Labour News Update: August 15, 2016

Ontario report shows unions are necessary | Sky darkens for Brad Wall | Can a lockout be better than a strike for unions? | The Phoenix pay system mess | No end in sight for Essex county library strike | Liberals loosen TFWP regulations | Foreign workers exploited in medical marijuana industry | Discontent with NAFTA hangs over auto talks | Legal aid lawyers locked in legal battle with province over unionization | Torstar laying off more than 50 employees | Cancer survivor says ex-employer’s erratic pay has left her on the brink | Liberals strike deal with tax agency union | Union says Now Magazine in position for work stoppage, management threatened to close publication | Stelco Algoma merger: New bid tabled for U.S. Steel Canada | Father living off $3.32 an hour launches class action against energy giant | The Ottawa bridge collapse that shocked the world | Taxi industry files $215M lawsuit against City of Ottawa |


13895196_1262043373840238_8529068912401904836_nOntario report shows why unions are necessary, August 12

In theory, labour laws protect workers from abuses. In practice, it’s hard to get wrongs righted if you don’t have a union. Unionized workers can call their union office if they suspect something’s not right in their workplace, and officials should be able to tell you what recourse you might have. If you’re disciplined, fired, or denied a promotion, the union can determine whether laws and contracts have been respected.

Wall: sky darkens for sunshine premier, August 11

The post-election sky of the Sunshine Premier has darkened as the spectre of economic collapse haunts him. Despite his glorious history making third term (finally humbling the CCF/NDP, the former natural governing party of the province), Wall’s fresh mandate in office has quickly become a nightmare.

For unions, sometimes a lockout is better than a strike, August 10

For many private sector employers, the lockout has become the offensive weapon of choice. Last year’s second-biggest private sector work stoppage, for instance, wasn’t a strike. It was the lockout of 2,200 United Steelworkers members at Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI). Lockouts are forced by employers, not called by unions. Too often unions are caught unprepared and lockouts end badly for our side. But with careful planning and a little jujitsu, workers can turn a lockout to their advantage. In fact, sometimes it’s even better than striking.

All work and no pay: The Phoenix debacle, August 9

By April, media outlets began reporting that Phoenix was causing pay issues. The National Executive Vice-President of the PSAC is quoted in CBC: “They’re simply not getting paid. They’re not getting paid on time. They’re not getting paid accurately.” Watching the Phoenix pay debacle unfold has been excruciating. These last few months have been flooded with SOS cries from our membership base. We’ve had calls from members who could not pay for their medication. Some have had to return vehicles to car dealerships. Some have had cell phones turned off, and others have defaulted on their mortgage payments. All because our employer is not paying us for our hours of work.

In Other News

What the Strike Meant to Us, in Our Own Words
CUPE 1989, August 7

After CUPE 1989 ratified our new contract, I said I would write about the intangible gains we made through our strike, the kind that aren’t written in the collective agreement. I’ve heard labour activists say that strikes are a “transformative experience” — a life-changing event — and now I know why. Standing up for ourselves, asserting our own rights, is a crucial part of every person’s development. But learning how to stand up collectively is a different level of power. For many of our members, the strike was their first time seeing themselves as part of something larger than themselves — seeing our union not just as 400 library workers who happen to work for the same employer, but as part of CUPE, and part of the labour movement itself.

Phoenix payroll debacle causing ‘significant stress’ and staffing challenges for coast guard | Seattle minimum-wage increase working for workers |
CBC News, August 12

Public servants caught in Ottawa’s Phoenix payroll fiasco are starting to express their frustration on the job. And the early signs of backlash are emerging at the Canadian Coast Guard. “We are aware of some crew being reluctant to take on additional hours of work [overtime] or responsibilities due to complications with their pay and the new system,” said Carole Saindon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Foreign workers are being exploited to grow medical marijuana here
Toronto Star, August 14

Last week Ottawa announced it was going to make it easier to bring in temporary foreign workers. More and more of what we produce in Canada relies on such workers. You can add marijuana to that list; and even if you don’t use it, this story involves you.

Liberals strike deal with tax agency union
Ottawa Citizen, August 12

The federal government has struck a tentative deal with employees at Canada’s tax agency that will boost their wages 5.75 per cent and abolish controversial severance payments that other public servants had already lost.

IMG_6622-970x400No End In Sight For Library Strike, August 11

It doesn’t look like the two sides in the Essex County library strike are going to be back at the bargaining table anytime soon. The library board meets on Wednesday and Chair Richard Meloche expects it will be decided then what adjustments need to be made to move past stalled talks.

Words but no action on port shutdown with laid-off workers now off the job
Thompson Citizen, August 11

he shutdown of the Port of Churchill by its owner OmniTrax Canada, a subsidiary of Denver-based OmniTrax, continues to be the focus of a lot of talk but not much action more than two weeks after workers there received layoff notices. “People in Churchill and the surrounding community are worried about their future, and the longer this drags on without a solution, the harder it is for them,” Flin Flon NDP MLA Tom Lindsey in an Aug. 10 news release, a couple of days after port workers finished their last shift.

U.S. discontent with NAFTA hangs over Canadian auto talks
Toronto Star, August 12

With the North American Free Trade Agreement under attack from both major candidates in the U.S. presidential election, these talks promise to be the most politicized in recent memory. The workers, represented by their union, Unifor, are essentially demanding that the three automakers locate enough new production in Canada to keep the big plants in cities like Oshawa, Windsor and Brampton open. The car companies have their usual arguments — that it is cheaper to assemble autos in either low-wage Mexico or the largely non-unionized U.S. South. But they are also operating within a political climate that is increasingly hostile to American firms willing to shift well-paying jobs from the U.S. to other countries.

