Inter-Union harmony?

Last week, SEIU Healthcare played host to a historical event: a meet-up of Organizers from different unions across the Province. The intention behind this event was to bring together like-minded individuals to engage in dialogue on how to grow & strengthen the labour movement (among other reasons).

For some time now, many activists in the labour movement, from one union to the next, have felt fragmented; as though they are no longer on the same team as their comrades. Unfortunately, politicians have picked up on this internal disharmony, and have attempted on many occasions to use it to their advantage. Hence the threat of “Right to Work” legislation that has infiltrated the USA, as well as the most recent re-introduction of Bill C-377 in Canada (which our most recent blog post brought to light).

Last Spring, we saw a lot of inter-union harmony, as unions joined forces to Stop Hudak’s anti-union agenda. The result was a resounding success, with many acknowledging the power of union’s in halting Hudak’s agenda.

It’s clear that when we come together with like-minded individuals, to think long-term about the sustainability of the labour movement, we are bound to bump heads; but we are making an effort to put aside our differences to do what’s best for worker’s right.

The question that we pose to our fellow labour activists is how can we put #workersfirst? This will be an area worth continuously exploring.



Keeping an eye on the feds and their anti-union laws

Conservatives across the United States have succeeded to varying degrees in passing laws that severely constrain trade unions in an attempt to weaken their influence, by taking away collective bargaining rights in some places and removing mandatory dues in others.

While Canadian Conservatives haven’t been able to do the same – yet – that hasn’t stopped them from trying. Well before he lost the June 2014 election, Tim Hudak took an extreme anti-union stance. It didn’t seem to convince the public and he lessened that angle in favour of other platform points. Then his loss was blamed partially on the labour movement for banding together in defense of our unions.

Now that the provincial election is over, unions in Ontario are focusing on the municipal elections (October 27), hoping to increase voter turnout and elect labour-friendly politicians who will respect working people. But there is another big election looming less than a year away: the Canadian federal election.

The 2015 federal election will determine where our country is headed as a whole. Stephen Harper and his Conservatives will try to get a majority again, which means they can accomplish almost anything they want in Parliament. And on their list is the weakening of the collective power of working people by legislating changes that will hurt unions.

One piece of legislation is back in the Senate. Last time it was brought before the Senate the bill was originally destroyed by a group of Senators including 16 Conservatives. Called Bill C-377, its intent is to force unions to disclose the details of their expenses to the Ministry of Labour. The Senator who led that contingent of Conservatives who tried to defend unions has since retired.

Press Progress has detailed 8 reasons the Conservatives’ anti-union bill shouldn’t be brought back from the dead. It is going to be an uphill battle for union members to band together to resist this type of law and the ones that are sure to follow. This is before an even bigger battle in 2015: defeating the Conservatives and electing MPs that will implement a pro-worker agenda.


Managing our debt in a progressive way

I came across an interesting article the other day on the Fraser Institute’s website. I have to admit, I usually don’t see eye-to-eye with this organization. It’s a conservative think tank who usually recommends very right-wing solutions to our economic and social problems. But they did write an interesting article about debt, deficits, and the need to control spending.

I found this article interesting because many times conservatives talk about eliminating our deficit but they rarely succeed. In fact, they usually make deficits worse. Take Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He tripled Canada’s debt in less than 10 years. It was Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who successfully reduced our debt to manageable levels. In the United States, debt levels skyrocketed under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush (the elder) and his son George W. Bush.

During the last provincial election Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak talked about the need to control spending. He even promised to fire 100,000 civil servants to balance the budget. But how bad is our spending problem? And what can we do to control spending? These questions have a major impact on our healthcare workforce.

Over the past 20 years our financial situation has gotten a lot better. In 1993, 33 cents of every tax dollar Ottawa collected went to paying off interest payments on the debt. Today, only 11 cents of each tax dollar goes to debt servicing. In Ontario, it’s even better at 9 cents.

