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.

 

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Wanted: A Non-Commercial Company and Boss Guide for Workers

New Orleans  Talking to organizers in Europe in recent weeks, it was interesting to hear that prospects for new warehouse distribution center operations by Amazon have triggered waves of social media comment, protest, and, of course, interest in what the jobs mean, what they pay, and how to deal with the reputation of the company to its rank-and-file warehouse crew.  To organizers this is the scent in the air that could bring them running at the potential of organizing the workforce from the ground up.  Who knows.  Easier said and done, even across the pond.

After batting around various ideas about how to use social media in prospecting for organizing leads and identifying organizing targets, I ended up reading a long piece in The New Yorker that largely focused on a website and app operation called Glassdoor, based in the US but with a footprint in Europe as well.  Glassdoor and its different, but similar, competitors like Vault, JobVent, and F**kedCompany among others, allow people to comment on and evaluate their employers and bosses the same way that popular sites like Yelp allow restaurant customers to rate and rank restaurants and their dining experience.

The article and much about it praised the transparency that such sites allowed employees and in the spirit of the moment some advocates thought it could help expose situations involving sexual harassment and even abuse by offering such a forum.  The article wasn’t just a fan letter though, pointing out repeatedly the conflicts of interest commercial sites like Glassdoor have by essentially allowing companies for a pricey fee to take over their Glassdoor website and soften the critique.  The problem of company encouraged and sponsored reviews that poured sugar in the coffee to distort any criticism also poisoned the transparency and more high-minded mission statement of Glassdoor.  At same time they claimed that personnel departments paid attention to comments and often were asked to comment in job interviews about negative comments on Glassdoor.

All of which got me thinking that it would be wonderful if there were a “real” site that was noncommercial and worker-run and oriented, rather than commercial and corporate infected, so that workers could share information and find out the whole story on their companies, inside and out.  There’s still every evidence despite contradictory impacts that transparency in pay tends to resolve inequities.  The requirements for salary publications in the United Kingdom have certainly had impact, including the resignation of a noted BBC reporter when she found she was paid way less than her co-host.

We need something like a Wikipedia for Workers, if you follow my argument here.  Sure, this would help organizers, and I wish it would help unions, though I doubt that they would have the interest or capacity to alter their model sufficiently to take advantage of the information and interest.  The real beneficiaries would be workers gaining the information and the ability to use it to self-organize and stand up for themselves and each other in their workplaces and force competition and equity in their industries.

That’s my phone ringing.  Someone needs to answer the call!

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