United Steelworkers Canada News Feed http://www.uswca.org/news/media-centre/articles/rss United Steelworkers Canada News Feed Wed, 23 Dec 2015 12:00:00 -0500 AMPS en hourly 1 USW District 6 Health Care Activists Mobilize in Canada and Prepare for More Action https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/district-6-health-care-activists-mobilize-in-canada-and-prepare-for-more-action Tue, 21 May 2019 10:54:39 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/district-6-health-care-activists-mobilize-in-canada-and-prepare-for-more-action D6HCWC

Approximately 30 USW health care members met to talk about the importance of bargaining and learn how the union approaches negotiating strategies to win the best possible contracts for its members. With health care workers having no right to strike in Canada, activists must use union organizing and other grassroots efforts to obtain the language and standards they need and deserve in an industry plagued with short staffing and workplace violence.   

“Right now, there’s not enough funding or resources to suffice the growing needs in the long-term care industry,” said District 6 Area Coordinator Richard Leblanc. “And the legislated process to resolve impasse during bargaining is broken, so we need to go back to the good old days of activating our membership.”

One major outcome of the council’s meeting was the creation of a subcommittee, which will focus on those mobilization efforts and begin forming an action plan to tackle the many issues health care workers need addressed, including burnout, standards of care, and the right to refuse unsafe work.

The activists in Ottawa last Thursday also rallied at an intersection near the office of Lisa MacLeod, a politician serving in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, to call for real fixes to these challenges. They handed out leaflets to drivers waiting at red lights as well as directly to MacLeod’s office.

“The private sector is not the answer,” said Audra Nixon, president of the District 6 Health Care Council. “Good public policy is, and that’s why we need to make our voices heard.”

For more photos from the event, click here.


CLC/UWCC Post-Secondary Scholarship https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/clcuwcc-post-secondary-scholarship Wed, 15 May 2019 14:26:31 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/clcuwcc-post-secondary-scholarship The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Young Workers Program and United Way Centraide Canada (UWCC) are pleased to present the annual CLC/UWCC Post-Secondary Scholarship.

The CLC and the UWCC are long-time partners in taking action to create prosperous, inclusive, diverse and respectful communities, safer workplaces, and a fairer Canada for working people. We recognize that post-secondary education provides important opportunities for young people but is out of reach for many working-class people due to ever-increasing tuition fees.

Young workers today are facing many social and workplace issues. However, many have taken these challenges as an opportunity to create positive change, and impact their communities for the better. This scholarship is offered in recognition of the efforts and commitment of young workers across Canada who have demonstrated commitment to positively impacting social and workplace issues in their community.

We are pleased to offer a scholarship in the amount of $2,500 to support a young activist who is starting their first year of full-time post-secondary study in September 2019.

Applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Current union member, or the child/dependent of a union member, that is affiliated to the CLC;
  • Age 30 or under as of September 1st, 2019;
  • Enrolled for September 2019 to enter their first year of full-time study at a Canadian public post-secondary institution: university program (leading to a degree) or college program (leading to a diploma or certificate);
  • Does not have any prior post-secondary studies; and
  • Currently enrolled or not more than two years out of secondary school.
The deadline for receipt of applications is Friday, June 7, 2019. This year’s winner will be announced at the end of June 2019.
For more information and to apply, please visit: https://canadianlabour.ca/scholarship
Join the International Campaign for a New Social Contract for Working People https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/join-international-campaign-for-social-contract Mon, 13 May 2019 12:20:04 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/join-international-campaign-for-social-contract Cartoon image of people holding signs and a banner

Sign ITUC’s petition calling for a fair deal for all working people

We know the economy is rigged against workers: people are disenchanted with a model of globalization that has put profit ahead of people.

On the 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organization, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for a fair deal for all working people.

ITUC is calling on the ILO to include a New Social Contract in its centenary declaration. That means:

  • Rights for all workers, whatever employment arrangements they have.
  • Fairer wages, including minimum wages on which people can live in decency.
  • More control for people over their working time and more oversight over their bosses to make sure they can’t discriminate or evade responsibilities.
  • Building justice into the climate and technology transitions.

It’s time to make the economy work for everybody.

Sign ITUC’s petition for a New Social Contract to ensure a fairer deal that puts people, not corporate greed, back in the driver’s seat.

USW is affiliated to the ITUC as members of IndustriALL and Workers Uniting.

Remembering Westray https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/27-years-after-westray Wed, 08 May 2019 15:23:04 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/27-years-after-westray Westray25

In the early morning of May 9, 1992, an explosion ripped through the Westray coal mine in Plymouth, Nova Scotia, killing all twenty-six miners working the night shift. This explosion not only took the lives of those twenty-six men but it changed the lives, forever, of so many more. Families, friends, co-workers and the communities around the mine collectively suffered the loss. Wives lost husbands, children lost fathers, and others lost brothers. 

What will always stay with me is the story of a young woman who lost her father that day. Many years later, now a mother herself, she told me of how she was waiting that morning for her father to come home with a cake. May 9th is her birthday. Every year, as she celebrates another year in her life, she remembers the terrible day when her father was taken away from her. It is for her and all the other victims of Westray that we continue our fight for justice. 

The Westray Mine disaster was a totally preventable tragedy. The inquiry that followed pointed to greed, incompetence and total disregard for the health and safety of the workers. The presiding judge, Justice Richard, pointed out that criminal law did not provide an avenue to properly punish those responsible, and that the law should change. After a decade of lobbying by the USW, the law did in fact change to allow for the criminal prosecution of employers who blatantly disregard the well-being of workers. The union continues to press for the prosecution and conviction of such employers. 

