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April in Review

Wildcat strike in Alberta, Harper back-pedals, no school for the Danes, and Maggie's dead. Happy May Day!

by Media Co-op Contributors

Instead of negotiating with striking refueling workers, Porter Airlines announced a $4 million dollar civil lawsuit against  the union.
Instead of negotiating with striking refueling workers, Porter Airlines announced a $4 million dollar civil lawsuit against the union.

Twenty-two members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE) local 343 have entered the third month of their strike. Rather than being met with negotiations, the airplane refuelers for Porter airlines have been besieged with a court injunction attempting to keep them from leafleting in a public park adjacent to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, as well as a $4 million libel lawsuit that has taken issue in particular with the union @PorterStrike twitter account.

Heated protests against Employment Insurance reforms, which now require unemployed workers to take jobs outside of their field of expertise, at lower pay, up to an hour’s commute from their place of residence, have been taking place across Canada. Resistance to the reforms has been especially strong in Quebec and the Maritimes, where seasonal workers perceive they are being unfairly targeted.

Home of the fisherpeople are feeling the pinch in particular; all the Atlantic region premiers asked Stephen Harper to please go back to the old EI rules.

The Royal Bank of Canada got caught with its hand in the cookie jar, using the Temporary Foreign Workers Program to hire 45 temporary workers to be trained by the same Canadian workers they would eventually be outsourcing. Migrant rights activists emphasized that this isn't about foreigners versus Canadians, but an ongoing attack on workers and migrants.

The British Columbia Insulators Union, speaking on behalf of seven unions, noted that it would withdraw its $1 billion in investments and funds from the RBC if they didn’t stop this “hogwash”.

Public outcry and a concerted effort on the part of the federal opposition have prompted Stephen Harper to eliminate the 15 per cent rule, whereby employers could pay temporary foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than average if the job were filled by a non-temporary foreign worker. Talk about backpedalling; it was Harper’s government that last year implemented the controversial rule.

Tim Horton’s, home of the double double, has also extensively dipped into the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. “Our owners turn to the temporary foreign worker program after they have exhausted all other avenues to fill job vacancies locally. Without the employment program, many Tim Hortons restaurants would not be able to operate full time or, in many cases, remain open at all” said a Tim Horton’s spokesperson, who made no mention of whether Tim’s paid the temporary foreign workers 15% less than they’d otherwise pay a non-foreign worker to do the job.

Courthouses in Alberta have been set back due to the spread of a wildcat strike. The strike began in a newly-constructed super-prison in Edmonton, where two employees were suspended after filing a complaint over safety issues. Their co-workers walked off the job, and were subsequently joined by provincial sheriffs and clerical staff at both the Edmonton and Calgary courthouses. Erez Raz, a jail guard and leader for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), noted that the strike would continue despite a ruling from provincial deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk that the strike was illegal. “This has nothing to do with negotiations. This has to do with decades of getting disciplined, scapegoated, and everything else when we bring up issues. It’s ‘don’t worry about it, make it work, make it work.’ People are now tired of making it work. They want action.” The Alberta Labour Board has placed an injunction on the workers, which they are currently ignoring.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board has ruled that the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO) engaged in illegal strike activity when it advised its members not to engage in any school programs beyond classroom activities—in effect cancelling all after-school programming. ETFO President Sam Hammond said the union intends to challenge the ruling. “You can’t legislate goodwill. There is no other profession where people are expected to perform hours and hours of voluntary service each week, and then are castigated for making personal decisions to put their principles, their families and their own welfare first.”

US Steel has locked the doors on almost 1,000 workers at its Nantiocke, Ontario, Lake Erie Steel Works plant. This is US Steel's third lockout of workers since purchasing Stelco Inc.'s operations in Hamilton and Nantiocke. "The gates are now closed on one of the most productive steel mills in North America, one of the most efficient steel mills in North America. From what we can see, production has been shifted to the United States," says Bill Ferguson, president of the Steelworkers local 8782.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has slammed the federal government’s 2011 decision to implement back-to-work legislation on striking postal workers. The ILO does not consider postal services to be an essential service and so determined that the workers should have been given the right to strike. FYI: Canada has a very poor record with the ILO.

The battle between baristas and their "cooperatively" owned coffee shop continues in Nova Scotia, where Shay Exnuga and Eli Williams were recently released from Just Us! Coffee Roasters. The pair were in talks with organizers from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 2, attempting to unionize, when they were released. Since their release, two more complaints have been filed with the labour board and former employees at Just Us! have told similar tales of being fired for trying to unionize. Spokespeople for Just Us!, which has emerged as a two-tiered co-op and whose slogan is "People before Profits," note that they support the union movement “in principle.”

Protesting over the collapse of an illegally constructed sweatshop factory that has killed close to 400 workers, hundreds of thousands of sweatshop workers walked out of their places of work in Bangladesh. The factory owner was later arrested as he attempted to flee into India.

Loblaw’s Co., owner of the Joe Fresh label that was produced at the sweatshop, has noted that it will provide compensation to the families of those killed in the factory collapse. Public outcry against Loblaw’s has been extensive, with calls for a general boycott echoing across social media.

Two Greek foremen were arrested after allegedly opening fire and injuring 27 migrant Bangladeshi farm workers at a strawberry farm. The migrant workers were demanding back pay, which in some cases totalled up to six months in arrears. While the Greek government issued a statement calling the incident “inhumane”, workers union PAME noted that this is only the latest in a long line of migrant worker abuse. "Growers and landowners have operated with cover from the government and justice for years, creating a hell-hole with slavery labour conditions," noted a spokesperson from the union.

Two thousand seven hundred tons of ammonium nitrate, 1,350 times the limit that would have required West Fertilizer Company to self-report its stockpile to the Deparment of Homeland Security, exploded in West, Texas. The blast killed 15 people, including eight volunteer firefighters.

Striking dock workers in Hong Kong, the world’s third busiest port, are costing terminal operator Hutchinson International Terminals hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. One Striker noted that for a 12 hour shift, when they are not allowed to leave their crane cabin, a crane operator will earn about $90 US.

About 90,000 teachers have been locked out of Danish schools for five weeks, leaving almost 900,000 students aged 6 to 16 enjoying an extended spring break. Teachers union spokesperson Gorden Madsen suspects that the centrist government colluded on pre-negotiation arrangements with the local authority organization. Madsen also notes that it is the first time that Danish teachers have ever been locked out.

Fast-food workers in both New York and Chicago have gone on strike by the hundreds. Both groups are demanding an hourly pay of $15 per hour and the right to unionize without intimidation.

Margaret Thatcher is dead and many people aren’t sad to see her spirit leave the physical realm. Protesters in London gathered at a state funeral for the Iron Lady, chanting “Maggie! Dead! Maggie! Dead!” Thatcher was no friend to unions, and passed a slew of measures against them during her reign.

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Topics: Labour
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