Every year on April 28, we pause to recognize workers who have been killed or injured on the job. The Day of Mourning, created by CUPE members and first observed in 1984, is recognized by workers in communities across Canada and in more than 100 countries worldwide.
No one should die because of their work, yet in Ontario a worker dies almost every day because of workplace hazards and incidents. Worker’s deaths are tragedies not only for their families, but for the people they work with and for their communities. On this day, we stand in solidarity with workers around the world and share with each other a collective sense of loss.
No worker should ever be killed or injured because of work, yet it happens on a regular basis. In our current climate of precarious work, it is happening more frequently.
When workers do not have guaranteed work, or don’t get enough hours, or earn too little to survive, they are much less likely to speak up about unsafe working conditions. Employers know this. In the precarious workplace, all too often there is scant attention given to health and safety standards.
Privatization of services also causes workplace injuries and death, as companies — with no public oversight — cut corners to squeeze more profit out of services that should not be generating profit.
Understaffing also causes injuries and deaths, as workers are required to do work previously assigned to two or more workers.
Injury and death on the job are not merely “accidents” or “tragedies” that just happen. All too often, they are the result of precarious work, austerity measures, and privatization. All too often, they are preventable deaths.
By remembering those who have been killed or injured, we remember why we must continue to fight for the health and safety of workers. Our union stands up for workers to provide the protection they need to feel secure in reporting incidents and workplace hazards.
On April 28, the Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job, we should pause to mourn our losses and renew our commitment to ending such tragedies.
— Kristina H., Vice President
Members of the CUPE 1989 Executive Board attended the CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference last week. The amusing title — “Sex, Drugs & Bedbugs” — was a light take on a very serious theme: health and safety in the library workplace. As always, the conference was affirming and inspiring — library unionists coming together to share information and use collective action to advance the greater good.
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John Cartwright, President of the Toronto-York Regional Labour Council, welcomed delegates to the York Region. The Council has fought for justice since 1871 — first economic justice, then racial justice, and now climate justice. Brother Cartwright reminded us that libraries have been a part of these struggles from the very beginning — giving immigrants and newcomers access in a class-driven society. He also reminded us that two important elections are coming up. At both the provincial and municipal levels, these elections are about nothing less than what kind of Canada we want to build.
Dawn Bellerose, the Aboriginal Workers Representative on the CUPE Ontario Executive Board, gave the aboriginal welcome. CUPE 1989 joins many CUPE library locals in seeking to include and feature aboriginal issues in our libraries wherever possible.
Next, we were treated to a welcome by CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn. Brother Fred’s speeches are always inspiring, but in these trying times, his words are more welcome and more needed than ever.
Fred focused on the upcoming Ontario provincial election. Corporate taxes are the lowest they’ve been since 1930. And 20 years of frozen public spending under Liberal governments have left us with a 42% decrease in resources. Ontarians have been living through the implications of these reductions. Hallway medicine. 30,000 seniors waiting for long-term care, and when they do finally get a spot, a desperate lack of workers to care for them. Skyrocketing student debt, and no decent jobs after graduation. Ontarians are angry at Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government — with good reason. But, Fred urged us, let’s not allow anger at the Liberals to make things worse! Conservative leader Doug Ford talks about shaving four cents off every dollar of public spending. We cannot afford more public service cuts, more privatization. We need a government who will invest in public services.
This October, if we want to begin to reverse this situation, there is only one clear choice: the Ontario NDP. Andrea Horwath is rolling out a platform that includes full pharmacare, dental benefits, affordable childcare, and relief for student debt. If the 1% and the corporations pay their fair share, it’s all within reach.
Brother Fred gave a shout-out to CUPE 2424, on strike at Carleton University to fight pension theft, and CUPE 3903, on strike at York University to improve learning conditions. Did you know teaching assistants at York carry a full 60% of the teaching load — yet they are part-time, precarious workers? All union members should think about how they can support these courageous strikers.
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CUPE Health and Safety Specialist Andie Chenier spoke about mental health — our own, and the daily challenge of library workers who serve customers with a variety of mental health issues.
Did you know one in five Canadians identify as having a mental health challenge? That is twice the number that have heart disease or diabetes. The most common mental health issues are anxiety and depression, issues related to substance abuse, and cognitive disorders such as dementia. All that, yet only 7.2% of our healthcare budget!
