Labour Rights Are Human Rights

December 10 is Human Rights Day, an annual celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948. This December 10 begins a year-long campaign to mark the 70th anniversary of the Declaration.

The first document of its kind, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed that every person is entitled to certain rights, simply because they are human, regardless of national origin, ethnic background, religion, creed, language, colour, gender, ability, legal status, or any other condition. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.

Our human rights include our labour rights. Both the Universal Declaration and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect our right to organize and to collective bargaining. Yet in the last 30 years, there has been an ongoing erosion of these rights. According to the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights, since 1982, 224 restrictive labour laws have been passed by federal and provincial governments.

Unless we work collectively to protect and expand our human rights, those rights will exist in name only. The best way to protect our rights at work has always been through labour unions. And labour unions have been on the forefront of every human rights struggle of our time, from equal pay regardless of gender, to LGBTQ recognition and equality, to the right to be free of violence and harassment in and out of the workplace.

As unionists, we continue the struggle for the rights of all workers, both union and nonunion, and for all people, regardless of their ability to work. When unions win, we all win.

You can read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here. Please consider celebrating your human rights by participating in Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign.

A Huge Win for Workers: Bill 148 Becomes Law

Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, is now one royal rubber-stamp away from becoming law. The bill comprises the most significant changes to Ontario’s employment standards in 20 years.

This represents a huge victory for workers — a model of what is possible when working people organize and work together for the common good.

This bill is the direct result of a huge, worker-led campaign, over many years, which brought together nonunion and union workers, supported by brains, muscle, and funding from the Ontario Federation of Labour, and incredible research on precarious work by United Way and McMaster University. Members of CUPE 1989 can all be proud that CUPE Ontario was at the forefront of this struggle.

This victory also comes with a warning. The bill did not pass unanimously. The Ontario Progressive Conservatives voted against Bill 148, and if they form a government in the next election, they will seek to overturn it. The Tories propose bringing the minimum wage to $15 in 2022 — three years later — and they oppose many of the other reforms that are now law.

Here’s a quick summary of the provisions of the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.
– Minimum wage increases to $14/hour on January 1, 2018
– Minimum wage increases to $15/hr on January 1, 2019
– At least two paid, job-protected sick days per year for all workers
– Part-time workers doing the same jobs as full-time workers must be paid the same wage
– All workers must have 10 emergency, job-protected, annual leave days
– All workers with a company for five years or more must have three weeks vacation
– Employers can no longer demand doctors’ notes when a worker has been out sick
– On-call workers whose shifts are cancelled with less than 48-hours notice must be paid for three hours of work
– The Ministry of Labour will hire 175 new workplace inspectors, doubling enforcement capacity
– It will be easier for workers to unionize — or at least some of the barriers to organizing will be reduced

We note with great pride that by the time the Ontario minimum wage increases to $15/hour, CUPE 1989 Library Pages will have been earning at least that for almost four years. However, our members who work part-time will benefit from many other provisions of this law, as the City of Mississauga will be forced to catch up with provincial labour laws.

Bill 148 did not go as far as we wanted. For example, the campaign was pushing for seven mandated paid sick days per year. The big-business lobby opposed any mandated paid time off. The final bill provides for two paid days. Similarly, the campaign called for a two-weeks-notice scheduling provision; the bill contains a 48-hour provision. This is a great lesson in “Demand More“.

One gaping hole in Bill 148 is a lack of equal protections for workers hired through temp agencies. Workplaces are still not liable for temp-worker injuries on the job — and because of this, safety standards are lax, and temp-agency workers are significantly more likely to be injured. These are usually the most vulnerable of all workers.

We still have a lot of work to do — but we also have a lot to celebrate.

Book Review: The Radium Girls

Library Workers + Union = Labour Book Reviews!

This post debuts a new feature on the CUPE Local 1989 website: labour-themed book reviews and readers’ advisory lists. (Readers’ Advisory is library-speak for suggesting books or movies you might enjoy.) If you read a book or see a movie that you’d like us to review, drop us a line at president@cupe1989.org.