It has now been twenty-seven years since that tragic day in Pictou Country, Nova Scotia. Since that time, around one thousand workers a year have lost their lives because of their work. Thousands more have suffered life-altering injuries, and the toll of occupational disease is often under reported. 

On the National Day of Mourning, we say “Mourn the Dead, Fight for the Living”. In reality, this is what we do every day. We will never stop our fight for justice, and we will never let the death of those twenty-six miners be in vain. 

USW National Director Ken Neumann's Statement (PDF)

The struggle for an ombudsperson “with teeth” continues in streets of Toronto https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/the-struggle-for-an-ombudsperson-with-teeth-continues-in-streets-of-toronto Wed, 08 May 2019 11:36:37 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/the-struggle-for-an-ombudsperson-with-teeth-continues-in-streets-of-toronto The drizzle and cold weather did not discourage human rights activists from attending an urgent event in Christie Pits Park in Toronto, on May 4. Along with other prominent Canadian human rights organizations, the United Steelworkers union was present to call on the federal government to appoint an ombudsperson with real power to investigate corporate abuses abroad.

Government officials claim that this was achieved last month – more than 15 months after an initial announcement. The proposed powers of the new Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) have been stripped; it currently does not have any real independence or power to compel evidence from Canadian companies operating abroad who have been accused of human rights abuses.

In the announcement, Minister of International Trade Jim Carr said that a study is underway to assess the extent of those powers, but nothing indicates that the upcoming results will be sufficient. Trade unionists know for a fact that companies will not respect labour rights unless there is a strong framework in place to regulate their actions. Relying on the good will of corporations does not work. And stripping the office of all powers sends a clear message to people who have had their labour rights violated by Canadian mining companies: Don’t expect your concerns to be taken seriously.

As the colourful contingent of protesters marched through made it loud and clear, we will continue to push the federal government to be on the side of communities and not cave under the pressure of corporate lobbyists.

Labour a Key Partner in a Canadian Green New Deal https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/labour-a-key-partner-in-canadian-green-new-deal Mon, 06 May 2019 15:19:19 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/labour-a-key-partner-in-canadian-green-new-deal

In a month where unprecedented floods have ravaged many Canadian communities, the immediate perils of climate change have never been more evident. At the same time, the news is full of reports underlining the economic anxiety felt by many Canadians. One recent poll showed that nearly half of us fear that we’re only $200 away from personal bankruptcy.

South of the border, some U.S. progressives have started floating the idea of a “Green New Deal” — a modern version of President Roosevelt’s historic effort to restore prosperity to America coming out of the Great Depression. Though the idea is still nascent, the core of the Green New Deal concept is to arrest the creeping catastrophe of climate change by decarbonizing the American economy through massive investments in green jobs and infrastructure.

For now, the Green New Deal discussion is in its early stages: an ambition designed to reconcile the often false dichotomy created between economic and environmental priorities. Much work remains to be done, both when it comes to policy specifics and building broad coalitions of political support. The same applies here in Canada.

While Canadians should seek to harness the momentum created by our progressively minded American counterparts, we must generate our own, “Made in Canada” approach. Canada, after all, never had a New Deal. More importantly, our economy and history are distinct and the challenges we face — both in fighting climate change and winning a just transition for workers — are unique.

Designing our own solutions also gives us the opportunity to learn from any missteps south of the border. The lukewarm response from much of the American labour movement to the Green New Deal resolution currently before the U.S. House of Representatives illustrates why co-operation between unions and environmental activists is essential in the work ahead. Labour will be absolutely critical to the success of any effort in Canada.

Our urgently needed transition to a low carbon future won’t be achieved without the support of Canadian workers. That support can and should be won through a plan that guarantees them a just, fair and prosperous future. We can build a formidable coalition to fight climate change by bringing together unlikely allies to reconcile environmental necessities with economic priorities. A partnership between unions and environmentalists may also allow us to break the gridlock of Canada’s current climate discussion, which has been focused almost exclusively in two areas: pipelines and carbon taxes.

Though a juicy target from the point of view of many in the environmental movement, the overriding emphasis on pipelines often serves to alienate workers who see job losses on the horizon. We must remember that jobs connected to energy intensive industries and fossil fuel extraction are good jobs that provide a decent standard of living to Canadian workers. Moreover, in an age of where affordability concerns are rampant, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that carbon taxes have become a popular target for those resisting climate action.

Clearly, an alternative route is needed. And, however we ultimately decide to label it, a Canadian Green New Deal could offer us an exit from this cul-de-sac by putting the concerns of labour and environmental groups to work in a mutually reinforcing way.

The transformative task of greening our economy for a new generation will ultimately depend on the skills and expertise of workers throughout Canada. From pipefitters and electrical engineers; from steelworkers to construction professionals, care workers, teachers, machinists and others, a just transition will require a monumental effort across the country. Millions of good jobs can be created in the process.

Well over a decade ago, we were involved in the creation of Blue Green Canada — an initiative that emerged to address historic mistrust between trade unions and environmentalists. In the years since, friends and allies on both sides of the equation have worked hard to strengthen relations. Once a novel idea, co-operation between union and environmental activists has increasingly entered the mainstream. In the emerging and urgently needed climate discussion, those bonds can become frayed once again or they can be strengthened for a new century.

To win climate progress in Canada and safeguard the future of our planet, let’s make sure it’s the latter.

Rick Smith is executive director of the Broadbent Institute. Ken Neumann is the United Steelworkers national director for Canada.

This article was originally published in The Toronto Star on May 1, 2019.