Legal aid lawyers locked in legal battle with province over unionization
Toronto Star, August 13

For the past three years, Ontario’s legal aid staff lawyers have been attempting to unionize, arguing it would help them negotiate fair working conditions to better serve their clients. But Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), a provincial government agency, has refused to recognize their chosen union, and so employee and employer are now locked in a legal battle that could prove to be lengthy and expensive.

Taxi industry files $215M lawsuit against City of Ottawa
CBC News, August 12

The taxi industry has filed an uncertified class-action lawsuit for $215 million against the City of Ottawa over the new rules that will allow ride-hailing companies like Uber to operate next month. The largest lawsuit ever filed against the city, the statement of claim alleges that the city did not take “reasonable steps to maintain the integrity” of the taxi regulations in a way that would not financially harm taxi-plate owners. The city ignored the market value of taxi plates, causing financial losses to plate owners, the statement alleges.

So far, the Seattle minimum-wage increase is doing what it’s supposed to do
Washington Post, August 10

These outcomes fit comfortably into a view well understood by minimum-wage advocates and increasingly accepted by economists: most increases have their intended effect of lifting the pay of low-wage workers with little in the way of job losses. To be clear, the fact that the policy has its intended effect doesn’t mean every affected worker ends up ahead (there is no policy on Earth that is always and everywhere costless to its intended beneficiaries). It means that the vast majority of low-wage workers end up with higher earnings. Even if some workers lose some hours of work, their annual income often goes up (which, in fact, is another finding from the study).

Union says Now Magazine in position for work stoppage, management threatened to close publication
Financial Post, August 10

The union that represents employees at Toronto-based alternative newsweekly Now Magazine says the publication is in legal position for a work stoppage after CEO Alice Klein and management asked a provincial negotiator to issue a notice allowing the company to lock out staff as early as August 27. According to a memo sent to Now staff from its Unifor 87M bargaining committee on Monday, management has also repeatedly threatened to shut down the publication during talks with union negotiators and said that there will be layoffs “ranging from substantial (much or most of the staff) to total (complete closure).”

Ottawa poised to ease rules for temporary foreign worker program
Globe and Mail, August 10

The federal government is setting the stage for a loosening of temporary foreign worker rules after vocal complaints from Canadian employers that recent Conservative changes went too far. A Liberal-dominated House of Commons committee has completed a report on options for altering the controversial program and will make the recommendations public next month when Parliament resumes.

Torstar laying off more than 50 employees
CBC News, August 9

The company that owns the Toronto Star said Tuesday it is laying off more than 50 people, mostly from its newsroom and tablet edition, amid increasing pressure from declining print advertising revenue. Twenty-two employees, including 19 full-time workers in the Toronto Star newsroom, will be among those let go, said David Holland, Torstar’s acting president and publisher, in a memo sent to staff. Another 26 temporary staff working on Star Touch, the paper’s tablet app that launched in September 2015, will depart the company over the next couple of months, Holland said.

Father living off $3.32 an hour launches class action against energy giant
Toronto Star, August 8

For 18 months, Haidar Omarali says he was told when and where to work by multimillion-dollar utilities retailer Just Energy. He was told what to say to customers courtesy of a pre-written script, what to wear in the form of company branded clothing, and was trained, supervised and disciplined by his company. Sound like an employee to you? So it should, according to a new class-action lawsuit — the first of its kind in Canada.

Cancer survivor says ex-employer’s erratic pay has left her on the brink
Toronto Star, August 8

It’s now been a month since she’s been owed more than $1,500, she said. Her last paycheque was on July 1 — and it was incomplete, according to Cumming. She said late and only partial pay was a regular occurrence during her six months working in the Daynes household caring for their three children: correspondence dating back to May shared with the Star by Cumming show a series of gentle reminders and increasingly desperate pleas for regular pay.

Stelco Algoma merger: New bid tabled for U.S. Steel Canada
Hamilton Spectator, August 10

A spurned suitor is back with a new offer for the former Stelco. Ontario Steel Investments Limited, a unit of Essar Global, tabled an unsolicited binding offer for the Hamilton steelmaker Tuesday in an effort to get back into the bidding process after its first offer was rejected in June. As with its earlier bid, the company said its goal is to merge U.S. Steel Canada and its Algoma plant in Sault Ste. Marie into a new Canadian steelmaker.

rescue-efforts-following-the-heron-road-bridge-collapse1The Ottawa bridge collapse that shocked the world: ‘They didn’t have much time to scream
Ottawa Citizen, August 5

“This type of work is dangerous, and sometimes you don’t have any control over what happens. Sixty or 70 people rode that bridge down, and not one of them had any knowledge or control over that. That was fate. “I was one of the lucky ones. Some of the guys had pretty serious injuries and their lives were significantly altered. Mine wasn’t. I feel like the guy who missed his flight that crashed. Had he not decided to walk over to the engineer and foremen and listen to their discussion that day, things might well have ended differently. “Every time I cross that bridge,” says Davis, “I think of that two minutes. So far it’s given me 50 years. It was that two-minute walk that changed my life forever. Pretty lucky, eh?”

The Rank and File’s Paper of Record
Jacobin, August 11

Held together by the magazine, the handbooks, the conferences, day schools, a website, blog, weekly email updates, archives, and social media, the Labor Notes network is a twenty-first-century democratic current within what is still in many ways a mid-twentieth-century bureaucratic labor movement. Whether this network can evolve into the sort of militant minority that gave political coherence to labor upheavals in the past remains to be seen. But it’s clear that without the work of Labor Notes, that would not even be a possibility.

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