Your Voice e-newsletter v14.104

Your Voice On Human Rights

When union members talk about the impact of the union in their workplace, they often refer to the rugged, grievance-writing union rep who shows up in workplaces and at meetings preaching about the successes and challenges that working people face. People look to our union as a tool and a means of support for their everyday work issues like pay, scheduling, and seniority. Collective negotiating and a strong grievance procedure have often been the pillars of union support through which people can come together and fight for a common cause: the ability to feed our families.

Throughout the 60’s, 70’s, and all the way through the bulk of the 20th century, the fabric of our workplaces changed. The introduction of machinery created new efficiencies and saw the power of the hand replaced with the power of things like the wheel. Workers themselves changed, realizing that there were huge inequalities that existed in our workplaces. Unions fought for the principle that all people deserved a fair wage for the work that they do, regardless of whether they were African, Chinese, female, disabled or pregnant.

Unions recognized that there was a culture change that needed to occur if they were to survive. Workers who had previously been openly discriminated against needed to be represented and needed to realize dignity and respect at work. Modern day unions fought to create that change, but was it enough? Can we bank on older tactics to combat new and emerging issues?

The fact of the matter is that in the 21st century, we are seeing a whole new side of humanity to which unions are, frankly, reacting too slowly. The “old days” and the “old guard” of unionism is dying out and being replaced by a new face of labour. That new face has a focus on and need around human security – protection not only of the work that you do, but also the person that you are. Diversity and discrimination are taking a whole turn as an attack on the mind, or the differences that we cannot see like: mental health, gender identity, and/or sexuality.

UFCW Local 401 believes that recognising the value of diversity helps to build a stronger labour movement. We also know that respect for how a person defines themselves – whether on the basis of race, gender, religion, or sexuality – is a necessary part of success at work.

Most of us don’t have a choice about working. We need to work somewhere in order to pay our bills and build a life for ourselves. For many LGBT workers, that means enduring workplaces that disrespect the very basis of how they define themselves as people. And that’s not acceptable.

Unions have a role to play here. Respected workers are happy, productive, and successful workers. By providing support that addresses this sort of discrimination, we not only contribute to the success of workers facing discrimination, we also contribute to our success and growth as a labour movement.

UFCW Local 401 has been at the forefront of creating these sorts of shifts. We were the first UFCW local to march in pride parades, a decision that eventually lead to our union marching in every major pride parade in every province across Canada. Nationally, as a union with a mandate set towards growth, we are starting to engage community organizations and national LGBT advocates to connect with workers in those communities, discuss the issues that are important to them, and to explore what UFCW 401 can do for them both inside and outside of their workplaces. The road is long, but we have started our journey.

Regardless of the laws that governments pass or what employers might say, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is rampant and often crippling to affected individuals. The labour movement, whether active in those workplaces or not, must be an advocate for workers facing this discrimination.

At UFCW local 401, our firm message is:

  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights are human rights. Human rights are central to the very fabric of our movement. We cannot ignore this link.
  • As an organization, we need to reach out to members of the LGBT community in order to help those often-invisible workers whose rights are being trampled.
  • Discrimination against LGBT workers is no different from discrimination against people based on race, gender, disability and/or religion. ALL workers have the right to be protected and supported by their union and have their cases taken up, as appropriate, both individually and as a group.
  • Recruiting LGBT workers and activists helps make our union strong. It ensures we are engaging union activists who are truly reflective of the changing face of labour and allows us to reach out to all workers and communities.

By giving workers’ rights a human face, UFCW Local 401 places itself in a position to work with the communities in which its members live and with employers to combat discrimination at all levels. Challenging discrimination is not optional; nor is it an issue that is easily addressed with new language in a union contract. It is at the very core of what we do as a union.

We need to work in the LGBT community and with the LGBT organizations to talk about what UFCW Local 401 can do for LGBT workers. While employers and corporations fight to ensure that money and profits are the focal point of the global village, unions have a unique and pressing obligation to help the world realize that the human beings in every workplace are society’s greatest assets. And employees who are protected, safe, and successful, in turn help create successful businesses.
The workplaces of today are often a mosaic of humanity, ranging in culture, gender, social class and ability. All these people work together not only to create an efficient workplace, but also to bring about positive change in our towns and cities (if given the chance). Recognizing, honouring, and supporting that diversity will allow unions to fulfill their new, expanded role within society and make UFCW a real force and ally for workers across the province.

- Ricardo de Menezes

Aviscar Workers Win Improvements Of Which They Can Be Proud

Puzzle pieces

On Monday, March 3, Aviscar UFCW members voted in favour of ratifying their new Union Contract. 68% of the voting members voted to accept the offer that was reached through mediation.

Due to their strength and solidarity throughout the bargaining process, a number of improvements were made to their Union Contract and is a testament to what a union can accomplish with the strength and involvement of the membership.

Many of the gains in this contract will put more money in the pockets of UFCW members.

This 3-year agreement will see the members receiving a signing bonus in addition to retroactive pay from the expiry of the previous contract. Aviscar members will also receive a yearly increase to their wage and increases to both bereavement pay and boot allowances.

One of the unique increases to the contract is increased parking allowances for all UFCW members working out of the downtown Calgary AVIS location. With the outrageous cost of parking in Calgary’s city centre, this is a big monetary win for Aviscar workers and puts money back into their pockets.

The union bargaining committee also heard the members loud and clear by improving the leave of absence language along with gains in scheduling rights.