Grand Solidarity March for ABI workers! https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/grand-solidarity-march-for-abi-workers Fri, 03 May 2019 11:08:50 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/grand-solidarity-march-for-abi-workers On May 25, D6 Steelworkers are making the trip to Trois-Rivières, Québec to bring solidarity from our district to the locked-out members at ABI. These 1,030 workers have been locked-out of their jobs at the smelter for 15-months!

For anyone at the National Policy Conference in April, a real highlight was hearing from USW Local 9700 President Clément Masse who spoke passionately about members’ determination to stand strong against concessionary demands by the employer and a right-wing provincial government. Many of us have been there and can relate to this fight.

Steelworkers locals and conference delegates generously donated more than $100,000 for locked-out workers. The outpouring of solidarity is part of what makes our union great!

Now let’s express our solidarity in the streets and show Alcoa and Rio Tinto (who own ABI) that this fight is with the whole union!

That’s why we are headed to Trois-Rivières on May 25 for the Grand Solidarity March. Thousands and thousands of us will take to the streets in support of ABI workers and their families. The march starts at 10:30 a.m. and the exact location is still being determined.

Interested in arranging a bus to Trois-Rivières? Please get in touch with Tony DePaulo at the district office – 416-243-8792 or d6@usw.ca

We hope to see you in Trois-Rivières on May 25!

Day of Mourning https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/day-of-mourning Fri, 26 Apr 2019 15:00:00 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/day-of-mourning Message from Director Steve Hunt

APRIL 28TH Day of Mourning

Close to 1,000 workers in Canada die on the job every year.

Case after case shows that many of these deaths are preventable yet they still resulted in no Criminal Code charges, sometimes barely mustering a slap on the wrist or a fine that employers dismiss as the cost of doing business.

The law has been on the books since the United Steelworkers successfully lobbied to make the Westray Law a reality by making employer negligence contributing to a worker’s death or serious injury be treated as a criminal offence. But we have more work to do to make police, prosecutors and health and safety regulators aware and equipped to enforce it.

That is why we need to keep asking questions. Why are some police agencies willing to use the law while others are not? Why are health and safety agencies reluctant to work with police? Why are Crown attorneys avoiding prosecutions?  When asked if we are “looking to put every CEO in jail?” -  the answer is no. However, just like other criminal laws, we know the power of deterrence is critical to see the societal change necessary to keep our members and other workers alive.

We are starting to see progress being made with police protocols in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland- Labrador.  Today we have witnessed the successful prosecution of criminal charges filed under the Westray Law.  The work of USW activists and allies are making change a reality.

More charges are being laid across the country. More regulators and police are co-operating. Employers’ lawyers are warning them they too could face prosecution for failing to respect workers’ health and safety. 

In British Columbia Premier John Horgan has pledged to ensure police and prosecutors have the resources they need to enforce the Westray Law.  We are making change. But, as long as too many employers are still getting away with fines, the fight has to continue.

Without pressure from USW members across Canada, we know that workplace deaths will not get the law enforcement attention they deserve and Crown prosecutors will continue to treat this as a regulatory issue and not a criminal one.

It’s far from perfect, and more work remains to be done, but Steelworkers can be proud that they have improved and saved the lives of working Canadians, union and non-union alike. Equally important, we have trained hundreds of health and safety activists who work every day to keep our members safe. We’ve trained even more to lobby and be politically active to ensure workers’ voices are heard by politicians of every stripe. Because if we don’t fight, who will? 

We know every day that the laws that protect workers’ health and safety are meaningless unless they are enforced.   That is why we keep fighting.  So this April 28th yes we mourn for the dead, but we will rededicate ourselves to continue to fight for the living and keep our members safe on the job.


Neo-Liberals Are Not the Answer to Growing Populism https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/neo-liberals-not-the-answer-to-populism Thu, 28 Mar 2019 13:03:31 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/neo-liberals-not-the-answer-to-populism Remarks by USW National Director Ken Neumann at the Broadbent Institute Progress Summit, March 28, 2019.

Thank you.

My name is Ken Neumann. I’m the National Director of the United Steelworkers.

The Abacus Data polling results concretely show that the affordability gap in Canada is increasing.

It clearly shows that Canadians are increasingly anxious about their economic wellbeing. This should not be a surprise to anyone here.

Housing is becoming less affordable. Transportation and auto insurance, prescription medications, tuition for colleges and universities – all are getting more expensive.

People understand that they are falling further and further behind.

And they recognize that their children will be in even more trouble.

This data shows in graphic detail what we all know: Canadians are getting increasingly worried about their financial situation.

In fact, 74% of these Canadians tell us their income is not enough to even cover their “day-to-day” expenses.

This anxiety is real.

This lack of affordability is real.

The decline in living standards is real.

The deep concern people have for their children’s future is real.

The impacts are real, they are profound, and they are heartbreaking.

What we have documented is the subjective, personal impact of the changing economic reality in this country. The real, lived experience of everyday Canadians.

However, we should not be framing this as an “affordability crisis.”

By doing so, we solely focus on the symptom – the economic bind on individuals – rather than the conditions that create this bind.

Focusing on the symptom fails to identify the culprit. It fails to identify why Canadian workers and families are struggling economically, even when the economy is actually growing.

By focusing on an “affordability crisis,” we suggest the solutions are to be found in the situation facing the family under pressure. This often obscures any search for a real cause.

This approach would lead us to fine-tune the specific situation of individual families, rather than understand that the situation is created by economic forces that are not natural, but human-made and based on government decisions.

The real frame, of course, is growing inequality.

If we are interested in more than the ‘psychology of economic decline,’ we should NOT be talking about affordability.

We should rather be talking about inequality and wage stagnation.

We all know that inequality in Canada has been increasing for decades.