Personally, I would like Canada and all 13 provinces and territories to eliminate their debts entirely. But it’s not that simple. Our debt reduction efforts since the mid-1990s were sidelined by the Great Recession in 2008. If the Federal and Provincial governments didn’t inject huge amounts of cash into our struggling economy, we may have walked into another Great Depression. It’s only now, six years later, our economy is starting to recover.

And there are different ways to balance your books. While Conservatives are always talk about cutting healthcare, education, social spending, and other programs that we all rely on, there are other ways to increase revenue. There is no reason why we can’t increase taxes on corporations or wealthy individuals who make six-digit salaries. While their incomes have skyrocketed over the past 30 years, there is no reason why they can’t afford to pay more in tax. They certainly can afford it.

Yes, we need to control spending. But let’s take a balanced response. A balanced response means trimming spending and increasing revenue. A balanced response is not gutting our social safety net, including valuable healthcare jobs, that took more than 150 years to build


How grandma Kay got homecare

Working at a homecare union is personal for me. My grandmother, Catherine, or Kay for short, is a homecare client in Grey County.

The recent StatsCan report about people with unmet needs in homecare (there are more than 790,000 of them across the country!) got me thinking about how she got her service.

I asked her if she is happy with her homecare service. She said yes. I asked her if it was easy for her to get it in the first place. She said yes. She is fortunate to not be among the over ¾ of a million Canadians who need more homecare (some don’t receive any at all).

So here’s how it happened: She had been living alone for less than a year (her 50-plus year partner, my grandfather Herb, died in 2012) when she passed out at home after a long day trip on a bus with other seniors. She had to knock the phone off the kitchen counter from the ground where she fell to call for help.

Ending up in the hospital for over for over six weeks, Kay was physically weakened by the time she was well enough to leave. Before this all happened, she did all housework and personal care herself. “Grandpa did stuff too,” she says. “Lifting things and vaccuming.”

CCAC staff came to visit Kay while she was in hospital. “My doctor insisted I have somebody.” They set her up with seven straight days of homecare when she returned home from hospital, followed by two homecare visits a week after that.

These days, her female PSW gives Kay a shower, but she won’t let her male PSW do that. For Kay, one shower a week is enough. “I can give myself a sponge bath the rest of the time, and the bathroom is big enough for the walker.” She can manage mostly on her own.

Kay is pleased with her PSWs. “They always ask me how I am and they always call when they’re on their way. If I’m not here or forget to get in touch, they call and report that I wasn’t there.”

It becomes apparent while speaking to my grandma about her daily life that she has lots of contact with the outside world. “I go to the seniors’ lunch the second Tuesday of the month, and the seniors’ supper, and I go out and play cards, I go for drives. Sometimes I drive, sometimes they drive…I’ve lived here for so long, I have friends that come in, stay and have coffee.”

The system has worked well for Kay, with her doctor getting her homecare set up. She is lucky, saying “I have family that call to see how I am,” and adding as a nod to me, her interviewer, “even the grandkids call and see how I am.”

For Kay, living at home is better than living in a nursing home. “I’m sure gonna stay here as long as I can.”

Unfortunately, many people in Canada are socially isolated and have more complicated personal support needs, so the homecare system is not working for everyone. I’ll end this with a short letter from a member of ours:

“I am a homecare worker (PSW) in Brampton and unfortunately I have to agree [with the Toronto Star] that ‘in short, the existing system is chaotic, inadequate, unfair, inequitable and sorely in need of reform.’ Many clients should be getting more hours of personal care but they’re not. The majority of people only get two visits per week, and that means two showers. Through the Sweet $16 campaign we have been fighting to improve the system. We need to keep more young people in the homecare sector. After 11 years I make $15.23/hour and although PSWs look after sick people, we don’t get any sick days ourselves. I hope to see things change.”


Is Big Government good for your health?

We all assume the medications we take are safe, until they’re not.