If you’re a certain age, you may remember clocks and watches with glowing green dials. The dials were painted with radium, the radioactive element discovered by Marie Curie. We had clocks like this when I was growing up. I have a distinct memory of my mother saying, “The women who worked in the factories where these were made got very sick. They had to put the paintbrushes in their mouths, in order to paint the tiny numbers and dots, and they all got sick, and some died.”

I never forgot that — yet I never heard it mentioned anywhere else. Who were those women? Why were they putting a radioactive substance in their mouths? When I saw the title The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, I knew that someone finally had answered those questions. The story of those women was finally told.

And what a story it is.

The young, working-class women in Orange, New Jersey, and Ottawa, Illinois, who painted radium dials thought they had it made. Not only was the pay better than most work available to women, but they got to work with radium, the exciting glow-in-the-dark substance that everyone was talking about. When one “girl” got sick and died, a doctor ruled the cause of death was syphilis (despite zero evidence and the impossibility of that claim). Another death was ruled pneumonia (also wrong). But as more and more of the workers became sick — with horrific and inexplicable symptoms — the pattern became obvious.

When the watch-painting first began, in the late 1920s, the danger of radioactive substances was still largely unknown. Faced with suspicions as multiple workers became sick, the company commissioned a study… then suppressed the findings.

As the women lost their teeth, suffered broken bones, lost their hair, lost pregnancies, became weak, and died, their employers worked overtime at suppressing the truth, denying responsibility, refusing to pay for medical care, and blaming the workers themselves.

If this story was fiction, the companies’ actions would be barely credible; readers would say the author laid it on too thick, making the company out to be monsters. Some of the dirty dealings left me gasping. At one point, the women were all seeing the same doctor. They didn’t know that the doctor worked for the company. Then it turned out he wasn’t even a doctor! Officially, the women died of radium poisoning. But this book leaves no doubt: these workers were murdered.

Labour laws at the time were in their infancy: if a disease wasn’t on a short list of specific conditions, workers had no legal recourse. What’s more, even those few conditions were subject to a strict statute of limitations — for which radium poisoning, by definition, would never qualify.

The media and publicity were much different, too. The two factories in two different states, with workers suffering through the same ordeals, were unknown to each other. When the New Jersey cases finally garnered national and international attention, the workers in the Illinois factory realized they were in the same situation. And when the Illinois women took the company to court, the town turned against them. With the country in the grip of the Great Depression, anyone who could supply jobs was welcome. (This itself is a sad and telling commentary about working-class life.)

Sick, disabled, and dying, the women were truly on their own. But they fought back, and they didn’t give up. Their fight changed the world. Labour laws changed, scientific and medical knowledge were advanced, and precedence was set for greater corporate accountability.

Fans of Hidden Figures and the less famous but equally amazing Glass Universe will want to read this book. If you enjoy hidden histories, stories of struggle and perseverance, and real-life heroes a la Erin Brockovich and Karen Silkwood, this book is for you.

My only criticism of The Radium Girls is the writing itself. It could have used another round of editing to tighten up excessive detail and delete some unprofessional colloquialisms. Whether anyone who is not a writer or editor will notice, I don’t know. Any qualms I have about the language are far outweighed by the riveting story.

(Versions of this review has appeared on wmtc.ca and the Mississauga Library Nonfiction Book Blog.)

— Laura Kaminker

CUPE 1989 Celebrates Ontario Public Library Week

October is National Library Month in Canada, and October 15-21 is Ontario Public Library Week. CUPE 1989 takes this opportunity to celebrate libraries and library workers.

Public libraries are vital to communities.

Libraries support and nurture early literacy, which is the single most important factor in children’s success in school and expanded chances in life.

Libraries help bridge the “digital divide”– the gap between those who have regular access to technology and those who do not — helping to reduce social inequality.

Libraries offer vital resources and support to newcomers, to help orient them to Canada.

Libraries extend community to older adults, who may be isolated or unable to access resources and entertainment on their own.