The average Canadian CEO today makes 197 times the wage of the average worker. 

Yet for years, real wages in Canada have completely stagnated.

Growing inequality is structural and severe: Canada’s 87 richest families own more than the lowest-earning 12 million Canadians – combined!

But the problem is not just the wealthiest one percent. Inequality is a much broader problem than that.

While real wages have stayed flat, the return on capital has been increasing rapidly.

So, real estate prices, spurred on by greater wealth and more and more speculation, continue to spiral upwards in Canada’s largest cities, while more and more workers simply cannot afford to buy their first house, or pay the rent.

Wages for Canadian workers no longer provide the security they once did.

Traditionally, wages are in virtual lock-step with productivity.

That makes sense. As labour produces more value, workers get a comparable share of the value.

However, this is no longer true today. 

Throughout most of modern times, Canadian productivity has increased at a relatively stable pace. This is true right up to today.

However, in recent decades real wages have stagnated and have not even come close to following productivity increases.

The inevitable structural result is what we see now: affordability problems at the individual level.

And the real problem with framing the issue as an “affordability” gap is that it doesn’t suggest the solution – a way forward.

It provides no real solutions for those analyzing the problem.

And no constructive way forward for those living the reality of this problem.

As the Abacus data shows, many Canadians believe the solution to their affordability problem is lower taxes.

Lowering taxes is NOT a solution. Rather, it intensifies many of the affordability problems across society.

If we look through a glass darkly at the data, we can see that Canadians already sense the problem is not simply “affordability,” but involves profound inequality.

An overwhelming 80% of Canadians believe “the people at the top are making more and more, and everyone else is just struggling to get by.

And, 71% say that inequality – the gap between them and the 1% – is getting ‘worse’ or ‘much worse.’

They are pointing to a concept of ‘equity’ not just ‘affordability.’

This points to the need for solutions beyond a band-aid to the family that is being ‘squeezed.’

Recognizing the structural component, radical changes are needed to our tax system, to reverse the growing inequality in our society. And consider new ideas appropriate to today.

We need to look seriously at increasing the top marginal tax rate – reversing the drop in that rate that started under Brian Mulroney.

We have to consider estate taxes in this country. We need to talk about taxing wealth in Canada, and get serious on tax avoidance.

Ideas such as a Financial Transaction Tax need to be developed.

This is where we as ‘civil society’ come in.

While politicians and parties can champion real change towards more equal taxes, the groundwork for radical changes – like dramatic marginal rates, a transaction tax or a wealth tax – needs to become more accepted in the general public. This requires commitment by civil society and progressives, including debate, education and choosing parties that are committed to transforming inequality.

What we don’t need is what we now have: a neo-liberal federal government that says it “feels the pain” of the affordability crisis.

A government that loves the slogan, “the middle-class – and those wanting to join it,” while at the same time reinforcing the pillars of structural inequality.

From half-measures on stock options, to one regressive trade deal after another.

More galling than anything is the Liberal government’s touchstone of progressive validation. Their so-called “middle-class tax cut.”

Well, this middle-class tax cut gives you $680-a-year if your income is $200,000.

But if, you’re at the median income of $50,000, you get a lousy $71.

And if you earn only $45,000?

Well, you get zero from this so-called ‘middle-class tax cut.’

As we come to the end of Trudeau’s majority government, we find that inequality is unchanged from four years ago.

And we’re still waiting for a national childcare program.

And I don’t know about you – but I don’t see a truly universal public pharmacare program in the Liberal plans any time soon.

More importantly – it has become as clear as it could possibly be, that first and foremost, the Liberals pay greatest attention to the loudest voices in corporate Canada when they make policy decisions.

So workers and their families become cynical. That’s what happens when neo-liberal governments cloak themselves in socially progressive values.

People hear a Liberal government say it wants to “stand up for the middle class.”

Then they see a Prime Minister beholden to corporate Canada.

Workers’ real-life experiences are proving to them that their lives are NOT getting better. 

Viewing our neighbours to the south these days, we can see how these things can get dangerous.

Disaffected, cynical, frustrated workers are vulnerable to right-wing populists who tell them what they want to hear… who can channel their anger and frustration.

If we want to avoid this in Canada, we need to get serious about reforming our tax system.

We need to address wage stagnation.

We must strengthen the universal public services that Canadians need in order to make ends meet.

As Ed Broadbent wrote just a few days ago, the antidote to such populism is not the complacency of the neo-liberal centre.

The solution, Ed reminded us, lies in “a passionately democratic and pro-pluralist left – championing the interests of ordinary people and acting as their voice against prejudice, inequality and the domination of extreme wealth.”

Thank you.

USW Works to Safeguard Canadian Steel Jobs https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/usw-works-to-safeguard-canadian-steel-jobs Mon, 11 Mar 2019 09:41:31 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/usw-works-to-safeguard-canadian-steel-jobs USW is part of a coordinated industry effort to preserve good Canadian jobs in the steel sector, calling on the federal government to keep current steel industry safeguards in place.

“We need decisive action by this government to preserve 22,000 direct steel jobs and the 100,000 indirect jobs that come from the steel sector,” said USW National Director Ken Neumann. “The importance of these safeguards cannot be overstated – Canadian workers and their jobs must not be fodder in an international trade dispute.”

USW has been working alongside the Canadian Steel Producers Association to press the government to impose safeguards, similar to those introduced by the European Union, in response to the heavy U.S. tariffs.

The Canadian government imposed provisional safeguards back in October for a period of 200 days, after significant pressure from the union and industry. USW recently testified at the Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) that Canadian workers and producers are facing job losses and considerable uncertainty as a result of foreign steel imported into the Canadian market and the imposition of 25% U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel.

