Labour News Update: November 21, 2016

Teamsters election | University of Manitoba strike | Essex library strike | Trudeau’s privatization schemes | Food bank usage skyrockets | Garbage collectors go on strike in Peel | Liberals preparing to attack pensions | Labatt to stop free beer for retirees | Kelowna transit strike | Employers nervous about Alberta WCB review | Manitoba labour under Pallister’s boot | GoodLife Fitness faces $60M class-action lawsuit over wages | Ombudsman asked to probe WSIB treatment of mentally ill | Supreme Court ruling bolsters Nova Scotia teachers in contract dispute | Toronto Mayor Tory, allies push ahead with plan to outsource garbage pickup and to privatize Toronto Hydro | Chronicle Herald strike hitting arts organizations hard| Oil refinery layoffs | Trudeau’s war on a small Alberta town | U.S. Labour movement braces for three-front battle with Trump, Congress and courts | Public support for public-private partnerships plummets |


Trudeau’s pro-business economic agenda, November 15

The fall fiscal update gave us a good idea of the economic model that Trudeau’s Liberals are gradually putting forward and it is business-friendly to the core. The infrastructure bank was the big news item in the fall fiscal update but there are far more goodies to make business happy tucked away in the update and in news from recent weeks. The Liberals plans for the economy are not just about being business-friendly today but about integrating government with business ever further, in ways harder for future governments to unwind. Theirs is a tweaked neoliberalism for an age of stagnation. The mantra remains the market and the state is there to support it.

Manitoba labour under Pallister’s boot, November 16

A major crisis is facing the labour movement and the left in Manitoba. Within the first six months of the Progressive Conservative provincial government’s four year mandate labour laws have been rolled back, cuts to civil service are being made and crucial jobs in Manitoba’s north could disappear. A consultant firm (KPMGLLP) know for advice in privatization of service is being brought in. Yet outside of some small groups like Solidarity Winnipeg and a demonstration by Unifor members at the Manitoba legislature, an organized response to the PC government has been noticeably absent.

Employers nervous about Alberta WCB review, November 17

Alberta is reviewing it workers’ compensation system for the first time in 15 years. A few weeks ago, Merit Contractors started a campaign with the basic message is that business is opposed to increased operating costs. This campaign is pretty typical of the corporate-conservative pushback against the New Democrats. Whether such a campaign resonates with employers is an open question. It paints employers as more concerned with their bottom line than their employees’ health and well-being. Supporting this campaign doesn’t exactly scream “we’re an employer of choice.”

Trudeau’s war on a small Alberta town, November 18

Selfie sticks were oddly missing on October 27 when senior federal government officials announced at a staff-only meeting that the Case Processing Centre (CPC) for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) would be relocated from the town of Vegreville to Edmonton, Alberta. It is a move the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum says will result in the responsible spending of taxpayer money, create more net jobs in Alberta, correct inefficiencies, and reduce processing times. It seems strange then that the Liberals didn’t choose to invite the media to what they considered to be such a positive announcement.

In Other News

‘I’m devastated’: Oil refinery workers learn their fate as layoff details revealed
CBC News, November 17

Unionized workers at the North Atlantic oil refinery in Placentia Bay emerged from an emotional and difficult meeting in Arnold’s Cove on Wednesday night after learning how a massive layoff will affect them. Nearly every job classification at the facility is coming under the knife, they say, with 107 of the nearly 400 unionized workers being laid off as a cost-cutting measure by NARL Refining.

university-of-manitoba-strikePeel CAS strike drags into 9th week with no end in sight
Toronto Star, November 16

Striking Peel Children’s Aid Society workers are in their ninth week on the picket line with no resolution in sight after the agency rejected the union’s call to send outstanding issues to binding arbitration. “Peel CAS’s refusal to consider what we believe is the best solution to this impasse calls into question both their motivation for prolonging this strike, as well as their commitment to the families we serve,” said intake worker Sonia Yung, president of CUPE local 4914.

Are the Liberals preparing to attack pensions in a way Harper’s Conservatives wouldn’t dare?
Press Progress, November 17

Will the Trudeau Liberals try to go where even Harper’s Conservatives never dared? Canada’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau quietly tabled a bill this week that would give Crown corporations and federal private-sector employers the power to unilaterally back out of their defined-benefit pension commitments. For both working and retired employees, the changes could mean dramatic reductions to retirement benefits they’ve paid into, budgeted around and assumed would be available for many years.

Teamsters United will continue to organize despite close loss to Hoffa
Teamsters United, November 17

As the ballots were tallied this week, we shocked the employers and the Hoffa-Hall slate and won the majority of the vote from Teamsters in the United States. Hoffa-Hall overtook our lead when the Teamsters Canada ballots were counted. Tomorrow, the Election Supervisor’s office will start to resolve the ballots that were challenged because of eligibility issues. The International Union vote count is nearing a close. The fight for our future is just beginning.

