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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media. She writes regularly for blogs and magazines, and wrote a chapter in Canada After Harper, released by Lorimer Publishers in August 2015.

The Twelve Days of Strike! Highlights from workers' struggles in 2015

| December 17, 2015
Photo: flickr/Alexey Kijatov

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We’re in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas and, whether or not you celebrate this time of year, it’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing this song. To pay tribute to the fiercest workers of 2015, CALM has compiled our own version: the Twelve Days of Strike (plus one extra territory).

Not every story here is about a strike, but every one features workers who confronted management and fought for more secure working conditions. Instead of twelve days, we chose one struggle in each of Canada's ten provinces and three territories. We encourage you to help the workers featured, where possible. 

Hats off to the workers who are members of the following locals. We support you and your struggles.

Concessionnaires 'automobiles du Saguenay – CSD
CUPE Local 1252
Hemp Harvest Food workers
Hospital employees -- Yukon Employees Union PSAC
Hay River workers -- Union of Northern Workers PSAC
IATSE Local 849
Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees
OPSEU Local 294
Qulliq Energy workers -- Nunavut Employees Union PSAC
SEIU West – educational workers in Southeastern Saskatchewan
University of British Columbia Faculty Association
USW Local 6265

Newfoundland and Labrador

Wabush mine workers

2015 has been a brutal year for Wabush mine workers. On July 2, the Steelworkers announced that management would slash workers' pensions. This came on the heels of a decision of the Quebec Superior Court that decided that Cliffs Natural Resources, an American firm that purchased the mine, could cease its payments to its pension plans until after the former Canadian mine operator’s bankruptcy procedures were finished. Mine retirees had already had their health and life insurance benefits cancelled. Generations of Labradorians have paid into the pension plan. USW Local 6285 outgoing president Jason Penney said that it would impact between 700 and 800 people.

Cliffs' mine closures in 2015 cost 1000 jobs for people in Northeastern Quebec and Labrador, a devastating blow for nearby towns. On June 26, Carol Wabush Co-op grocery store in Labrador City announced it would close, leaving 38 employees out of work. Sobeys, who had recently bought the store, argued that it was not viable.

USW Local 6285 closed it office in June, after 52 years of service. On Dec. 17, Service NL announced the end of the Wabush Mines Pension Plans.  


Nova Scotia

Egg Studios lockout

In a crass move to get rid of unionized workers, Egg Studios locked out 290 technicians, including members of IATSE Local 849. Egg Films CEO Mike Hachey told the Chronicle Herald that they were hoping to replace unionized workers with freelancers to pay them less. On July 20, hundreds of IATSE members protested the Egg Studios offices. Egg Studios produced TV commercials.

On September 10, the Chronicle Herald reported that Hachey had decided to close the studio and bid farewell to Nova Scotia.

This has been a rough year for workers in Nova Scotia's film industry. The government cut $24 million from subsidies that helped buoy filmmaking in the province. Former Ontario MPP and current head of Nova Scotia Business Inc. argued that the funding shouldn't be restored at a Public Accounts committee on Dec. 9. Everybody’s favourite Jonathan, Jonathan Torrens has offered to fly anyone who left the province because of the film cuts, home.

(Though everyone's favourite Torrens should be Jackie Torrens. This year, she made Walk a Mile in These Shoes, a film that explores how hard it is to live on welfare).


Prince Edward Island

Canadian Blood Services workers on strike

Ten part-time workers at Canadian Blood Services in Charlottetown have been on strike for more than 14 weeks. The workers, members of the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees are fighting to have a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week. They are expected to be available at any time during the clinic’s operating hours, between 10 and 11 hours each day, with no guarantee that they’ll work at all. This has made finding other part-time work impossible. Workers picketed a CBS office in Vancouver to show their solidarity with the PEI workers.  

For information about how you can support these workers, visit NSUPE's website.


New Brunswick

Threats of Privatization

The Government of New Brunswick plans to privatize hospital food and cleaning services. In 2015, the governments of Québec and Saskatchewan pursued similar plans.

On Sept. 18, CUPE members warned that privatizing hospital food and cleaning services will lead to poorer food quality and the spread of infectious diseases. CUPE referenced an outbreak of C. difficile in the Niagara Health region, a disaster that prompted the authority to cancel its contract with food provider Aramark.

On Nov. 19, 25 cafeteria workers were laid off and hospital cafeterias across the province had their hours reduced. Government officials said that families could rely on vending machine options when cafeterias are closed. On Dec. 1, workers rallied to protest the "laundry list" of cuts being considered by the Liberal government.



Car dealership workers still locked out

2015 has been the year of public sector negotiations in Québec. The Common Front and other public sector worker unions representing civil servants, healthcare workers, teachers and professors and others have been bargaining with the government for months. Workers have engaged in several days of sector-wide general strike.

But, for the 12 Days of Strike, the story from Québec isn't the impressive coordination of this round of public sector bargaining. It’s a lockout that started in March 2013 in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. Since then, 450 workers at 25 car dealerships across the region have not been at work.  Management was trying to impose a new contract that would limit hours of work, create a new part-time class of worker and create a clause that would allow them to hire non-union workers.

On Nov. 12, the Liberal government moved a motion to end the lockout and force the sides to reach an agreement in 50 days. Leader of the Parti Québecois Pierre-Karl Péladeau voted with the government in favour of ending the lockout. Peladeau is most famous in labour circles for overseeing 17 lockouts within his media empire, including at the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec.

If you'd like to donate money to the locked out workers, you can find how to do it here.



OPSEU Homecare workers' eight-month struggle

There has been no shortage of struggle in Ontario this past year. From workers fighting for their pensions from US Steel to grassroots campaigns for a $15 minimum wage, 2015 has been interesting for Ontario labour. The apparent popularity of the Wynne Liberals and the failure to stop the privatization of Ontario Hydro have both demonstrated that despite positive movements, labour may have finished the year behind.