The CITT will make a ruling on the safeguards on April 3 and a final government decision on whether to keep them in place is expected for early May.

USW has actively been calling on the government to maintain the safeguards for three years in order to stabilize the sector. 

Do you work in the steel sector? Share your story on Twitter or Facebook and join our social media campaign by using the hashtag #safeguardCDNjobs.

Take action now – send a letter to federal Minister of Finance Bill Morneau and urge him to make the steel safeguards final: www.usw.ca/act/campaigns/safeguard-steel-jobs

Humanity Fund: Young Musicians of the World https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/humanity-fund Mon, 25 Feb 2019 11:38:29 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/humanity-fund imageaSince 2016, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund supports the Young Musicians of the World music school in the Kitcisakik Anicinape First Nations community, near Val d’Or, Québec. The goal of this unique project is to foster the personal development of children and teenagers through musical learning. Watch this short video (with English subtitles) to learn more about this initiative.

Watch the video

Brian Corcoran Wins 2017 Lynn Williams Award https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/brian-corcoran-wins-2017-lynn-williams-award Tue, 05 Feb 2019 12:00:00 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/brian-corcoran-wins-2017-lynn-williams-award Labrador City, N.L. – It was a pleasure to attend the annual SOAR Chapter 6-SA2 Christmas dinner and dance on Dec. 14 2018. I was there to present the Lynn Williams Award for Service to Chapter President Brian Corcoran. People could not have been friendlier and more accommodating to me and the fact that all former presidents of the chapter were in attendance made the event especially memorable.

The Canadian Lynn Williams Award is open annually to all chapters in Canada to nominate a person whom they believe has demonstrated exemplary service to the membership and community in keeping with SOAR’s constitutional mandate.

The Canadian SOAR executive considers all written submissions and votes by secret ballot to select a winner. Each year the selection become more difficult as the number of quality nominees increases annually.

Brian Corcoran is well-known in his community for his selfless service to others. For many years he has served as President of his Canadian Legion Branch as well as President of SOAR Chapter 6-SA2, where he keeps members well-informed of political and social issues and activism.

Brian’s contributions to his community are too numerous to list, but here are a few examples. He is the go-to person for any senior who has problems with their social security pension or benefits, helping them navigate the complexities of government bureaucracies. He negotiates reduced air fares for seniors and others facing medical emergencies, given that residents of remote Wabush and Labrador City often must fly out of the community for treatment. There is not a community event or a fundraising effort that takes place without Brian’s active participation.

Brian is in every respect the epitome of what Lynn Williams envisaged a SOAR chapter leader to be. He is a worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

Health Care Activists Advocate Universal Pharmacare on Parliament Hill https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/health-care-activists-advocate-universal-pharmacare-on-parliament-hill Tue, 05 Feb 2019 10:36:28 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/health-care-activists-advocate-universal-pharmacare-on-parliament-hill More than 100 public health care advocates, including members of the United Steelworkers, visited MPs on Parliament Hill last week to push for universal public pharmacare.   

While we in Canada currently enjoy universal health care, this currently does not include prescription medications, with levels of drug coverage varying across the country. This patchwork system leaves many Canadians paying out of pocket for prescription drugs. 

Nearly one in four Canadians reported that they or someone in their household did not take their medications as prescribed in the past 12 months because of cost, according to information distributed by the Canadian Department of Finance in June 2018. An estimated one million Canadians were forced to cut back on food or heating in order to afford prescription medications. 

Momentum has been building for universal prescription drug coverage. The federal government appointed an advisory council last year to research options for how to implement such a system. It is due to receive the final report in spring 2019.  Pharmacare will be an issue in the Canadian federal election, scheduled for October 2019. 

Activists scheduled more than 100 meetings with MPs and other officials on Jan. 29 to advocate for national pharmacare that meets five core principles: that it be comprehensive, affordable, accessible, publicly funded and publicly administered. 

To read more about the lobbying effort, click here and here.

USW Takes Part in Week of Solidarity with Garment Workers in Bangladesh https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/usw-takes-part-in-the-week-of-solidarity-with-garment-workers-in-bangladesh Fri, 01 Feb 2019 14:11:30 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/usw-takes-part-in-the-week-of-solidarity-with-garment-workers-in-bangladesh image

Bangladeshi garment workers are telling us that more than five years after the Rana Plaza disaster the struggle for better and safer working conditions in Bangladesh is ongoing.

The United Steelworkers union is one of the many voices asking Bangladesh to effectively implement the Bangladesh Accord for Building and Fire Safety, which would make the textile and garment industry safer for workers there. For the past two months, garment workers have been taking to the streets in massive numbers to demand a decent living wage for their work.

The protests have been met with violence and repression by Bangladeshi authorities. As part of a worldwide week of solidarity, USW urges Bangladesh to respect labour rights and to stop repression against garment workers. 

Click here to read a letter from Ken Neumann to the Bangladesh High Commission in Ottawa.

What Happened to (Real) Wage Growth? https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/what-happened-to-real-wage-growth Fri, 01 Feb 2019 10:42:19 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/what-happened-to-real-wage-growth The Canadian economy saw improvements in 2016, in comparison to 2015, growing at 1.4%, but well behind its 2.6% average growth in 2013-2014. In 2017, economic growth exploded to 3%, only to slow down in 2018 to 2%. During this period, the unemployment rate declined from 7.2% in January of 2016 to 5.6% in December of 2018 – the lowest unemployment rate Canadian workers have seen since the late '70s. With the economy performing at full capacity, and the labour market in a state of virtual full employment, the Bank of Canada has increased the overnight interest rate five times since January 2016, hoping to maintain inflation expectations within the target range of 1-to-3%. While the Bank of Canada has cited the increased debt load that Canadians are carrying as well as snail’s-paced wage growth as causes for concern, it has continued to hike up interest rates so it has room to manoeuvre and ‘hike down’ when the next economic downturn emerges. Although the necessity of continuing to hike interest rates is questionable, given the concerns cited by the Bank of Canada and mild inflation, one thing is certain: increasing interest rates risk slowing down economic growth, and with it, eliminating the existence of tight labour markets, conditions in which workers’ bargaining power is generally in a more favourable position. 