U of M strike: Students march on picket line as bargaining continues
CBC News, November 18

University of Manitoba students joined striking faculty members on the picket lines on Friday in a show of solidarity. “We invite all students to come fight for their education,” stated a call to action from the University of Manitoba Students Union, which represents 21,000 undergraduate students. The message from UMSU urging support for the University of Manitoba Faculty Association’s demands for workload protections echoed UMFA’s arguments that overworked professors mean lower quality education for students.

Striking Essex library workers going back to the table
CBC News, November 16

Striking library workers in Essex learned Wednesday that they are going back to the negotiating table at the end of the month. The union was notified by the library board that negotiations would resume in a letter. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Lori Wightman, of CUPE local 2974. “We’ve always been willing to go back to the table so we’re hoping they’re coming with some movement.” The library workers have been on strike for 146 days.

Trudeau Should Forget Infrastructure P3s and Support a People’s Bank
The Tyee, November 17

Traditional financing and procurement would be much better than being fleeced by P3 financing and user fees, but we can do better still. When it comes to alternatives to privatization, postal workers are pointing the way forward. For the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, who have been fighting off attempts to privatize Canada Post for decades, the alternative to a cash grab is based on their Delivering Community Power campaign.

GoodLife Fitness faces $60M class-action lawsuit over wages
Toronto Star, November 17

Corporate gym chain GoodLife Fitness has “systematically failed” to accurately compensate thousands of employees across Ontario for their hours of work and overtime, according to a new $60 million class-action lawsuit. The suit, filed by renowned labour law firm Goldblatt Partners, makes numerous allegations against the fitness giant with 166 locations across the province — including that its policies “fail to appropriately compensate” employees and create “an unlawful barrier to payment of overtime.”

Full impact of Kelowna transit strike now being felt
Global News, November 14

On the picket front, it looks like the striking transit drivers are getting ready for a long one. They’ve set up a makeshift camp in front of the depot on Hardy Road. The employer, First Canada, tells Global Okanagan it believes it made a fair offer last week and is willing to resume negotiations but says the ball’s in the drivers’ court. The picketers vow to ramp up their protest.

Labatt to stop free beer for retirees program
London Free Press, November 14

For decades, the cases of beer contained respect for past service and tools to build community. “It was good for the retirees and their neighbours and their families. It was good for everyone, I think,” said Labatt retiree Kevin Lomack. “It was something to give back to the communities.” In wartime, Labatt employees and retirees turned their vouchers in and had the company send beer to soldiers, said retiree Guy Harrington. “I don’t even drink beer. I give it to my kids and my friends.” But the free beer for Labatt retirees will stop flowing in a couple of years, the company confirmed Monday.

Garbage collectors go on strike in Peel, affecting 60 per cent of households
Toronto Star, November 17

Talks between LiUNA Local 183, the union representing the workers, and Emterra broke down Wednesday. Neither the company or the union are still at the table, a spokesman for LiUNA Local 183 said. LiUNA spokesman Jason Ottey said members of the union rejected management’s latest offer Tuesday evening and have not heard from them since. “We reached out to the company and said we’d like to sit down and talk, we’d like to continue negotiations and they never replied to our request,” Ottey said.

Chronicle Herald strike hitting arts organizations hard
Halifax Examiner, November 14

The newsroom strike at the Chronicle Herald, now in its tenth month, is hitting arts organizations in the pocketbook. “We’ve seen our [audience] numbers drop by half,” said Pamela Halstead, a director at the Valley Summer Theatre in Wolfville. “We’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars.” Halstead was speaking this morning at a press conference called by the Halifax Typographic Union. She was joined by other artists and union members. Halstead explained that Valley Summer Theatre has an audience of mostly rural and older people who are not on social media, and so therefore the theatre has relied almost entirely on the Chronicle Herald to promote itself.

Maple Leaf announces that Thamesford plant will be closed
London Free Press, November 15

Maple Leaf Foods is preparing to close its Thamesford plant as it shifts operations to a new Sofina facility in Mitchell, Ont. The small village of Thamesford is grieving as one of its longest and largest employers pulls out of Oxford. More than 400 people are employed at the Thamesford plant. “It’s all pretty new and pretty fresh, and completely unexpected, really. I couldn’t believe the phone call,” said Margaret Lupton, Mayor of Zorra Township.

Ombudsman asked to probe WSIB treatment of mentally ill
Toronto Star, November 14

Mentally ill workers are being systematically denied benefits because of discriminatory and unconstitutional practices at the province’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, according to a new complaint sent to Ontario’s government watchdog. The 138-page submission obtained by the Star calls for an investigation into the WSIB for its treatment of workers with chronic mental stress injuries due to workplace trauma. Such workers are not currently entitled to compensation — even though the board’s own independent appeals tribunal has already deemed the policy unconstitutional.