Sister Andie facilitates mental health first aid, a training that all library workers could benefit from. She mentioned that when people feel that their work is not valued or under-valued, that can contribute to depression. Sound familiar? Andi noted that we should try to get language in our collective agreements for mental health first aid training, both for our co-workers and our customers.
Perhaps the most significant takeaway of Andie’s talk was tips on how to respond when people disclose their mental health challenges. It’s very difficult to reach out. The stigma is still very great, and it takes a lot of courage to open up. So how we — library workers and fellow humans — respond has a potentially huge impact on a person who is trying to connect with us. “Your job is not to fix them,” Andie said. “It’s not about you.”
So what can we do? Respond with compassion. Listen. Don’t judge. Don’t prescribe. Don’t talk about your own life. Instead of “you really should do this,” try, “Have you thought about trying…?” or “I’ve heard that this might be helpful…”. Library workers can keep a list of resources and social services. But most important: listen. Listen with compassion.
Andie mentioned CUPE’s mental health learning series, and urged us to advocate for our members with a two-pronged approach — both in our labour-management meetings and through our joint health and safety committees. Remember, WSIB now covers chronic mental stress.
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The most moving part of the conference was a talk by Zoe Dodd. Zoe is an outreach worker who has worked with marginalized people with HIV and Hepatitis C. Now her work has shifted to the opioid overdose crisis. She and her co-workers — who are mostly volunteers — had been telling the government that this crisis was looming for the past decade, but their alarm fell on ears that refused to hear.
Now the deaths from fentanyl overdoses eclipses those from HIV at the height of the AIDS crisis. Last year there was a 52% increase of fentanyl deaths over the previous year. Yet Ontario has refused to call this a public health crisis. British Columbia is the only Canadian province to declare opioid overdoses a public health emergency — and this has saved thousands of lives.
Death by overdose, Zoe told us, is preventable. The majority of those affected are already marginalized people living in poverty. (Indigenous people are 400 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general population.) Thousands who survive end up in comas, on life support.
There were coordinated emergency health efforts for both H1N1 and SARS outbreaks; lives were saved by those decisions. But when it comes to drug use, governments spend almost exclusively on enforcement, rather than harm reduction. That is, they treat drug addiction as a criminal issue rather than a health issue. This is a moralistic decision — and a lethal one.
Frustrated and angry over both Ontario’s and the City of Toronto’s inaction, Zoe and her comrades acted on their own. They brought 10,000 vials of naloxone — the drug that reverses fentanyl overdoses — into Canada before it was legal. They raised $95,000 online. They pitched a tent and opened a site, staffed entirely by volunteers. We were so proud to learn that CUPE Ontario bought the group a trailer, so they could safely serve more people. This intrepid band of volunteers forced Ontario and Canada to change their policies. Now harm reduction sites are opening across the province — including in Mississauga. (Please read more about Zoe and her work here: “Meet the Harm Reduction Worker Who Called Out Trudeau on the Opioid Crisis”.)
What does this have to do with library workers? Only everything. Libraries, as public spaces, are often places of drug use and of overdose. Library workers across North America are being trained in the use of naloxone, and they are saving lives.
Zoe addressed some myths about naloxone use, demystifying the process for all in the room. Many people — including 1989 officers — thought there was a danger of a person coming out of an overdose becoming aggressive and violent. Turns out this is simply untrue. Typically a person coming out of a drug overdose is groggy and confused. Their brain has shut down from lack of oxygen, and naloxone is beginning to restore the flow of oxygen to their brains. Far from being violent, they are only gradually waking up.
Many people believe that administering naloxone is dangerous, as we can be exposed to fentanyl or naloxone. This is also untrue. Fentanyl must be ingested to be harmful. Naloxone, Zoe said, is virtually “idiot proof”. If a person is not overdosing, the drug has no effect. But if they are overdosing, it will save their life. (Note that more than one dose of naloxone may be needed.)
The most moving and disturbing part of Zoe’s talk was hearing how she and her co-workers have suffered. Outreach workers and the people they serve are often one community. The pain they witness and endure is staggering. In one year, Zoe lost 30 clients and six friends. Outreach workers have committed suicide, overwhelmed by grief. There is a secondary crisis of trauma among the workers who have witnessed so much death. Now these workers are using their grief and anger to drive change. It was incredibly moving and inspiring.