What happened to my wages?

While the unemployment rate has declined to rates unseen since the late ‘70s, workers’ real wages have largely remained stagnant during this period.

Figure I: Non-Management Nominal Wage Growth, 2016-2018


In standard economics approaches, a tightening labour market and a subsequent scarcity of jobs generally translates into workers’ wages being bid up by employers. As employers race to find workers from a shrinking supply, they try to outbid other employers as a means to secure workers' services. In other words, tightening labour markets are generally conducive to workers’ bargaining power, as workers have plenty of options to sell their capacity to work. For workers, tight labour markets mean it’s a sellers’ market. Figure I, above, broadly captures this trend. From January 2016 to December 2018, the unemployment rate declined 7.2% to 5.6%. During this time, non-management workers’ nominal wages―the money price of their wages―increased by 5.6%. Most of the wage growth that workers experienced occurred in late 2017 to early 2018. It would appear that workers largely benefited and saw their living standards increase in the previous three years. During the same period, however, workers’ real wages – wages adjusted for inflation, i.e., purchasing power have stagnated. [See Figure II, below] While, since January 2016, nominal wages for non-management workers (80% of the population) have grown 5.6%, real wages have grown by less than 0.5% (0.37%). Real wage growth for workers in traditional industries was particularly bad; blue collar workers[1] saw their wages decline by half a percent, while workers in manufacturing saw their real wages decline by 1.26%.

Although workers as a whole have seen their wages stagnate – and decline in some cases – in the past few years, some workers have seen their real wages increase. Those in the bottom 20%[2], most of whom either directly or indirectly benefited from some type of minimum wage increase across a number of provincial jurisdictions, saw their real wages increase by 3.54%, while the bottom 40%[3] saw real wage increases of 1.57%. Non-management workers employed in sales and service occupations, a group which benefited directly and indirectly from minimum wage increases, saw an increase of nearly 4% in real wages.

In global terms, workers continue to make essentially the same amount of money – in purchasing power terms – in 2019 as they did in January 2016. While those at the bottom end of the labour market saw their real wages increase, this was arguably due more to political intervention in the form of legislated minimum wage hikes and its spillover effects than to the natural workings of the forces of supply and demand of the market.   

During the same period, management, which composes approximately 9% of the population, saw their nominal wages grow by 10.2% and their real wages increase by 4.7%. Senior managers (CEOs, CFOs, VPs etc.), who compose 0.29% of the employed population, have seen their nominal wages grow by 17.6% and their real wages grow by 11.64%. While the vast majority saw their wages stagnate, those in the top 10% and 1% saw their purchasing power increase.


Why has this been the case? Why has workers’ purchasing power stagnated in the face of an expanding economy and tightening labour market—a condition which is generally conducive for workers’ real wages to grow? The business press, bank economists and even the Bank of Canada can’t seem to understand why. What was once a relationship that was largely taken for granted (tight labour markets=higher real wages), has been so weak, even flat, in the most recent business cycle(s).

Workers and those in the labour movement can help them understand. While it seems obvious to many in the trade union movement, it is less so to the economic elites and their policy wonks in government. Workers’ wages continue to stagnate, because for 40 years, workers’ organized bargaining power has been attacked from all sides. In industrial relations, legislative changes have made it more difficult for workers to organize into unions and engage in collective bargaining; employers themselves have become progressively anti-union, often using dirty and illegal methods to ward off unionization, or worse, moving to low-wage jurisdictions to manufacture goods. In trade policy, our governments, at the behest of the economic elite, have sought to sign trade agreements which place our workers in direct competition with low-wage workers, in addition to permitting an influx of cheap imports from countries with dubious labour standards. In economic policy, government after government has sought to cut and eliminate social services, scale back labour market supports (like E.I.) and chase balanced budgets no matter what the cost and who it affects. In monetary policy, central banks have focused solely on controlling inflation instead of encouraging employment growth, as they are mandated to do, in order to satisfy financial markets and interests. The result? A progressive decline in union density, particularly in the private sector. In one sentence, policies and actions enacted on the shop floor, in society and in government, by employers and Liberal and Conservative governments, have sought to destroy workers’ bargaining power, and in particular, organized bargaining power—the organized capacity of workers to compel employers to pay more than what the ‘market’ (i.e., employers) allocates.

That, and only that, is the reason why workers’ real wages continue to stagnate despite economic growth. Without organized bargaining power, without a strong workers’ movement and a capacity to periodically bargain over the price of their labour-power, workers’ ability to increase their real wages, and thus improve their living standards above what the market provides, will fail and wages will continue to stagnate.

It is obvious that if workers’ living standards are to increase, their purchasing power must also increase. In other words, their money wages have to rise faster than inflation. If enough workers can organize strong unions, they can force employers to share some of their profits without driving up inflation too much. Faced with strong unions pushing for higher wages on the one hand, and competitors keen to take away market share by keeping lower prices on the other, employers will not pass on the full cost (or any) of increases to prices, and instead (made to, through organized bargaining power!) "share" their profits with workers. In this way, unions not only help in increasing real wages for workers but can control product markups and redistribute income away from profits to wages.