Libraries provide a safe space for teens and young adults, with quiet spaces to study and social spaces to learn skills, build confidence, and gain independence.

Libraries offer free computers and internet access to people who need them.

Libraries provide the most vulnerable members of our community with a safe space that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

In Canadian public libraries, all this is free — supported by our shared public resources. Books, magazines, music, movies, apps — research, education, entertainment — tech, crafts, author appearances, artist showcases — and more.

Libraries work because we do.

What do the members of CUPE Local 1989 do?

We sort and shelve books, movies, music, and magazines so you can find them.

We transport those items between libraries so you can conveniently pick them up at your local branch.

We catalogue materials to make them accessible.

We process materials so we can track them, and keep our collection vibrant.

We create and lead storytimes for children and families.

We innovate and facilitate creative, hands-on programming for tweens, teens, and adults of all ages.

We help you find resources so you can access services and participate in your community.

We partner with educators and experts in our community to offer you a wide variety of exciting, innovative, free programming.

We respond to your requests and keep our collection responsive to your needs.

We introduce you to a wide array of digital resources and teach you how to use them.

We help you research, whether for school, or personal research for health, careers, crafts, and other needs.

We facilitate book clubs, author visits, and other literacy programming.

We connect local authors and artists with audiences.

We are passionate about libraries — and about our union.

We are hard-working, dedicated, educated library workers, who work together to create the Mississauga Library System. We contribute mightily to our community, and we believe that public libraries should be fully funded and fully staffed.

The members of CUPE Local 1989 welcome you to our libraries and remind you: libraries work because we do!

Every Child Matters: September 30 is Orange Shirt Day

September 30 is Orange Shirt Day.

Orange Shirt Day acknowledges the harm that Canada’s residential school system has done to generations of indigenous families and their communities. It affirms our commitment to ensure that everyone around us matters.

Orange Shirt Day opens a conversation about the legacies of the residential schools — a conversation all Canadians must have. It is a day for survivors to know that they matter. It is a day to acknowledge the past and commit to a more inclusive future.

Orange Shirt Day grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s own experience at residential school. On the first day of school, her shiny new orange shirt, given to her by her grandmother, was taken away from her. Phyllis organized the first Orange Shirt Day in 2013.

The Aboriginal Council of CUPE Ontario urges CUPE members to show support and encourage participation in Orange Shirt Day this September 30. Participation is very easy: wear an orange shirt, and tell people why.

Groups all over Canada will be organizing Orange Shirt Day events. For more information about Phyllis’ story, and to see events near you, go to Orange Shirt Day. Great photos of events from past years are here.

Labour Day 2017: Demand More

CUPE Ontario’s striking new graphic urges us to be brave, to be bold, and to demand more. Those two words — demand more — deserve our attention.

Every single law or regulation that protects us at work is a product of the labour movement. The right to days off. The right to a meal break. The rights of children to attend school. Paid holidays. A minimum wage. Maternity leave. All of it.

Many broader rights that have benefitted our society were championed by the labour movement ahead of the mainstream, such as protection from discrimination for the LGBTQ community. All this, and so much more, was the result of working people, standing together, and demanding more.

We all know that union density — how many people in any community are members of a union — has declined greatly in the past decades. As corporations moved their operations to other countries to take advantage of cheap labour and the absence of environmental and health and safety laws, manufacturing jobs all but disappeared from North America. (Let’s remember “the Chinese” are not “taking” jobs. Canadian and American companies choose to maximize profits, and governments and laws make it easy for them to do so.)

As well-paid, full-time manufacturing jobs disappeared, we saw the rise of precarious work — poorly paid, part-time jobs that don’t enable workers to create a secure life for themselves and their families.

In their short-sighted rush to squeeze more profit out of the system, employers have wrecked the economy and damaged the life chances of an entire generation.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can demand more. We must demand more!

Unions are central to this struggle in many ways.

Workers fortunate enough to belong to a union are the forward guard of the demand for more. Through the power of collective bargaining, we can win better pay and better working conditions for our members — and raise the bar for everyone in our communities.