The executive officers of CUPE 1989 want to get involved. For starters, we’ve decided on a three-part course of action. One, we’ll get trained in the use of naloxone. Two, we will share this education with our members and our employer. And three, we will advocate for a greater role of social services in our libraries. We hope to host Zoe Dodd in our own libraries. Stay tuned!
Watch this video to see how library workers are saving lives.
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There were other excellent and fascinating talks at the conference, too.
CUPE National Senior Research Officer Joseph Leonard-Boland shared the results of the groundbreaking CUPE survey on precarious work among library workers. More than 40% of CUPE library workers earn less than $30,000 annually, compared with 21% of all CUPE workers. Library workers are three times as likely to have part-time, precarious work as CUPE members as a whole. Only 56% of CUPE library workers have access to benefits such as extended health care, compared with 75% of all CUPE workers. And at least 20% of library workers need a second job to make ends meet. It doesn’t have to be this way.
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On our final afternoon, library workers joined other municipal workers at the OMECC Conference for one afternoon. Trish Hennessey from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) talked about the effects of automation on our jobs, and employment lawyer Daniel Sheppard talked about Bill 148.
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Even with all these excellent speakers, perhaps the most meaningful segment of our conference is always the local reports. Hearing from library locals from across the province is a powerful exercise in solidarity. We all share the same burdens, especially gross understaffing, part-time jobs, and low morale. And we also share the same strengths — a small group of determined unionists, and the power of collective bargaining.
On International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world in March, there is special attention on so-called women’s issues. Equal pay. Affordable and accessible childcare. Violence against women. Reproductive rights. Poverty. Access to clean drinking water and affordable food. Human trafficking.
Are these women’s issues — or are they human issues?
Women’s issues don’t exist in a vacuum, some mythical place where only women live and feel the impacts of poverty, violence, and discrimination. These so-called women’s issues speak to the very core of our ability to lead decent lives. They affect women, men, and children of every gender.
A better world for women is nothing less than a better world.
CUPE 1989 joins CUPE Ontario, CUPE National, and the Canadian labour movement in wishing you a happy, strong, and meaningful International Women’s Day.
CUPE 1989 joins all of CUPE and the broader labour movement in celebrating Black History month. We acknowledge the urgent need to work against racism and discrimination in all its forms, and to strive for true diversity and inclusion in all our actions.
We share with you CUPE Ontario’s 2017 statement on Black History Month. (The 2018 statement is here.)
As we celebrate February as Black History Month, CUPE would like to recognize the many union activists and community organizers of African descent who continue to help build brave and resilient communities and workplaces.
We are grateful to those who continue to resist and build within our unions, in our workplaces and our communities. From bargaining for more inclusive and equity-based language in our collective agreements to challenging racism in our schools and our communities to on-the-ground organizing and mobilizing, people of African descent have been helping to build more equitable societies despite systemic barriers.
In its preliminary report on the current realities faced by African Canadians, the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent noted the need to remember and recognize Canada’s history of enslavement, racial segregation, and marginalization – and how that continues to impact people of African descent.
Many factors combine to paint a bleak picture for many people of African descent across Canada. They face disproportionate poverty levels, anti-Black racism and ongoing police violence. The UN Working Group notes that children of African descent are disproportionately taken away from their homes by child welfare agencies on dubious grounds. People of African descent are also chronically over-represented in the criminal justice system.
As a labour union, we are committed to negotiating and enforcing collective agreements that do not tolerate discrimination. We will fight any harassment that our members face because they are of African descent. And as part of social movements against discrimination and for equality, we will continue to pressure employers and governments to bring in employment equity and implement the recommendations in the UN Working Group’s preliminary report.
CUPE acknowledges the UN Decade for People of African Descent. We encourage members to address anti-Black racism in their locals, workplaces and communities.
Click here to learn what steps CUPE is taking to combat anti-Black racism.
This post continues CUPE Local 1989 labour-themed book reviews and readers’ advisory lists. You can read our earlier review of The Radium Girls here.
