More Worker Protections Still Require More Worker Representation

Toronto    Continuing to look at the extensive labor protections workers gained thanks to demands and lobbying of unions in Ontario and, surprisingly, the Liberal government, is nothing short of amazing.  Digging deeper after hearing of the recent success from John Cartwright, president of the Toronto – York Labour Council, I found the following goodies for workers in new law:

— Casual, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees will be given the same pay as full-time employees for doing equal work. There are exemptions based on seniority and merit.

— Once an employee works for a company for five years, they will be entitled to three weeks of paid vacation.

— Personal emergency leave no longer only applies to workers at companies with 50 or more employees. All workers will get 10 days per year, two of them paid.

— Victims of domestic or sexual violence, or parents of children who have experienced or are threatened with it, will get five days of paid leave and 17 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave.

— Employers will not be allowed to request a sick note from an employee taking personal emergency leave.

— Parents whose children die will get unpaid leave of up to 104 weeks. It was previously only offered to parents when a child’s death was related to a crime.

— Employers must pay three hours of wages if they cancel a shift with fewer than 48 hours notice, with weather-dependent work exempted.

— Employees can refuse shifts without repercussion if the employer gives them less than four days notice.

— Employees on call must be paid three hours at their regular pay rate.

— Companies that misclassify workers as “independent contractors” instead of employees in order to skirt labour law obligations would be subject to fines.

— The maximum fine for employers who violate employment standards laws will be increased from $250, $500 and $1,000 for various violations to $350, $700 and $1,500. The government will publish the names of those who are fined.

And, remember this doesn’t include the additional organizing protections workers have received of the increase in the minimum wage in Ontario, Canada, now fast tracked to January 1, 2019 at $15.00 per hour.  Some might ask, who needs a union though once these protections are in place?

One answer might be:  To get these protections and more, and to keep them as governments come and go.  The other answer though is that without representation and collective organization, many of these new rights will be unknown and therefore unrealized by workers.  There will always be more employers, through ignore or design, who will ignore workers’ rights, and too few government enforcers to make them toe the line, which means representation on the job and collective action will become even more important now in moving these new legal obligations into the permanent culture of work and daily expectation of all workers.

The other huge opportunity would seem to be in organizing informal workers who are largely out of the reach of traditional union organizing.  With this package of new laws in Ontario, a rights-based workers association is desperately needed to allow workers to access these provisions and convert them into permanent entitlements.

There’s a loud whistle blowing, I hope a lot of organizations hear it and move to the sound.



Ontario Labor Law Reforms are Best in Class

Full House

Toronto    It was amazing to be with more than eighty ACORN leaders, members, organizers, friends, supporters, and people who wanted to just know more about the organization and its history at the Steelworkers union hall in Toronto at the special screening of “The Organizer” documentary.  The hunger and passion for change and willingness to do the work to make it happen was an amazing thing to see and hear perhaps best typified when spontaneous applause broke out towards the end of the film when ACORN Canada’s president, Marva Burnett, was on screen.  A slice of organizing heaven to gently place in the keepsakes of our minds forever.

Marva Burnett, president of ACORN Canada introducing THE ORGANIZER

Among the comrades-in-arms attending was our longtime brother and ally, John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Labour Council.  Sitting with me for a pint down the street after the film a classic, well-loved local pub, he shared with me some of the details of the new Ontario Labour Laws unions and their allies had managed to get passed in Ontario at the of last year.  Certainly, I was familiar with the huge victory that raised the minimum wage for workers to $14 per hour now and $15 in 2019, but in the hurly burly of work, I had missed some of the huge reforms in basic organizing rights that they had also achieved with the passage of this new legislation.  As John detailed the new reforms for me, they were so wide ranging in their scope that my first task was to doublecheck, pinching myself that I couldn’t have heard him right, but sure enough Ontario might fairly claim to currently claim to have the best organizing rights for workers in North America and perhaps anywhere in the world.

Here is just some of the amazing opportunities that Ontario workers and their unions now have:

  • Card-based certification in specified industries.  The temporary help agency industry, home care and community services industry and building services sector can now win card-check recognition on a showing of over 55% support without a vote!
  • Access to employee list (contact information).  A union with a showing of interest of at least 20 percent of the proposed bargaining unit can obtain an employee list with each employee’s name, phone number and personal email address.
  • Remedial certification. Finding of employer misconduct during an organizing campaign will result in automatic certification of a trade union.
  • First contract mediation/arbitration and time limits. Both unions and employer are now required to use the intensive mediation process before seeking binding first-contract arbitration.
  • Votes. New voting procedures will make voting more accessible to employees.
  • Expanded successor rights. The successor rights provisions will be applied to the re-tendering of building services contracts.
  • Bargaining unit consolidation. Following certification, a union (or employer) may apply to the Board to have a newly certified bargaining unit consolidated with an existing bargaining unit of the employer represented by the same union.
  • Return to work post-strike. The right to return to work during certain bargaining periods will be enforceable through grievance arbitration.
  • Enhanced “just cause” protection. The right not to be disciplined without just cause during certain bargaining periods will be enforceable through grievance arbitration.
  • Fines for LRA violations. Maximum fines for LRA violations will be increased to $5,000 for individuals (up from $2,000) and to $100,000 for organizations (up from $25,000).

This seems like a bunch of well wrapped Christmas presents that were placed under the tree for workers and their unions to begin 2018.   What a golden opportunity to build strong and effective organization!  The challenge now is to make sure we all make the law come alive in the workplace and all of our union halls.

All organizers will want to be Canadians now!

Peggy Cooke getting last minute details together