Courageous non-union workers who organize themselves and stand up to employers — like the Fight for 15 & Fairness (in Canada) and the Fight For 15 (in the US) — get crucial help and support from labour unions.

And finally, unions have the resources to speak to governments on our behalf, to make sure governments do the right thing for workers, our communities, and all of society, rather than acting for the narrow interests of employers. Here in Ontario, CUPE is a leader in that effort.

CUPE 1989 wishes you a happy and proud Labour Day.

On Labour Day 2017, let’s pledge to Demand More: at the bargaining table, on the picket line, at the ballot box — and in the streets.

 

We Will Not Let the Virus of Hate Spread

CUPE 1989 mourns the loss of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was murdered by members of a hate group while peacefully protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia.

We stand together, opposed in the extreme to the White Supremacist agenda.

We stand together for the dignity and equality of all people.

We stand together in solidarity and love.

The following statement was released last night by CUPE Ontario.

——

We will not let the virus of hate spread.

CUPE ONTARIO·MONDAY, AUGUST 14, 2017

Hate crawled up from the sewers of Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday and flooded the streets with thousands of white men baring torches and chanting unbelievable hatred.

Many thought we were past such horrors, that the days of torches and pitch forks held high by angry white men screaming hate were gone for good. We might have hoped that the racist haters that still exist understand that this kind of venom just won’t be tolerated by most people in our society.

With Friday’s rally of violent white supremacists this hope died. What happened in Charlottesville was an overt manifestation of what is experienced by millions of First Nations, Black, south Asian, Hispanic and most non-white people everyday. What is exceptional about this moment, is that there is a President in the US who has been fanning the flames of racist hatred.

None of us can afford to stay silent. The future of our society is at stake. And we cannot be fooled into believing this is a problem only south of the border.

We have already seen branches of the so called “Proud Boys,” attack a First Nations’ rally in Canada. Affiliates of the white supremacists behind Charlottesville are organizing in Canada. Their propaganda has been found postered in neighbourhoods all across the country.

It is true that we are living through difficult times because of increasing economic inequality. Many working people here and in the United States are losing their jobs, being forced to take low-paid and precrecarious work, struggling to make ends meet.

It is this vulnerability that racist haters, white supremists and neo-nazis are trying to exploit to pit us against each other.

We cannot let this happen.

Let’s be clear, it is not racialized people that are taking jobs away from working people or responsible for the increase in part-time, temporary low-wage jobs. It is the largely white corporate elite who keep shipping jobs off shore so they can exploit other racialized workers in sweatshops. They are the ones who rake in hundreds of billions in profits while cutting jobs, privatizing the things we all own in common and refusing to pay a living wage.
We must all rise together against racism and hate. It is only together that we can truly address the inequalities in our society.

Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia: Standing Together Against Hate

In June, I had the honour of speaking on a panel at the Sisters of the Roundtable, organized by the women’s committee of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. At that event, Sarah Ali spoke with such passion and eloquence about Islamophobia, and how we must combat hate, that I wanted to share it here.
— Laura Kaminker, President, Mississauga Library Workers Union

My name is Sarah Ali and I am a member of the Organizing Committee Against Islamophobia (OCAI). We are a committee of progressive community organizations, political parties, cultural groups, non-profits, unions and faith centers. We have come together from many different areas of struggle to recognize that the current political climate in North America is one of white supremacy and Islamophobia.

Islamophobia does not exist in a vacuum. We are 16 years into the War on Terror. Sixteen years that have marked a ramping up of Islamophobic political and public discourse. A political and public discourse required to justify the invasions and wars of imperialism and regime change in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and the list goes on. A discourse that dehumanizes Muslim lives, and renders brown bodies disposable. The same discourse that says that it is normal or even brave to kill Muslims through drone bombing in Pakistan, also says that Muslim women require saving. From themselves, from Muslim men, but never from the white security guards who, under [former Prime Minster Stephen] Harper, would force women to remove their veils for the citizenship oath.

