Twenty-five years ago from this Saturday, December 6, a terrifying and defining moment occurred in Canadian history. On that day, a twenty-five year old man entered L’École Polytechnique in Montreal, QC and killed fourteen women simply because they were women.
In total, twenty-six people were shot as he entered classrooms and roamed the halls of the school “fighting feminism”, as he disturbingly put it. The rifle that was used to carry out this atrocity was legally acquired.
For some people, December 6 goes by each year without much notice. For others (and a growing number), December 6 marks a day for deep and difficult reflection on the state of violence against women in Canada and worldwide.
A number of recent events have brought a renewed focus on the prevalence of violence women in Canada. Here are just a few reasons why the number 6 in December 6 should be a number you remember and a date that doesn’t slip by unnoticed in your calendar.
6 – half of all women in Canada have experiences at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
6 – 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who been physically or sexually assaulted.
6 – 66% of female victims of sexual assault are under the age of 24 (11% are under the age of 11).
6 – In a 2009 Canadian national survey, women reported 460,000 incidents of sexual assault in just one year.
6 – 60% of women with a disability experience some form of violence.
6 – Almost 60% of all dating violence happens after the woman has broken off the relationship.
6 – on average, every 6 days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.
These are only a handful of the statistics around violence against women in Canada – just the ones that fit neatly into a theme around the number 6. Visit the Canadian Women’s Foundation to see all of the statistics.
The YWCA has recently launched its #notokay campaign to call out violence against women and UFCW Canada and all of its locals are proudly and passionately supporting the campaign as a way to address this troubling and unacceptable issue. You can visit http://notokay.ca to find out more about the campaign.
Regardless of how you choose to do so, please don’t let another December 6 pass you by unnoticed. Together, we can address violence against women in Canada and work to make 6 just another number.
December 3, 2014, marks the annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons first proclaimed by the United Nations in 1992. In Canada, around 3.8 million adults and children- about 14% of the population- are persons with a disability.
Of course, this 14% of our population has not fared well under the Harper government. The federal government has cut funding for agencies that service the disabled, which has further slashed support available to persons with a disability.
In a statement released earlier this week, UFCW National President, Paul R. Meinema sharply noted that, “while legislation such as the Employment Equity Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms address protections for persons with disabilities, the reality of living with a disability makes an individual further at risk of living below the poverty line, [these persons often also face] exclusion from entering the workforce because attitudinal barriers to accessibility still exist.”
As President of UFCW Local 401, I am proud to stand alongside our National President and state unequivocally that our union believes a person’s dignity and opportunity at work should never be compromised due to a disability. Further, as Alberta’s leading and most progressive union, on December 3, we renew our commitment to addressing difficulties at the workplace for persons with disabilities to ensure accessibility and human rights for all of our members.
This year was another history making year for the members and staff of OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect) at Walmart stores across America. OUR Walmart is an organization that was created by a multitude of labour organizations, community groups, and clergy to give Walmart employees the tools to stand up and fight back against the largest private sector company in the world.
The OUR Walmart campaign is directed towards the Walton family, who own Walmart, in a method of ‘moral-suasion,’ to ask the Waltons to treat their workers with dignity and respect, while paying the employees a living wage. Walmart is profiting around $16 billion annually, while the average associate makes under $25,000 a year. In addition to being paid a living wage, the employees wish to have consistent full-time hours, over the current average of 28 hours per workweek.
It was a few months ago that UFCW Local 401 Director of Organizing, Chris O’Halloran, suggested that as a Local 401 Union Organizer, I should gain experience by participating in the OUR Walmart grassroots movement, which is directed by some of the best organizers in North America. I had the great opportunity to work with the OUR Walmart campaign in Southern California from mid-September to mid-November 2014, where I learned how the campaign differs in processes from the traditional methods of organizing used for non-unionized employees.
While there, I found that Southern California is leading the way in Walmart actions by having some of the most active Walmart employees that participate in rallies, strikes, and other community events to successfully gain support from customers and other retailers in the region.
The OUR Walmart organization holds two major actions during the year: one is during the shareholders meeting, and one is during the weeks leading up to Black Friday (Walmart’s most profitable week of the year). This year, I was able to support the Southern California campaign leading to Black Friday, planning for which started months prior to the event.
Walmart has found a way to equally distribute desperation and fear amongst their employees, which makes it difficult to get employees to stand up against such a giant. However, there are many that have little to lose as they have already lost everything, including their homes. The stories of all Walmart workers I met during the campaign are unique but at the same time I found many similarities in the stories when it comes to the matters of workers needing payday loans and food stamps, missing bill payments, skipping meals, and some employees even living in the Walmart parking lot.
The Black Friday events were largely successful, with bigger than expected turnout. OUR Walmart members from across the state of California converged on two stores throughout the day on November 13, 2014 and sat down in the aisles to make a statement against the retailer. The message was clear, stop retaliating against employees who are brave enough to speak up about the issues in the workplace.
Following the sit-in at the second Walmart store, workers took over the corner of Washington and Paramount Boulevard, and shut down traffic in all directions. Police were in attendance to arrest those that refused to move from the intersection and close to 30 people were arrested that night. You can watch video of the action here.
During the week of Black Friday, OUR Walmart members took place in a hunger strike in addition to their Unfair Labour Practice strike. Employees wanted to show support for the many families that are forced to skip meals on a weekly basis just to get by. Following the hunger strike, Walmart workers, family, friends and community members broke bread together in an act of solidarity.
Over the years, Walmart has set the trend in retail of how long retailers should be open and on which days. Other companies often follow suit to remain competitive, which puts strain on working families who are at the mercy of these employers in scheduling their working hours. In addition, Walmart is known for cutting hours in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, so that families need the money more than ever and are forced to work the extended hours.
Fortunately, organizations like OUR Walmart have made it possible for members to stand up against their employer, while also being able to spend time with their families. This year the sales on Black Friday were down 11% over the major retailers, but more importantly, the media has made the connection between the events held by OUR Walmart and the potential impact on sales.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with the dedicated organizers at OUR Walmart, and I hope to use the information that I learned in future campaigns to benefit the UFCW Local 401 membership.
No one in this country should work full-time and still live in poverty.
In yet another instance of bargaining strong together, members at Rahr Malting ratified a new Union Contract on December 3 that represents a significant achievement by the bargaining committee.
Highlights of the new three-year Contract include:
As well, members will now be able to take their birthday off as a paid statutory holiday, or come in and work it at premium rates. Members will also receive lump sum increases to go along with retroactive pay increases in each year of the Contract. Of particular note, some Maintenance employees will receive nearly $4.00 per hour increase retroactively, as well as percentage increases going forward.
As always, UFCW Local 401 is proud to work with our committed and passionate members to win them the contract they deserve. Congratulations to the members at Rahr Malting on their great victory!