The most recent business cycle and the weak relationship between tightening labour markets and (real) wage growth should lay to rest the belief and faith that the interactions between supply and demand are sufficient to increase workers’ living standards. This faith is misplaced because there is nothing "natural" about the market. What we call the market, particularly the relationship between workers and management, is not just a simple “exchange” relationship, like buying an apple from a store. It is a relationship infused by power and characterized by conflict. Employers want to pay the least possible; for workers, this means poorer living standards. Workers, on the other hand, want to earn as much as possible; this means (potentially) less profit for owners. In a situation such as this, characterized by opposing interests, conflict is the name of the game, and force decides. While tight labour markets are fundamental and beneficial to workers’ bargaining power, they are simply insufficient in their ability to provide workers with increasing real wages. Only organized bargaining power – in the form of unions – can do this.

 [KL1]In a particular industry OR In particular industries 

Figure II: Nominal versus Real Wage Growth, 2016-2018

[1] Non-management workers employed in the trades, natural resources, manufacturing and utilities.

[2] NOC 5-7

[3] NOC 4-7

Health Care Workers Council Welcomes 120 New Members https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/health-care-workers-council-welcomes-120-new-members Mon, 14 Jan 2019 15:21:25 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/health-care-workers-council-welcomes-120-new-members The Health Care Workers Council (HCWC) will soon be welcoming 120 new members as the result of successful organizing drives at two Alberta retirement homes.

Workers at Chartwell St. Albert Retirement Residence, who work as LPNs, aides, dietary technicians, and more, received their union certification last month after overwhelming support for the organizing effort.

Recent changes to the province’s labor code, instituted by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP, allowed them to bypass a union election by collecting cards from more than 65 percent of the unit. 

Workers at another Chartwell residence in Sherwood Park, Alberta, did the same last week.

Health care organizers

The new members will join Local 1-207, which now has 11 health care units.

Local 1-207 President Ray White credits the speed and success of both drives to the two organizers on the ground, both of whom are health care workers. 

“The difference between these two drives and ones in the past is that here the organizers were health care workers. Maybe they didn’t know as much about organizing as others, but they know the industry,” White said.

“They speak health care. They know the acronyms,” said White. “They also know the issues facing people at work and can empathize because they’ve lived it.”

Workers at both facilities intend to bargain to improve wages and working conditions, White said, particularly focusing on concerns over scheduling and seniority.

Alberta law requires the two sides to meet within 30 days after the union certificate is issued.

SOAR leadership changes in District 6 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/soar-leadership-changes-in-district-6 Wed, 09 Jan 2019 11:10:44 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2019/soar-leadership-changes-in-district-6 Two recent organizational changes:

Reg Duguay has decided to retire from the position of District 6 SOAR coordinator. Reg served with distinction during SOAR’s formative years and helped grow SOAR across the District. His wise counsel, knowledge and advice will be sorely missed. We thank Reg for his many years of service, and wish him a long and enjoyable second retirement.

I am pleased to advice that USW District 6 Director, Marty Warren, has appointed Lena Sutton to the position of District 6 SOAR coordinator. I know that you join me in welcoming and congratulating Lena as she undertakes her new responsibilities.

Lena, is the president of chapter 6-10, she has served on the executive of the Ontario Federation of Union Retirees (OFUR), and currently serves on the executive of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC). Lena counts among her many awards, the prestigious, Jefferson Award and the Lynn Williams award for service.

Lena can be contacted at lena.sutton@bell.net  and phone number 905-549-1305.

Doug Macpherson
National Coordinator

USW Cares: USW Local 1998 Women of Steel's Holiday Drive Update https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2018/usw-cares-wos-1998-holiday-drive-update Fri, 21 Dec 2018 10:54:37 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2018/usw-cares-wos-1998-holiday-drive-update *This story is an update from the original story posted on November 14, 2018, and can be found here.*

USW Local 1998 Women of Steel Committee put out a call for toiletries donations at the University of Toronto (UofT). Over 35 USW members stood up to be ‘hub captains’ and collection boxes were creatively decorated and distributed across the downtown campus, Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, Victoria University and University of Toronto Schools. Departments and Faculties ranging from Dentistry, Medicine, Information Technology, Political Science, Philosophy, Music, Math and Aerospace all participated. 

More than 50 volunteers not only hosted collection boxes but also used their lunch hours to drop off donations, sort through and package donations into bags, delivered donations and encouraged their colleagues to get involved. USW staff members and their families, UofT students, and the broader UofT community all pitched in to make contributions to the drive. 

"Kristy and I went to Sistering today to drop off some of the gift bags, we could see how excited the women were to be receiving a personal gift bag just for them filled with dental care, shampoo and conditioner, gloves, hats and socks and other personal care items.  It is very rewarding at any time of the year but particularly around this time to give back, not only on a practical level but also because these are our neighbours and we need to look out for each other," Mary-Marta Briones-Bird, Women of Steel Co-Chair, USW Local 1998.

Total donations in volume were 100 personal gift bags plus 10 bankers boxes (sorted by type of toiletry such as dental or hair care.) Based on a value of $100 to $150 per bankers box of toiletries donations, the estimated value of donations received is between $3,500 and $5,000.       

Donations have been delivered to: Herizon house in Ajax, Interim Place in Mississauga, Sistering in Toronto West, Red Door Shelter in Toronto East. We are planning to drop off more donations to a youth shelter in January    

Trudeau’s Tariff Failure Threatens New Year Devastation for Many Canadians https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2018/trudeaus-tariff-failure-threatens-new-year-devastation-for-many-canadians Sun, 16 Dec 2018 12:00:00 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2018/trudeaus-tariff-failure-threatens-new-year-devastation-for-many-canadians The following opinion column by Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers National Director for Canada, has been published in the Globe and Mail.