This discourse is enormously pervasive. Studies show that Canadians fear Muslims far above any other minority. And it is enormously useful. This discourse allows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to increase Canadian military spending by 65 billion dollars, and simultaneously call his foreign aid policy “feminist”. To applaud himself for accepting 25,000 refugees while taking part in the invasion and war of regime change in Syria. As though there are no women there. It allows for the unconditional support of Israel and the occupation of Palestine. A place where women give birth at checkpoints because even the unborn babies in their bodies represent a “security threat”.

Islamophobia doesn’t just justify a foreign policy that destroys the lives, homes and families of Muslim women. No, it also plays a key role in shaping surveillance culture domestically. I refer to Bill-C51: the bill initially packaged as the Omnibus Crime Bill, but now referred to as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015. Or how about the Barbaric Cultural Practises Act proposed by Kellie Leitch and passed under Harper? A law that codifies whistleblowing against Muslim families, but purportedly saves Muslim women. Or the Safe Third Country Agreement, which bars Muslim women fleeing violence in the United States from entering Canada, even though Donald Trump has openly called for a Muslim registry, and a ban on travel, among other things.

But, Islamophobia is not just harmful to Muslims. Sikh men have been targeted, attacked, and even murdered in Canada because the sheer ignorance of white supremacy confuses the Pagh for the Imama. Hindu women have been told to “go back to Arabia”, because the existence of brown skin on a woman labels her foreigner, terrorist, enemy, Muslim.

It is within this foreign and domestic policy context that we see the recently released report citing the 60% increase in hate crimes and hate related attacks against Muslims. It is within this context that we see the increasing visibility of Islamophobia – in the candidacies of Kellie Leitch and Marine LePen, and the elections of Donald Trump and Theresa May. Public figures now openly call for the surveillance, detention, deportation, and bans on Muslims.

At the same time, we are confronted by the open presence of far-right, nationalist, and fascist groups. Fascist groups that make unlikely bedfellows, but who find themselves able to recruit, unite and attack under a common hatred of Muslims. The JDL (Jewish Defense League), the Soldiers of Odin, the III%ers (three percent-ers), and even Hindutva fascist groups have diametrically opposed ideological bases, but come together once a month to convene at Nathan Phillips Square. They show up at Peel School Board meetings and performatively rip up Qurans as a gesture of their strength. All the while, standing shoulder to shoulder with Toronto Police Services.

The message is clear. Muslim lives, and especially Black Muslim women’s lives are disposable. Muslim children’s ability to pray in schools – a policy that was implemented decades ago – is no longer acceptable. When Ottawa police services killed Abdi Rahman Abdi, and then parade about the city with bracelets that “stood in solidarity” with the officer who murdered him, they are simply protecting public good. When Black and brown children in Toronto have armed officers in their classrooms, they are providing a “healthy learning environment”. When six Muslim men are massacred in a mosque simply for being Muslim, it is a “lone wolf”. Excuses after excuses being made to tell our community what we already knew. We are useful scapegoats.

We are useful scapegoats for austerity and unemployment. How often have you heard that immigrants, refugees, and “brown people” are taking our jobs? Of course, it is our government who is cutting social programs, selling off public services, closing schools, and gutting the welfare state.

So I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is where to we go from here. The situation looks bleak, and for Muslim women, it feels even bleaker.

The answer lies in building a coalition of progressive forces.

When the JDL and the SOO show up on the streets of cities across Canada, it is our duty to confront them. When they argue in public forums that Muslims, refugees and immigrants are causing unemployment and austerity, we must continue the fight for a $15 minimum wage. When Desmond Cole and Black Lives Matter call on us to eject armed police officers from Toronto school boards, we need to be there – physically, with our letters to the editor, and on social media. When Indigenous communities say that Grassy Narrows needs clean water and that Canada 150 is actually 150 years of genocide and colonialism, we give up our Canada Day plans and stand in solidarity with them.

We must build a people’s coalition that calls for policy change. That unites to repeal the legislation that makes Canada unsafe.

