Year in Canadian labour: Ten important stories in 2014

Photo: flickr/Oteo

'Tis the season for year-end countdowns, and rabble's Labour Beat Reporter is not immune to roundup frenzy!

So, in no particular order, here is the Year in Canadian labour.

 

At the federal level, the zombie-like Bill C-377, rose from the grave.

Conservatives, pushed by anti-union lobbyists like Merit and Labour Watch, tried to resuscitate the "financial transparency" private members bill, which would force unions to submit extremely detailed financial information to the government for public display. No other organization -- be it private or public -- are required to report and publicly disclose details of their internal finances and affairs to this degree.

As of Nov. 25, the Bill is in Senate Committee.

 

This past week, Bill C-525 was rammed through the Senate, despite errors in wording that some members of the upper house worry could lead to legal issues.

Also, a private member's Bill, C-525 will alter the union certification process by replacing the card check system with a private voting process, making it harder for workplaces to unionize.

As our own Karl on Parl writes:

"That idea might sound innocuous and reasonable enough, on the face of it -- until you consider that it will be the federal government that supervises such secret ballot votes, when, in many cases, the federal government is itself the employer.

It is impossible to imagine a truly fair and neutral certification process when the employer is both an interested party and the referee."

But luckily, as Nerenberg also points out, the Bill only applies to workers in federally regulated industry, which is a minority of workers.

 

In Nova Scotia, health-care workers went head to head with the provincial Liberals on three separate occasions.

In a dispute with Capital Region nurses, a bargaining stalemate over safe staffing levels resulted in major workplace actions, when the Liberals implemented an essential services law, Bill 37, which took away the nurses' right to strike.

NSGEU Home Care workers were also legislated back to work last March, after the Liberals passed Bill 30, which was opposed by both the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives in the province. 

After the tremendous show of power and solidarity in those conflicts, the Liberals proposed Bill 1, a grand scale health care restructuring act, that would re-assign union members to unions not necessarily of their choosing.

Though the four major health-care unions have agreed to the restructuring, they unanimously reject the process by which the Liberals seek to implement their plan, calling it unconstitutional and excessive. All four unions affected have put forth a proposal to form a bargaining association, which would have allowed health care workers to maintain membership in their chosen unions while reducing the number of negotiated contracts.

Though the bargaining association model has been successfully employed for public sector mergers in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia, Nova Scotia's Health Minister rejected the proposal.

After a heated mediation period and arbitration hearings, the fate of the unions rests in the hands of mediator James Dorsey, who will render his decision on the Bill by January 19.

 

Quebec erupted with anti-austerity protests.

On November 29, Thousands of people took to the streets in Montreal and Quebec City to protest against austerity measures proposed by the Quebec government. The march was organized by Collectif refusons l'austérité, a group that includes several union and student movements such as L'ASSÉ and Centrale des syndicats du Quebec.

Around 100,000 Montreal protesters descended on the downtown streets, and protests continued for the remainder of that week.

 

In B.C., teachers went on strike.

Public schools in B.C. remained closed in early september after several month of conflict with the liberal government. Negotiations had been ongoing for over a year with little progress when teachers started rotating strikes in May, which led to a full strike for the last two weeks of June and then into the new school year.

Class sizes and composition were some of the main points at issue in collective agreement discussions.

 

Let's call it 'The Year of the Long Strike'

After 17 months, 350 locked-out workers at the IKEA store in Richmond B.C. finally returned to work. After a long-waged battle over wages, benefits and operations flexibility, the final sticking point was over whether or not scab labourers who had crossed the picket line would be allowed to return to work.

In Ontario, 126 workers at the Crown Holdings corporation have been on strike for 15 months because they refused to be "starved out" by management's proposed collective agreement.

This holiday season, the USW is asking that we support the Crown Holdings workers by buying bottles not cans, when selecting our cozy winter brews.

 

Pensions plans were hit across the country.

    It's hard to count the labour disputes that took place over pension reforms this past year in both the public and private sectors. Especially in Canadian municipalities, unionized workers were forced to take action as their employers tried to weaken pension plans.

    To name only a few of those conflicts:

    In Quebec, unionized municipal workers across the province protested the now instituted Bill 3, which will override and restructure existing pension contracts for city workers in 216 different defined benefit pension plans in 1,100 municipalities across Quebec.

    In Thunder Bay, Unifor members at Bombardier's light rail plant went on strike for nearly two months, after negotiations came to a halt over pension issues.

    In Saskatchewan, 330 transit workers were locked out by their employer after the union refused to make concessions on their pension plan that would have meant major reductions in benefits for future transit workers.

     

    Anti-sex work legislation increased risk in the world's oldest profession.

      On Dec 6, Bill C-36 The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act came into effect. Critics of the Bill argue that although the new law is supposedly about "protection" of sex workers, it will continue to endanger sex workers' lives because it continues to criminalize sex work.

      A coalition of sex workers and their allies have asked Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to refer the Bill back to the Ontario Court of Appeal and to instruct Crown prosecutors not to enforce it until its constitutionality can be determined again.

       

      Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program mired in scandal with some troubling consequences for workers.

      Xenophobic responses were strong after it was revealed that Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program was being misued by many employers. Particularly in the service industry, hundreds of private sector corporations like Tim Horton's and McDonald's, were found to be hiring temporary foreign workers for non-specialized service jobs and paying them less than the minimum wage.

      However, as many critics have pointed out, the waves of outrage that followed these revelations often took aim at the workers themselves and not at the government or corporations responsible for designing a programs that would marginalize foreign workers and undercut Canadian labour.

      The Conservatives announced new regulations specifically targeting the fast food and other "nontradable service" sectors, but migrant workers still aren't being guaranteed decent wages, workplace safeties, or pathways to citizenship.

       

      Changing of the Guard at the Canadian Labour Congress.

      Last spring we saw a heated three-way race for the presidency of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). Competition was close between 15-year incumbent Ken Georgetti and Unifor's Hassan Yussuff, while upstart candidate Hassan Husseini insured that the left-wing grassroots unionism had a voice in the house of labour.

      At the 11th hour, Husseini used his opening remarks to announce he was dropping out of the race and throwing his full support behind Hassan Yussuff. Yussuff is the first person to defeat a sitting president, and is also the first person of colour at the helm of the CLC.

       

      Ella Bedard is rabble's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding. 

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