A gloomy holiday season awaits thousands of Canadians whose livelihoods depend on our domestic steel and aluminum industries, their family gatherings sure to be tinged by a sense of foreboding for what lies ahead in the new year.

For months, workers and manufacturers across the country have increasingly been feeling the threat stemming from U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum – levies that are widely recognized as illegal under international trade rules. These fears are exacerbated by recurring reports that the United States is making unacceptable demands for export quotas as alternatives to the illegal tariffs.

A chilling reality is setting in for more and more Canadians – our government has surrendered its leverage to fix the steel and aluminum crisis and avert devastation for so many families and communities.

Federal government data indicate that since the Trump administration’s “national security” tariffs came into effect in June, monthly Canadian steel exports to the United States have plummeted by up to 29 per cent and aluminum exports have dropped by as much as 25 per cent.

Canada’s steel and aluminum sectors directly and indirectly support 175,000 middle-class jobs across the country. With no positive resolution to the tariff dispute in sight, these Canadian families and businesses are bracing for the worst in 2019.

Business, community and labour leaders have been clear in warning Ottawa of the potential for massive, permanent damage from the crisis.

The chamber of commerce in southwestern Ontario’s Elgin County, for example, reports an imminent, direct threat to 5,000 manufacturing-related jobs – a staggering 25 per cent of all employment in the region – with thousands more jobs indirectly at risk.

Multiply such dire scenarios across the country and it becomes evident that fears of devastating impacts in the new year are not overblown.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. But the Liberal government has repeatedly failed in its promise to defend the interests of Canada’s steel and aluminum workers.

There was much sunny optimism at the outset of negotiations on a new North American free-trade agreement, with the Liberals promising Canadians a “win-win-win” deal for all parties.

The Prime Minister launched a photo-op tour of Canadian steel and aluminum plants and buoyantly assured workers that he “had your backs.” He apparently warned Donald Trump that any prospect of U.S. tariffs would result in “a negative impact” on trade negotiations.

Mr. Trudeau said he “accepted” Mr. Trump’s promise that “as long as there is a free-trade deal in North America, there won’t be tariffs.”

Of course, Mr. Trump did impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, freely acknowledging he did so to gain leverage in the trade talks.

Despite such objectionable behaviour, the Trudeau government bowed to Mr. Trump’s demands for significant concessions in the new trade agreement, while refusing to insist on the critical quid pro quo – repeal of the U.S. tariffs.

With this historic capitulation, Mr. Trudeau willingly ceded his greatest bargaining chip to get rid of the tariffs. He set the stage for the crisis now facing so many Canadian families and communities. He betrayed his promise to steel and aluminum workers that he had their backs.

In the ensuing months, the Prime Minister has refused to change course. He cavalierly rejects Canadians’ pleas for his government to refuse to sign or ratify the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) until the tariffs are lifted.

While Mr. Trudeau has taken to musing unconvincingly about regaining an advantage through relationships with U.S. businesses and governors, the Trump administration is contemplating more spurious tariffs against Canada, this time targeting our uranium industry.

Can there be any other credible assumption that – if there is to be a resolution to the tariffs-quota dispute – it will come on U.S. terms and at the expense of Canadian workers?

Unless the Trudeau government decides it will not ratify the USMCA until Canada is exempted from U.S. tariffs and quotas, the answer appears obvious.

Taxi Drivers Hit Hard by Saskatchewan Government Days Before Busy Christmas Season https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2018/taxi-drivers-hit-hard-by-saskatchewan-government-days-before-busy-christmas-season Fri, 07 Dec 2018 19:26:00 -0500 https://www.usw.ca/news/media-centre/articles/2018/taxi-drivers-hit-hard-by-saskatchewan-government-days-before-busy-christmas-season SASKATOON, Dec. 7, 2018 - With less than 10 days' notice, Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) will be unleashed across the province. The United Steelworkers (USW) Taxi Council is deeply disappointed in the decisions made by the government, SGI, and municipalities to attack the current livelihood of taxi workers. It is also concerning that this move is being championed to reduce drinking and driving over the holidays, while there is no evidence that this is the case.

"We have been fighting for safe working conditions for our taxi drivers for over four years. What the province has announced today will put both workers and the public at risk," says Stephen Hunt, USW Western Canada Director.

"Too many of our members experience physical and verbal abuse every day, and with the allowance of Class 5 licence holders to drive TNCs, we will see an increase in the number of people with physical and psychological injuries," Hunt says.

"Allowing Class 5 licence holders to be de facto taxi drivers with such companies as Uber is totally unfair to current taxi drivers who are held to a higher standard at Class 4," says Malik Umar Draz, President of USW Local 2014 and Chair of the USW Taxi Council. "We have been advocating for regulations that will protect drivers and the public. Unfortunately decisions like this put everyone at risk."

It will now be in the hands of the municipalities to do the regulatory heavy lifting, the USW says.

"We were hoping for stronger regulations at the provincial level," says Darrin Kruger, USW Staff Representative. "The province is shirking its responsibility and further de-regulating the transportation industry. This is not a good day for Saskatchewan and this announcement will only lead to an increase in precarious and low-paying jobs in our province." 

The move is contradictory to other changes earlier in the week where the provincial government raised standards for commercial truck drivers. There doesn't seem to be any predictability to the decisions made by this government, only that it is inconsistent and its motivations are unclear.  

The USW Taxi Council represents over 600 drivers in the province. They will continue to fight for better working conditions and health and safety standards for taxi workers.