Normally, there’s a plethora of Labour Day events taking place across Metro Vancouver on the first weekend in September. That’s not the case this year, obviously. And that has CUPE B.C. president Paul Faoro, along with many others in the labour movement, feeling a little sad.
“It might sound corny, but community Labour Day events bring the full spectrum of the union movement together in one place like no other annual event, and they give us time to appreciate our shared values,” Faoro wrote on his union’s website.
Those shared values have been on display during the pandemic, as both publicand private-sector workers have stepped up to continue serving the public in the face of a deadly virus.
“The success of B.C.’s economic recovery is going to depend on workers, just as our successful fight against the pandemic has depended on workers,” Faoro noted in his essay. “Whether public or private sector, unionized or not, it’s workers who will dig us out of this pandemic.”
Even if there aren’t public gatherings of workers on Labour Day, there are still serious issues facing the movement. Here’s a summary of some of the major concerns in B.C.
Asbestos exposure is the leading killer of workers in this province. According to WorkSafe B.C., there were 47 of these workrelated deaths in B.C in 2018. That accounted for one-third of all deaths linked to employment.
The B.C. Insulators Union and the B.C. Federation of Labour have been calling for licensing of asbestos-removal contractors and consultants, but that hasn’t occurred yet.
Community Benefits Agreements
The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, which represents many nonunionized employers, and many other parties recently lost a case in the B.C. Court of Appeal concerning these agreements.
The appellants wanted to set aside a contractual term that workers building the new Pattullo Bridge must be or become members of the B.C. Building Trades. The legal action was filed shortly after a community benefits agreement was executed, according to the court ruling.
However, the ICBA is not likely to give up—and if the B.C. Liberals win the next election, this provision could easily be jettisoned.
What the opponents of community benefits agreements often fail to mention is that when the B.C. Liberals were in power, there were far fewer women, Indigenous, and disabled people working on public construction projects than will be the case with these community benefits agreements in place.
Paid sick leave
The B.C. Federation of Labour has launched a petition calling on Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to improve sick leave for nonunionized workers. One of the demands is that businesses provide at least 10 days of paid sick leave for workers who have to self-isolate due to COVID-19 or who have to take care of an ill family member.
“For all other illnesses, require businesses to ensure every worker starts with a minimum of 3 days of paid sick leave a year and accrues additional time based on how much they work—one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked up to 52 hours of additional paid sick leave,” the petition states. “So a full time worker would get 10 days of paid sick leave a year.”
Refusing unsafe work
The B.C. Nurses’ Union is one of several unions that has raised serious concerns about safety in the workplace during the pandemic.
According to a BCNU survey of more than 3,000 members, nurses “continue to struggle with having unfettered access to the critical PPE [personal protective equipment] they require to keep themselves, their patients and their colleagues safe”.
“If a worker believes that there is a hazard to their safety present in their workplace which could place them at undue risk of harm, they may refuse unsafe work,” the BCNU states on its website. “It is very important to note that the right to refuse unsafe work may be exercised solely at the workers’ decision and that there is a prohibition against discriminatory or retaliatory action by an employer or supervisor in the event of a refusal of unsafe work.”
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has called on the provincial government to mandate smaller class sizes and stricter rules around wearing masks inside public schools when they reopen this month.
The federal government has promised to provide the province with $242 million to help restart schools safely. But BCTF president Teri Mooring has claimed that the Ministry of Education did not do enough consultation with stakeholders to ensure that this money was put to the best use.
“We all want to get back to a place where every student is in school learning, socializing, and celebrating those ‘a-ha’ moments. It’s why we teach,” Mooring said in a recent union news release. “The pandemic, however, has changed everything and it’s not going away. We need to do things differently and that starts with making sure staff and students can actually achieve physical distancing in our schools and classrooms. Under the government’s current plan, that physical distancing just isn’t possible.”
On August 31, hunger strikers held a media briefing outside the Surrey constituency office of Labour Minister Harry Bains.
Members of Unite Here! Local 40 are upset about the B.C. government extending temporary layoff provisions. If a majority of workers agree to this, it can delay severance payments to everyone in a workplace without giving them a legal right to return to their jobs.
Last autumn, Local 40 members won major concessions from four downtown Vancouver hotels after a lengthy strike.
However, less than a year later, the union says hotels are firing their long-term, laid-off staff even as the tourism industry is seeking a $680-million government bailout.