It appears Canadians drug companies are breaking the rules when it comes to quality control. Recent news reports have documented how Canadian drug companies have hidden, altered and in some cases destroyed test data that showed their products were tainted or potentially unsafe. They also have also failed to report evidence of side-effects suffered by consumers taking their drugs.

The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States is watching. They have the authority to inspect any Canadian drug facility that ships drugs to American consumers. They discovered more than 40 Canadian drug companies have been cited for numerous violations.

The bad news is that Health Canada isn’t doing as much as the FDA. While the FDA publicizes the results of their inspections, Health Canada does not give any details of the problems they discover at their inspections. The Canadian regulator does not even make public the names of the 20-plus companies that have been cited since 2012 for severe manufacturing violations.

What makes our inspection process interesting is that if Health Canada wants to publicize its findings, it has to consult with the inspected Canadian drug companies before publicly disclosing the information. Most health experts think this is absurd. What company of any kind would in their right mind want this kind of results posted for the world to see?

In their defense, Health Canada does not allow drug products to be sold, including those imported for sale, in Canada unless there is satisfactory evidence that good manufacturing standards are being met in the facility where the product is made.

But it still isn’t enough.  Health Canada should begin to tell the public about their standards violations. That will place more pressure on drug companies to follow existing manufacturing guidelines. We will all be healthier because of it.



Cycle in memory of Graeme Loader

I brought up an easy and affordable exercise method in an earlier blog post: walking. I’ve been meaning to talk about cycling too. With a basic bike, helmet, lock, and lights, you are set to save money on transportation and burn calories at the same time.

But you can only be a cyclist if you live in a safe environment to do so.

I wanted to bring your attention to a 24-year-old Toronto man, Graeme Loader, who on September 1 was struck by an SUV and killed outside of Brandon, Manitoba during a bike adventure to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund.

Just hours before he died he wrote: “Love this planet.”

Thanks to Graeme’s loved ones reaching out to reporters and doing a social media campaign, Graeme’s goal of raising $15,000 for the charity has now been reached.

If you want to help make this healthy and affordable sport and hobby safer for everyone, consider joining your local cycling advocacy committee such as Cycle T.O., who do campaigns at the municipal level to make improvements to bike lanes and other infrastructure.


Labour Day in St. Catharines. Wow!


Sun. Cold drinks. Crowds of people.

These are just a few of my thoughts that describe St. Catharines’ Labour Day Parade.

For many years I’ve marched in Toronto’s Labour Day parade. It’s always the biggest Labour Day event in Ontario, and perhaps the country. It attracts press coverage from Canada’s biggest newspapers and TV stations. But this year I marched in St. Catharines’ Labour Day Parade. Let me say it didn’t disappoint. There must have been several thousand people who came out to watch the parade. That’s quite a turnout for a city with only 131,000 people.

It brought together many different people from many different walks of life. It wasn’t just lined up with shop stewards, professors and left-wing activists handing out leaflets. There were young couples with their children, middle-aged families, singles, seniors and much more. They were all there to enjoy some sun, watch the parade, and toast the end of the summer.

And it wasn’t just unions who marched. Unions like SEIU Healthcare walked with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, the YMCA, the Shriners, performers from Gymnastics Energy, and several cheerleading groups.

As we marched from the Pen shopping centre to Merritton Lions Club, I watched as the crowds got bigger and bigger. Hundreds of people had set up their lawn chairs in the front of their house while enjoying the parade in the warm sun.

After the parade was done, the party didn’t end. Everyone got together at the Merritton for some cold drinks, juicy hamburgers and giant hot dogs. While the adults socialized with each other, families took their children on the ferris wheel and other fun carnival rides.

Once I left the Lions Club and walked back to my car, I noticed a dozen or so house parties still going on after the parade had ended. People strolled from one house party to the next. It was all very casual and very laid back.

In my opinion, this is what Labour Day is all about. It’s a day where everyone can get together, support one another and also have some fun before the summer ends.


St. Catharines Labour Day Photo Album