Public support for public-private partnerships plummets: Poll
Toronto Sun, November 14

Most Ontario residents want governments to stay away from public-private partnerships, according to a new poll. There is only 25% support for public-private partnerships when pursuing infrastructure development in Canada, says an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. The survey found that support for public-private partnerships dropped — from 70% to 25% — after the recent auditor general’s report showed that in the past decade, such deals have resulted in $8 billion in extra costs for the province.

Shipping disaster looms as UPS workers vote to strike
Yahoo News, November 14

Aircraft maintenance workers at United Parcel Service have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike in a decision that could paralyze shipments. About 80% of workers who are responsible for servicing UPS’s fleet of planes took part in the vote, and of those, 98% voted to authorize a strike. The decision comes after three years of negotiations with UPS over the workers’ wages and health benefits. If the workers go on strike, it could halt UPS’s global shipping operation.

Supreme Court ruling bolsters Nova Scotia teachers in contract dispute
Global News, November 14

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) says a recent a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada strengthens its position in an ongoing contract dispute with the provincial government. “It affirms what we’ve been saying all along, that the government can’t legislate away rights that have been bargained,” NSTU President Liette Doucet said.

Toronto Hydro cutting dividend to City of Toronto
Toronto Star, November 14

Toronto Hydro is slashing its annual dividend to the City of Toronto, blowing a $35-million hole in the city’s 2017 budget plan. Hydro on Monday announced the dividend, which has fluctuated between $25 million in 2010 and $56.25 million last year, will be $25 million. City council’s proposed budget plan to guide debate assumes $60 million from Hydro. If council spends the money anyhow, it translates into an additional 1.35-per-cent property tax hike. If council instead cuts spending to accommodate the lost revenue, there could be a major reduction in city services or poverty-reduction efforts.

Saskatchewan doctors now checking the fiscal health of patients
Leader Post, November 15

Family doctors in Saskatchewan are starting to ask their patients if they’ve ever had difficulty making ends meet at the end of the month. The question is the first step in a poverty screening tool — a new resource launched by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, eight of its provincial chapters, and the territories, in collaboration with the Centre for Effective Practice. “At least 40 per cent of the people who answer yes to the question will be living below the poverty line,” said Dr. Sally Mahood, a Regina family doctor and an associate professor of Family Medicine with the University of Saskatchewan.

Toronto Mayor Tory, allies push ahead with plan to outsource garbage pickup
Toronto Star, November 14

The mayor and council allies plan to push ahead with promises to outsource garbage collection east of Yonge St. ahead of an updated report on whether it will actually save the city money. Councillor Jaye Robinson, chair of the public works committee and a member of Tory’s executive, says she plans to request that city staff come back to a January meeting with options for outsourcing — including a process that would allow the union to bid for that work.

Food bank use on the rise in Canada, with ‘drastic’ surges in Nova Scotia, territories
CBC News, November 15

Food bank use in Canada is on the rise, and some provinces and territories have seen “drastic” surges in use since last year, a new report says. In March 2016, 863,492 people received food from a food bank in Canada, up 1.3 per cent from the same time last year, and 28 per cent from March 2008, according to the Hunger Count 2016 report from Food Banks Canada. Every province had an increase except Ontario and Manitoba, and some saw double-digit spikes.

Labor movement braces for three-front battle with Trump, Congress and courts
The Guardian, November 14

After spending tens of millions of dollars in hopes of electing Hillary Clinton, the labor movement fears that President-elect Donald Trump, the Republican-controlled Congress and the supreme court will be hostile to labor and take numerous steps to hobble unions. These steps can range from appointing a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that does business’s bidding to erasing an array of Obama administration regulations, including one making overtime pay available to millions more workers.

trump-building-changeWal-Mart Tells Workers: Don’t Download Labor Group’s Chat App
Wall Street Journal, November 15

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is discouraging store workers from downloading a smartphone app designed by OUR Walmart, an organization that advocates for higher pay and other benefits, as the battle between employers and labor groups increasingly shifts to social media. The app, released on Android phones Monday, allows Wal-Mart store employees to chat among themselves and receive advice on workplace policies or legal rights, said leaders from OUR Walmart on a conference call. The group declined to say how many people had downloaded the app, which it tested with about 200 users.

Workers remove Trump’s name from three New York City apartment buildings after residents petition
New York Daily News, November 16

Work crews began removing the President-elect’s name from three New York City apartment buildings where residents complained about the billionaire’s brand. The election didn’t go their way, but tenants in the Trump Place buildings along Riverside Drive still managed to vote Trump out, gathering 600 names on a “Dump the Trump name” petition saying that the new leader of the free world had to take a walk.

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