If you read a book or see a movie that you’d like us to review, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ella May Wiggins was a textile worker, a labour activist, and a “balladeer” who wrote and sang songs for the movement. Wiggins — who was killed during a 1929 strike in North Carolina — is not as well-known in the labour movement as she should be. Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad goes a long way towards changing that.
In this historical novel, we meet Wiggins, a single mother struggling to provide for her children on the $9.00 she earns for a week’s work at the mill. Wiggins walks miles to her 12-hour shift, returning to her shack where her children are always hungry. At least Wiggins’ children are safe. In the mill, children’s small hands are put to use clearing clogged machinery – machines that are not turned off. Mothers can only hope their children’s reflexes are fast enough to jerk their hands away before they are mangled. For the mill owner, the loss of fingers or an arm is just another worker sent away without pay.
When Ella stays home to care for a sick child, her boss informs her that if she “chooses” to miss a shift again, she won’t have a job to return to. Fed up and searching for relief, Wiggins attends a labour rally. When she gets up to sing one of her songs onstage, she becomes a organizer – and a target.
Despite the grueling conditions at the mill, unions are reviled and their “radical” ideas -– a five-day work week, a standard wage -– are branded as communists. Wiggins’ own views, that black and white workers should be organized together in a single union, make her a target even among the working class.
Wiggins is the central figure of The Last Ballad, but the story is told from diverse perspectives. We hear the voices of a black train porter, the mill owner, and some voices from our present time, when Wiggins’ surviving daughter, now an older woman, writes about her mother’s life.
The 1929 textile workers’ strike in Gastonia, North Carolina was not a victory. The mill owners refused to negotiate and the starving workers returned to the mill without winning the improvements they sought. The Last Ballad tells a story that is tragic and infuriating — but it’s a story we need to know.
Some people believe unions are no longer necessary. Yet working conditions in many countries today are not much better than what Ella May Wiggins endured. Even in our prosperous and enlightened land, without unions, how long would it take for working conditions to deteriorate to unacceptable levels?
You can learn more about Ella May Wiggins through the Ella May Wiggins Memorial Committee, “a group of individuals with family, academic, community and historical interest in Ella May Wiggins and our textile heritage,” who are dedicated to creating a proper memorial for Wiggins in the town where she lived and died.
The Last Ballad is available at your local library.
— Laura Kaminker
It’s been another big year for CUPE 1989, and as always, our union has big plans for the year ahead.
In 2017 we:
• Submitted seven grievances:
3 grievances from individual members — we won two; the third, the member chose to withdraw
2 policy grievances — won both
2 policy grievances — going to arbitration in 2018
• Participated in mediation for two grievances from 2016, resulting in discussions with our Employer that made some progress
• Began a long-overdue Job Evaluation process
• Made big strides in our ability to enforce workplace Health & Safety standards
• Enjoyed a 1.75% pay increase for all members, a direct result of our 2016 strike
• Were honoured at the CUPE Ontairo Library Workers Conference
• Were honoured at the CUPE Ontario Convention
• Celebrated at a strike victory party at Biermarkt
• Celebrated our first “strike-aversary” and saw the 1989 banner raised at Mississauga City Hall for a day
• Enjoyed a group outing to a Mississauga Steelheads game
• Ratified our new bylaws and had them approved by CUPE National
• Sent 10 members to training, workshops, or other educational opportunities
• Welcomed 37 new members
• Celebrated seven members who retired, and said goodbye to two members who passed away
• Were invited to speak about lessons from our strike on five separate occasions
In 2018, we will:
• Complete the JE process
• Enjoy improvements for part-timers under the new Ontario employment laws — which every active member helped create
• Arbitrate two grievances already scheduled
• Elect a new negotiating committee (i.e. bargaining team)
• Survey all members about priorities for our next round of collective bargaining
• And advance the rights and interests of every single member, every single day
Thank you for your labour!
The CUPE 1989 Executive Board wants to recognize all the workers who keep our society running so that we can enjoy our holidays: the transportation workers, health care workers, snow-plow operators, ambulance drivers, police officers, firefighters, and everyone else who doesn’t get a proper holiday so the rest of us can. Holidays: brought to you by the labour movement. The functioning society: brought to you by working people.
Best wishes to all for a safe, joyous holiday season!
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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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.
— Laura Kaminker