixed with self-described socialists while many of the scores of police officers on the scene ate box lunches and petted their horses.

In Oakland, Calif., some truckers who said they were angry about high gas prices decided not to cross picket lines at the port. 

“I got here ready to haul,” said César Lara, 41, a resident of Richmond, Calif., born in Zacatecas, Mexico. “They told me it was a picket but if I wanted to go in I could. But I’m supporting them and to end the war.”

Several drivers said truckers were planning their own nationwide work stoppage in the next several days to protest record-high gas prices and surcharges.

In Long Beach, Calif., part of nation’s largest port complex, truck drivers from California and neighboring states waited for the port security gates to reopen on Thursday evening, when union members said they planned to return to work. Nearby, in Wilmington, longshoremen met inside a hall while some union members outside read pink fliers stating the reasons for work stoppage.

Kevin Schroeder, director of Local 13’s political action committee, said, “The children of middle-class people are over there dying, so we decided to do something. We are fortunate enough to be in an organization that has a platform to do something.”


UFCW Canada – Agricultural Workers' Program
By Stan Raper

This is our year to negotiate the first agreement in Manitoba for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers and secure for these precarious workers from Mexico a contract that provides Job Security, recall rights and a grievance procedure.

This is our year to secure the same rights in Quebec at the Hydro Serre Mirabel Green house operation.

This is our year to challenge a forty-year-old Labour Law in Quebec that has denied seasonal field crop harvesters the right to unionize and bargain collectively.

This is our year to challenge the archaic law in Ontario, which continues to deny agricultural workers the right to join a union and bargain collectively.

In May of this year UFCW Canada will be the first union to test the British Columbia Supreme Court decision that gave Health Workers in BC the right to Bargain Collectively as a defined right under the Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Saskatchewan organized a potato farm last year, which has temporary foreign workers along side Canadian workers although still before the Labour Board awaiting certification.

Eight revamped agricultural worker regional centers will be reconfigured to support all agricultural workers across Canada with an emphasis on ethnicity and language services and provincial representation.

The agricultural worker web page will be a modern substantial communication tool. This bi-lingual site will have all current and historical information regarding our continued struggle for justice.

A new list serve program will provide updates on our successes to any and all who are interested.

UFCW Canada cannot work in isolation in this new global economy.

We have developed an International (Global) lobby effort to educate and build alliances in other countries.

UFCW Canada has delivered presentations and the National Report on the Status of Migrant Workers in Canada to Jamaica, Barbados, Mexico and Thailand Governments and Consular officials. We have had delegations from Mexican Government Officials in Ontario and Quebec. We have spoken to the Senate Committee on Immigration in Mexico. We have presented numerous individual worker abuses to the Mexican Human Rights Commission and Legislative committees.

Letters of complaints have been forwarded to Guatemala, Thailand, Mexico and other sending countries. We have done countless written media interviews, TV documentaries and Radio shows.

We have spoken at hundreds of University and Social Justice Events across North America and built solid alliances with church and faith based agencies.