However exciting this news may be, it is also a stark reminder for this and every other employer out there that even with the improvements the union and its members achieved, the offer was not overwhelmingly accepted. Employers need to understand that employee demands are as important as they are diverse. Each and every proposal is important to the worker who submitted it and the bargaining committee and representatives of the union are not pulling these proposals out of thin air or out of a hat. These are important demands from their employees who seek not only to improve their workplace but their lives as well.

We extend a warm message of congratulations to Aviscar workers for what they have gained for themselves and for raising the bar for other workers in their industry.

- Lee Clarke

Unions and Their Relevance: A Personal Tale

Feet on rocks

I was raised in Atlantic Canada and don’t remember having much exposure to Unions as I was growing up. Though, my parents did belong to the Teachers Union and they came close to going on strike at least once when I was a child.

My first introduction to unions was during a hiatus from university in 1987. I had worked a summer job in Cambridge, Ontario at a concrete block factory and was being paid about eight dollars an hour. When I decided not to return to university I must have passed a probationary period because by mid-September I was a union member and my wage increased to over thirteen an hour for doing the exact same work. The significance was probably lost on my nineteen-year-old self; I was just happy to be making what seemed like a lot of money.

I guess when I look back on my working life I had always been consciously chasing union jobs because they paid the best of any jobs out there. When I left Boehmers Blocks, it would be four years until I made that kind of money again.

By the time I was twenty-three years old I landed in Banff, Alberta. I was looking for work and by this time had performed a variety of jobs. In the Maritimes, I’d never found work that paid much more than minimum wage and that had included: painting houses, landscaping, construction, swamping on delivery trucks, and bartending. All of those jobs had been non-union.

I met some people while working at McDonalds in Banff who told me how much they were making per hour at the grocery store in town: Safeway.

I was shocked to learn that they were making eighteen dollars an hour at a grocery store in 1992. I came from a background that included lots of non-union grocery stores. The world of Frank Sobey and a Loblaw subsidiary, Save-Easy, was built on non-union labour. Many of my friends had worked or were working in these stores and had never made much more than minimum wage, with part-time hours and no benefits.

I made it my mission to obtain employment at Safeway in Banff and the value of a union had finally come full-force into my consciousness. It was right there in black and white.

A bag of groceries didn’t cost much more or less in Nova Scotia than it did in Alberta at that time. Yet these Safeway stores could afford to pay their employees more than double what my friends made performing the same tasks at home. The only difference was they had a union at Safeways in Alberta.

I was hired by Safeway in August of 1992 and began my career as a courtesy clerk. I was promoted to the grocery department the following spring.

From the beginning, I knew things were different at Safeway because of the union. I had a voice in my workplace. I could question management decisions without fear of losing my job. I was paid properly and got regular raises without having to ask. There were rules that both employees and management had to follow and it made navigating the politics of the workplace much easier.

Before long, I got involved in my union and by extension involved in my community. Union involvement has given me a great deal of satisfaction over the years and I believe we belong to one of THE best labour organizations in North America.

Many will argue “Unions have had their day,” and “Unions are no longer necessary or relevant.” To them I respond: now more than ever!

Unions are needed and are, in fact, more important than they have been in many years. As companies become larger and larger through mergers and acquisitions, workers are increasingly seen as just a number on a ledger.

And the right-wing agenda attacking our hard fought victories is stronger than ever. Anti-worker legislation that seeks to undermine our right to collective negotiating and our right to strike, erode workplace safety, and even limit our freedoms of speech and association has been front and centre in recent years on the federal, provincial, and municipal level.

They are using our complacency over battles won in the past to try to strip our rights away by changing the very laws that protect those rights. If we don’t get active and fight back, the opportunities to which I had access as a youth will all but disappear for a new generation of Albertans and Canadians.

Workers such as us need to stand strong together to protect rights fought for in the past and make gains for future generations. Get involved in your local union. Get involved in your community. And get involved in local, provincial and federal politics.

You are needed and together we can make a difference!

- Dave Smith

Bargaining Unit Work Is Your Work!

One of the many benefits of working in a union shop is the protection of your work and the weekly number of hours you enjoy. Numerous Union Contracts (Collective Agreements) have language on who is entitled to work on the shop floor. Whether it is the new landmark language that was negotiated into the Real Canadian Superstore & Liquorstore contracts, or the existing language that is in other contracts such as Safeway, ABCRC, or Sobeys, your union is always at the forefront of protecting your jobs and hours of work.

You may hear some of your co-workers say things like, “I don’t want to do that job” or “I’m too busy to stock that bread” or “What’s the problem with that supervisor driving the forklift? They’re only helping the team”. The problem with all of these statements is: that work is your work.

Imagine if every outside vendor was allowed to stock the shelves in a Safeway store every week, for example. A good estimate would put this at almost 100 hours of your department’s work being eliminated from a store. And who would be affected by this reduction in hours? 2 full-time jobs would be gone in each store! Having that supervisor “help”, for even a half hour a day, can quickly add up to a significant loss of hours, which should be scheduled for union members.

These are yours and your co-workers’ hours. These are yours and your co-workers’ jobs. That work should be done by members of Local 401.

Each contract has its own specific language dealing with how bargaining unit work is to be done. Some contracts allow for a limited number of outside vendors to do work. Some contracts have specific penalties for any outside vendors doing bargaining unit work. Some contracts allow supervisors to do work under specific conditions. Be sure you know what your Collective Agreement says about limitations on who can do your work. It could mean the difference between having a job and not having a job. Or at the very least, it could mean the difference between having enough hours to pay your bills and support yourself and your loved ones or not.

Your union negotiates these clauses to protect you and your job. Become familiar with the language within your contract and if you see something that you don’t think is right talk to your Shop Steward or full-time Union Representative. Remember, you are the union and we are only as strong as we can be together.

- Larry Zima