But, that's not the case for homecare staff in Niagara and Norfolk counties. The workers, employees of the for-profit CarePartners, are contracted to the Community Care Access Centre. These workers were on strike for eight months. OPSEU issued a statement on March 5 arguing that CarePartners was more interested in breaking the union than bargaining in good faith. This was the bargaining unit’s first contract. The strike ended on Nov. 26.

This was a significant strike. Not only was the bargaining unit small (fewer than 50 nurses), homecare was central to the Liberal's 2014 election platform. They promised to clean up homecare delivery in Ontario and raise the wages of these workers, some of the lowest paid in the health service sector. Instead, CarePartners actually tried to download the cost of the employer's contribution for public pension payments. Workers who spent an hour with their patients were effectively paid less than minimum wage.



Laid off Harvest Hemp Foods workers laid off for unionizing?

On Nov. 18, 19 workers at Manitoba Hemp Harvest Foods were laid off. Two weeks earlier, the workers voted on whether or not to unionize. The vote ended in a tie, and the workers allege that the ones laid off were active in the unionization campaign. Hemp Harvest Foods employs 50 people.

Most of the workers at Manitoba Hemp Harvest Foods are new immigrants. Most have young families. Workers United coordinated the campaign.

In 2014, the co-founder and CEO of the company Mike Fata was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year, Prairies Region. They’re the largest producer of hemp products in the world. The company was sold in June to Compass Diversified Holdings for $132.5 million. Last year, the company’s sales reached $38 million.



Educational workers on strike!

In 2015, a landmark Supreme Court decision helped to legally confirm workers' right to strike. The ruling struck down Brad Wall’s Public Services Essential Services Act, legislation intended to prohibit public sector workers from striking.

The victory is important, but as many people have asked since the January ruling: what good is the right to strike if the right isn't exercised?

Educational workers in Southern Saskatchewan took advantage of the new legal precedent and 250 workers in Weyburn, Estevan and 14 rural communities were on strike for three weeks. The main sticking point was wages. The workers won an increase of .05 per cent through the course of negotiations, totaling 4.5 per cent over two years.



Workers' deaths and farm legislation

The big story in Alberta in 2015 was the end of the Progressive Conservative dynasty and the rise of the Alberta NDP. Labour activists played important roles throughout the historic election. But the issue that dominated the news headlines was the falling price of oil. For workers, this has meant layoffs and increased suicide rates. Between 2006 and 2014, 86 workers have died on the job in the oil patch. And, as mass layoffs have altered the workforce, suicide has increased by 30 per cent.

Workers' deaths in Alberta were not limited to the Tar Sands. The high profile death of three sisters on their family's farm lead the way for the Alberta NDP to try and bring in new standards for farm safety, an initiative that has been met with a lot of resistance.

Alberta is the only province in Canada where farms are exempted from Occupational Health and Safety regulations. Bill 6 would change that. Premier Rachel Notley has received death threats over the proposed legislation. The legislation would apply to paid workers, and allow them to unionize and refuse dangerous work. It's intended to exclude family members. There are almost 800 corporate farms in the province.

On December 7, the Alberta Federation of Labour held a vigil to mourn the 112 workers who have died on farms since 2009.


British Columbia

Strike at the University of Northern British Columbia

While the British Columbia Teachers Federation strike still made headlines in 2015, the faculty strike at the University of Northern British Columbia is our pick for the 12 Days of Strikes. Teachers walked off the job on March 5 and stayed out for two weeks. UNBC faculty are paid significantly less than professors at other universities and their faculty association recently became a formal union.

The strike ended because the union agreed to arbitration. As of Nov. 18, the two sides remained very far apart. And, just in case you thought the administration was bargaining in good faith, they rubbed salt into the wounds of faculty members by appointing James Moore to be their new chancellor. The decision was made without sufficient consultation of the university's senate. But hey, nothing says that your university hates its workers quite like putting one of Harper's insiders at the symbolic head of your institution of higher learning.



Hospital employees fight back

In the Yukon Territory, the big news in 2015 was the strong strike mandate that Yukon Employees Union members gave to their bargaining committee. On April 9, hospital workers, voted 87 per cent in favour of a strike, by a turnout of members that CBC reported as being "extraordinarily high." The strike mandate was only in the case that an agreement couldn't be reached. On May 14, workers ratified a "concessions free" contract that included protecting the pension plan without needing to strike. Their pension plan remains to be a defined benefits plan for the duration of the 3-year contract.

Northwest Territories

Battle in Hay River

Municipal workers in Hay River, Northwest Territories were on strike for six months in 2015. The town council had originally offered a one per cent salary increase but workers managed to win double the amount. The strike was acrimonious. The town council rejected the union's calls for binding arbitration and, five months in, committed to hiring scab workers to fill the jobs of workers on strike.

Strike captain Kim Tybring told Rank and File that the 31 employees received a lot of solidarity while they were on the picket line, though the CBC reported that the Union of Northern Workers received some angry calls from locals. The Northwest Territories Association of Communities moved their annual meeting in May due to the strike.


Qulliq Energy Corporation workers strike

Workers at Nunavut’s power utility Qulliq Energy Corporation were on strike for more than a month. The strike ended on August 20. Nunatsiaq Online reported that the deal represented a compromise from both sides. The contract had expired in December, 2013 and the 143 members of the Nunavut Employees Union walked off the job in protest.

During the strike, the Government of Nunavut asked its lawyers if they could withhold housing subsidies of the striking workers, a move that was condemned as bullying by union representatives. One of the sticking points was the length of the new contract. The government was pushing for four years and the workers accepted a three-year deal.

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