We must abolish indefinite immigration detention, and create a path to residency and citizenship for undocumented workers and their families living in Canada.

We must ending the support for wars of imperialism and regime change. We must get Canada out of NATO, take back the money that is being spent on war and militarism and use it to support our communities through publicly owned housing, schools, and childcare.

We need a judicial system that supports victims of domestic and sexual violence, brings justice for the 1500 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, stops the police from killing unarmed young Black men, and provides comprehensive mental health care to LGBTQ youth.

Our struggles are connected, and we must fight together for a better future. It’s all of us or none of us. An injury to one is an injury to all!

CUPE 1989 Celebrates Our Strike-iversary!

On July 4, 2016, the members of CUPE Local 1989, Mississauga Library Workers, walked off their jobs and onto the picket lines. It was the first strike in our local’s history and the first strike against the City of Mississauga.

Three days earlier, in the largest turnout our local had ever seen, members voted overwhelmingly to reject the City’s final offer and exercise the most powerful tool that workers possess.

Why did we strike?

For fairness. For respect. For a living wage. You can read more about our issues here:

What did we gain?

  • We brought our Pages, our lowest paid members and 25% of our membership, from slightly more than minimum wage to $15/hour in one leap.
  • We fought off proposals from the City that would have pushed our part-time members — more than half our membership — further into precarity.
  • We made small but significant gains for our part-time workers. We did not go nearly as far as we wanted for our part-timers, but we did improve their contract, and we set the stage for gains in future bargaining.
  • We fought off City proposals that disrespected and burdened members who need sick time, and other outrageous demands.
  • We won a 1.75% increase for all our members for each of four years. This is still below cost of living! The cost of living rises about 2% each year, and most workers fall farther behind every year. However, after 0.5% increases for three consecutive years, we were proud to win 1.75% for all our members, full-time and part-time.

Who pays for all this?

It must be said, too, that none of these changes affect the taxpayers of Mississauga in any way. Mississauga residents who question how their taxes are spent might look to the City’s soaring executive salaries, which now total nearly $2.5 million. Managers who earn six-figure salaries — and who enjoy healthy increases of 3%, 4%, and more every year — are also public employees.

What next? 

So much of what we gained from our strike doesn’t appear in our collective agreement. The solidarity and strength we built, the deep connection our members now feel toward our union, the growth in our members’ confidence — we benefit from these changes every day, in ways large and small.

Our members found their voices, some for the first time. And once you find your voice, you never go back.

Thank you and beyond

Local 1989 is endlessly grateful to the people of  Mississauga for their support. Library customers — the people who use the excellent services that we provide — overwhelmingly supported our goals.

So many residents called and emailed the City, that phone lines were jammed and email bounced from overflowing inboxes. Customers wrote to their Councilors, passionately defending our cause and calling on the City to offer us a fair contract.

Local 1989 is also forever grateful to the Canadian labour movement for the overwhelming support we received. CUPE Ontario, CUPE National, the Peel Regional Labour Council, Peel District CUPE Council, the Toronto Public Library Workers, the Peel Children’s Aid Society, the Brampton City Workers, York Region workers — the list goes on and on. We never could have done it without you, and more importantly, we never had to.

CUPE 1989 Honoured by CUPE Ontario, Thanks our Community

CUPE 1989 was tremendously proud and honoured to be recognized at the CUPE Ontario Convention this week.

The Mississauga Library Workers were one of 13 CUPE Ontario locals to have gone on strike or be locked out during the past year. It was fitting that instead of keynote speakers, convention organizers decided to gather the striking and locked out locals for a townhall.

 

Also this week, CUPE 1989 participated in our first community event as an independent local. At the Bread & Honey Festival in Streetsville, we gave away new books, each with a beautiful 1989 bookmark inside. The books were biographies of notable Canadians written for children and youth.

Everyone loves free books! We gave away around 1,000 books and had to pack up early when we ran out! These gifts were our way of thanking the community for their support during our strike, as well as spreading the joy of reading.