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Labour News: Veteran's union aims to stop office closures, federal inmates strike, success at worker-owned mill

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University of Manitoba faculty approves letting union call strike vote

300 of 305 members of the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) gave their bargaining team the mandate to call for a strike if a vote becomes necessary. While the university wants professors to accept a contract that would last four years, the UMFA has counter-proposed a two-year contract. UMFA argues that the administration’s offer would threaten academic freedom and tenure. UMFA went on strike in 1995 and 2011.

Veterans' union launches national campaign to stop district office closures

The Union of Veterans Affairs Employees and its umbrella union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, launched a national campaign to demand that the federal government reverse the decision to close nine Veterans' Affairs' offices. The offices are in Sydney, Charlottetown, Corner Brook, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Brandon, Saskatoon and Kelowna. An office in Prince George has already been closed. Veterans who rely on these offices will soon have to travel long distances to receive services. Many of the veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and argue that making the trip to receive their services, in some cases out of province, is unacceptable or impossible. Many of the veterans need person-to-person services and say that going to already overloaded Service Canada offices will not improve the impact of the office shut down.

B.C.'s worker-owned mill a success story

The Harmac mill in Nanaimo, B.C. was nearly a victim of the slow collapse of the forestry industry in the province. In 2008, when workers were given notice that they were going to be laid off, they decided to raise the funds themselves and buy the mill. After 5 years of operation, employees’ shares have increased slightly and dividends were paid out last year for the first time. The Tyee features the story of the worker-run mill, a model that other workers who face plant closures might consider emulating if ever faced with mass layoffs.

The Young and the Jobless: New CCPA report examines youth unemployment

A report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ontario found that Ontario has the highest rates of youth unemployment in Canada, at nearly twice as high as the overall youth unemployment rate. Fewer than half of workers aged 15-24 are employed. The report also found the young people with a certificate or diploma had an easier time finding work than young people with a university degree.

Federal inmates go on strike to protest pay cuts

Federal inmates have gone on strike to protest a 30 per cent cut in their pay. On average, inmates make $3 per day. Until the cuts, the pay could reach as high as $6.90 per day. The rates were established by a parliamentary committee in 1981. While prison costs have increased by 700 per cent, workers have had their wages frozen for 32 years. The move was announced by former MP Vic Toews as a cost-saving measure to pay down the federal deficit. This move will save just $4 million of a total prison's budget of $2.6 billion. Howard Sapers, correctional investigator of Canada and federal ombudsman for prisons, criticized the cuts and argued that it both deincentivizes work as a means for rehabilitation for prisoners and will also make saving for their futures a virtual impossibility.

Military expert warns against weapons purchased from Lockheed Martin

A military expert warned Canadians that US weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s could take billions of public dollars for costly contracts while providing little benefit to Canadians or the economy. Lockheed Martin is trying to secure new contracts from the Harper government, especially for the F-35 stealth fighter and Canada’s warship program. The federal government is reviewing their commitments to purchase after a public outcry about the constantly ballooning costs of the program. Director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy William Hartung said the company’s main priority, despite rhetoric about Canadian job creation, is to keep the US Department of Defence happy. Hartung suggests the government should focus instead on supporting disarmament efforts like the Arms Trade Treaty, which has been signed by more than 100 countries but not Canada. “This is a failing industry. The government would be well advised to aim at controlling the arms industry, rather than investing in defence firms,” Hartung said.

CLC complaint against Labour Watch-backed poll dismissed

The CLC’s complaint against a poll funded by Labour Watch and used to promote bill C-377 was dismissed by the organization that oversees polling standards, even though they found the poll included “potentially biased information.” The Nanos poll from 2011 suggested that an overwhelming percentage of Canadians supported the bill, but was widely criticized for flawed methodology. Respondents were “primed” with a lengthy and biased preamble before one of the questions and the poll withheld the results from another question that contradicted the conclusion that Canadians supported the bill. “The decision makes no reference to sections of the Association’s Code of Conduct nor does it reflect in any meaningful way on Nanos’ questionable polling methodology,” one academic said.

UN climate report warns that carbon emissions will have grave financial consequences

The United Nations’ major climate science report endorsed the idea of a carbon budget, laying out the total amount of carbon that can be released before the planet crosses a dangerous threshold for the climate. A previous CCPA report showed that 80 per cent of Canada’s proven fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground and economic alternatives need to be found to avoid cataclysmic climate destabilization. Canada’s economy is experiencing a hidden “carbon bubble” much like the high-tech and housing bubbles, which could have massive consequences on financial markets and pension funds. The report calls for a ‘managed retreat’ from fossil fuel investment through a national carbon budget, green bonds and carbon stress tests for financing commitments and portfolios.

Countries in global south fight WTO ban on supporting critical farming sector

Poor countries in the global south are trying to pass policies to buy food from their own farmers to feed the hungry, but the United States and other industrialized countries are using the World Trade Organization to stop them. As Martin Khor argues in the Star Online, the World Trade Organization has defended an unfair regime in which industrialized countries heavily subsidize food products that then are flooding into poorer countries, undermining local economies and the livelihoods of farmers. Countries in the global south, however, are not themselves allowed to offer the same kinds of subsidies to their farmers, even if they can afford it. In the global south, more people are employed in agriculture than anything else. Many global south governments will be demanding equal treatment at the upcoming WTO Minis­terial Conference in Bali in December.

Alberta Superstore employees go on strike, then settle

Workers at the Great Canadian Superstore chain of grocery stores walked off the job across Alberta on Oct. 6, but union negotiators had tentatively settled by Monday. The nearly 9,000 workers are fighting to protect their hours and push back against management’s creeping reliance on part-time workers. Up to 80 per cent of workers are part-time and many rely on other jobs to make ends meet. Superstore managers have vowed to keep the stores open and managers tried to cover employee shifts on day 1 of the strike. Workers are encouraging Canadians to shop elsewhere to support striking workers. The Real Canadian Superstore is own by Loblaw’s. Ratifications votes will take place as early as Tuesday.

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