International Women’s Day 2018: Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

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 Celebrates Black History Month

Pascale Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto

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.

Writer and activist Desmond Cole (see cover of Toronto Life, above) was the keynote speaker at the 2017 CUPE Ontario Library Workers Conference.

Book Review: The Last Ballad

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

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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

Happy Holidays from CUPE 1989

It’s been another big year for CUPE 1989, and as always, our union has big plans for the year ahead.

Looking back

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

Looking ahead

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!

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

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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.

(Versions of this review has appeared on 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.