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Three reasons 120 striking Toronto workers are making global waves

They may be small in number, but 120 striking Toronto workers are making global waves in the labour movement.

On September 6, 2013, the workers at a Crown Holdings canning plant in Weston, a north Toronto neighbourhood, went on strike. They have remained on the line for eight months, picketing through one of the harshest winters in memory and almost unanimously rejecting proposed collective agreements because they refused to be "starved out" in order to meet the demands of management.

Why is this strike significant? It's not the length of time that the workers have been off the job that is important. It's that this labour dispute goes to the root of the issues facing the labour movement today.

Here are three reasons why the Toronto workers are making global waves in the labour movement



Why Canadian unions want you to talk about TV

Talking about TV has never been more important for Canadian unions.

And it's not the kind of talking where you speculate about who True Detective's Yellow King is. The people who work both behind and in front of the cameras producing Canadian television shows are worried about protecting their jobs, and now they are depending on the public to support them as the CRTC prepares to make some important decisions about the Canadian broadcast industry.

Over the past eight months, the CRTC has been seeking public input through a program they're calling 'Let's Talk TV.' They're asking Canadians whether they want more access to American content and if they are willing to pay more for online streaming services.

The results of the CRTC's research will be released in April, but several unions that represent television workers are already making the case for more robust Canadian television regulations. Here's why.



Veteran union negotiator makes bid for CLC presidency

For the first time in almost ten years, there's a race for the leadership of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

Veteran Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) negotiator Hassan Husseini revealed to today that he will challenge Ken Georgetti for the president's position at the CLC convention this May.

"Change is desperately needed at the top level of the CLC," Husseini said. "There is an absolute necessity for new blood, for new leadership and new vision for the labour movement. I can certainly provide that."



Laurier's first responders

It’s a crisp, clear morning on Wilfrid Laurier University’s campus. The low throb of music and the silly, drunken laughter of students carry out from the residences onto the sidewalk, just giving a hint of the debauchery that will soon pour out onto the streets and create one of the busiest days of the year for Laurier’s Emergency Response Team (ERT).

Today is St. Patrick’s Day — one of the biggest drinking events of the year for Waterloo students, who have taken advantage of warmer weather in past years to turn the day into a giant party, culminating in a thousands-strong street celebration close to campus down Ezra Avenue.

“I’m glad I’m not Irish,” says Keegan Goodman, ERT’s coordinator, as he strolls by Laurier’s Euler Residence. Students whoop and holler at him from a third floor window, their attention drawn by his bright red ERT jacket and bulky first responders backpack. He’s used to it — this is his third St. Patrick’s day volunteering as an ERT.

Goodman would rather be working then partying. Already today, he’s had very little sleep, covering for other team members who couldn’t make their shifts.

As the coordinator of ERT, he has seen it all. His team is often the first to respond to on campus medical emergencies, dealing with ailments ranging from homesickness to seizures, acting with the same professionalism expected by their EMS counterparts. And they do it all as volunteers, slotting shifts in between classes and social lives.

They are the responsible ones on a day of irresponsibility because they are filling a need that most campuses didn’t even know they had until fairly recently — helping students before other responders can.


B.C. teachers' math lesson: workers + labour rights = stability 

Uncertainty, stability and fairness: these words have become the guise by which Canadian governments strip unions of the democratic right to bargain collectively.

Don't believe it? Take then, for example, the ongoing collective bargaining over teachers' contracts in British Columbia.

The BC Teachers' Federation (BCTF) has been wrangling with the provincial government over their contracts. The teachers want to protect their right to negotiate class sizes, composition and support for classes for special needs students -- working conditions are as important to them as safety concerns are for steel workers.



Four things unions want you to know about the Canada-South Korea free trade agreement

The recently announced free trade deal between Canada and South Korea has raised the ire of several unions, who warn that it could have a detrimental effect on Canadian workers. Here are four things unions are worried about now that trade is about to open up between the two countries.



Unifor tests its mettle in Toyota organizing campaign 

After almost 30 years and several attempts to organize the Toyota plants in Cambridge, the organizers behind Unifor's current campaign are getting a good feeling about this effort.

"I think we're closer than we've ever been," said Darryl Watkins. He's been a contract worker at the plant for the last 21 months where he delivers parts from incoming trucks to the line. He's also been actively involved with organizing the union.

The drive at Toyota plants in Cambridge, run in conjunction with a plant in Woodstock, has become the centrepiece organizing campaign for Unifor, the union born of the merger of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Communications, Energy and Paperworks Union (CEP) just six months ago. For the new union, this is their first high profile test of organizing strength.



Canada Post provided 800 pages on postal banking, but 700 are redacted

Just over a week ago, a small news agency based in Ottawa called Blacklock's Reporter revealed that they had obtained a report that showed Canada Post had seriously investigated postal banking as an option for picking up the corporations' flagging revenues.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has been beating the drum of postal banking -- where the post office offers the same financial services as a bank -- for sometime, predating the December 2013 announcement that there would be significant job cuts and the end of door-to-door postal services. They considered it an extremely viable option to help diversify revenue streams for the company, and had a well publicized Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report that backed them up. 

I asked my media contact at CUPW if they could send me a copy of the report Blacklock's had provided them. I was warned that the contents were thin, as over 700 pages had been redacted. But I told them to send it along -- as a rule, I don't report on documentation I haven't gotten to analyze myself.



The rise and fall of the labour beat reporter

I belong in a museum.

At least, that's what Rod Mickleburgh, former labour beat reporter for the Vancouver Sun and Province, says as we begin our interview about a beat he covered for close to 16 years, and that I have been assigned to for the past six months.

"You're actually a paid labour reporter," he said, with a slightly incredulous chuckle.

He's joking, of course, but the joke comes from a place of truth. The labour beat -- the reporters who write about workers, unions and all that it encompasses -- has all but disappeared from newsrooms across North America. And with it, stories about workers' struggles that are now slipping through the cracks.



Mexico accused of blacklisting seasonal workers who unionize in Canada

A successful campaign to unionize migrant workers has led to allegations that the Mexican government blacklisted labour activists, then prevented some of those workers from returning to work in Canada under Canada's Seasonal Agricultural worker program.

For almost four years, Stan Raper and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) have been fighting a battle for a group of migrant workers in B.C. who did something controversial -- they unionized.

"It has been a difficult process," explained Raper, the national coordinator for the UFCW's Agricultural Workers Alliance, as he detailed the multiple court battles he and the workers have undertaken.

The story begins with a group of agricultural workers from Mexico who, while living and working in B.C., decided to form a union with the help of UFCW.