I am pleased to submit the following report on my Labour Council work, and on some key issues I wish to bring to your attention.
Strategic Priorities for our Labour Council
Last month, your Executive Board and Committee Chairs met to assess our progress toward the strategic priorities of our last term of office (2013-14) and identify new priorities for the next two years. In our last term of office, we had to worry about the threat of Tim Hudak and the 2014 municipal elections, and I’m proud of our achievements in those areas. We also made great strides in raising our Council’s profile and increasing communications with our members, though we agreed much more can be done. I was less satisfied with our progress towards making our Council more representative of the racial, cultural, and age diversity of our membership, and so we have decided to focus on this priority again this term, and I am determined to put more of our resources into action on this front. Of course, our biggest priority needs to be contributing to the defeat of the Harper government in 2015, and we have our work cut out for us in Waterloo Region, with four incumbent Conservatives to beat. We also resolved to work more on affiliating new unions to our Council, encourage all unions to engage in member-member communications, and work more closely with our elected municipal Council and School Board representatives on implementing progressive policies. You can read the details at www.wrlc.ca/our_priorities.
Labour Council Committees
Our newly-adopted Strategic Priorities will guide us through the next two years, but they are not an action plan: they are a lens through which we should assess all our opportunities for action as a Labour Council. I envision the majority of our Actions happening through our ten standing Committees. Our Elected Committee Chairs have committed to each holding at least four meetings per year, and our Executive members have committed to participating in at least one committee each. That will give us a good base for action, but of course that leaves plenty of room for more participation! I hope that all our delegates will try to find time to dedicate to a Committee. And our Committee work will be open to anyone who supports our goals: you don’t have to be a member of an affiliated union to join us. Our Committee Chairs are just now putting the finishing touches on clear descriptions of what each committee will do, and we will post them on our website for you to read shortly. We’d like to know your interests! Please let us know where you might be able to help out in the important work of this Council.
Preparing for the Federal Election
I spent this past weekend with three other members of our Executive at a CLC-sponsored conference for Labour Councils in Toronto. The CLC laid out its plan for the upcoming election to us, and the role they hope Labour Councils can play in it. First, the CLC will be reaching out to the over 3,000 union activists across the country who attended Election Preparation Conferences earlier this year, including the 200 people who attended the one at the Crowne Plaza in Kitchener in January. President Hassan Yussuff invited all these people to participate in a telephone town hall meeting with him on April 13th, and everyone in that call was encouraged to start preparing to take action in many ways. Next, Labour Councils will be asked to help distribute pamphlets focused on labour’s four issues for the election – health care, retirement security, child care, and good jobs – to union members in their region. Our own Executive has decided to recommend that we pay to book off an activist to reach out to our unions in May to do this work. Then, the CLC will be hosting follow-up meetings across the country in late May and June. We will be holding one on Monday, May 25th, at 7pm at the Crowne Plaza in Kitchener. Of course, the real work will be in talking to our work colleagues and friends and family about why they need to vote and help get us a change in government: that is where we need the active participation of all of you!
Minimum Wage and Labour Law Reform
Your first Vice President Lois Iles and I attended the OFL Executive Council meeting yesterday and were fully briefed on labour’s plans for action in the campaign to Fight for $15 and Fairness. This campaign will advocate for a minimum wage that would put full-time workers at 10% above the poverty line ($15/hr) and for changes to the employment standards and labour relations acts that would crack down on unfair labour practices in our province and make it easier to form unions to advocate for fairer working conditions. Labour needs to be at the front of this struggle, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our power will continue to be weakened if more and more people are forced to subsist in precarious jobs. Too many employers in this province get away without paying for sick time or overtime, using temp agencies to avoid paying benefits, hiring more part-timers when existing part-timers want more hours, and numerous other violations of what anyone would deem fair working conditions. The provincial government has promised a review of the relevant legislation, and we need to be ready not just to give input into their formal consultations, but make this a hot issue in our community. Next weekend, a free conference in Toronto will provide you with great information on this subject and enable you to help plan the provincial campaign: see www.ofl.ca/index.php/antipovertyassembly. Also, tomorrow will be the first of many actions in Waterloo Region on this issue: we’ll have a demonstration at Waterloo Square at noon. See www.wrlc.ca/fight_for_15_and_fairness.
Day of Mourning WSIB
Our annual Day of Mourning event will be on Tuesday, April 28th, at 10:30am, at Riverside Park in Cambridge. Several local politicians have confirmed their attendance, and our guest speaker will be from Threads of Life, and organization that supports and advocates for families who have suffered workplace deaths. I focused my remarks at last year’s event on the shameful treatment of injured workers by the WSIB, and there continues to be every reason to raise this as an urgent public issue in need of reform. As the OFL has revealed, the WSIB’s “experience rating” program continues to give rebates to companies under this program, including ones who were fined for safety violations causing workplace deaths. This story continues to gain traction, and we need to continue our advocacy until we get the changes workers deserve.
April 14, 2015