Standing Together

SEIU Healthcare is united in shock and horror at the brutal slaying at the Pulse nightclub is Orlando. We stand with our sisters and brothers in the LGBTIQ community at this tragic time and renew our commitment to fighting bigotry in all its forms.

“We are shocked and dismayed by this horrific act of violence,” said Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare. “We send our best wishes and condolences to the families of the dead and injured.”

The fight against bigotry includes of course, standing with our Muslim sisters and brothers against false stereotyping and Islamophobia. SEIU Healthcare refuses to permit the acts of individuals to tarnish entire communities.

“An attack on innocent people anywhere is an attack on us all,” said Sebastian Trujillo, SEIU Healthcare’s LGTBIQ executive board member. “We will not give in to terror or fear.”

Let’s honour the 49 dead in Orlando during Pride Week.

By: Mark Klein

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Take pride in Pride Week

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Pride Week is a 10-day event held during the end of June each year. It is a celebration of the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning (LGBTIQ) community. It started out as a small protest march in the early 1970s. Today, the pride march is one of the largest organized gay pride events in the world that draws in nearly one million people every year.

For the most part, the Canadian labour movement has been at the forefront of the struggle for LGBTIQ rights. Canada’s unions have fought for inclusive language in collective agreements in diverse workplaces across the country to promote equality and protect and empower workers. And some of the very first legislation in Canada around same-sex benefits was enacted, thanks in part to organized labour’s support and advocacy. But the engagement of unions in LGBTIQ history is uneven. While some unions took up the demands of LGBTIQ workers, others ignored the call for solidarity and kept a long distance from organizing for safety, dignity and pride of their LGBTIQ members. And while some unions have ‘caught up’ in recent years, by devoting resources and energy to LGBTIQ issues, still others haven’t.

In May 2008, Pride at Work Canada was formed by a group of dedicated individuals with a vision – to improve the climate of inclusiveness for LGBTIQ employees in the workplace. Its vision is for Canada to be a nation where LGBTIQ individuals can achieve their full potential at work. Its mandate is to promote inclusion, encouraging organizations to support authenticity at a corporate level and create workplaces where LGBTIQ employees will be able to be themselves and, ultimately, to be more productive.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the rainbow Pride flag on Parliament Hill to mark the beginning of Pride season. This marked the first time a Pride flag has ever been officially raised on Parliament Hill, an important sign of the progress the LGBTIQ community has made in this country. This followed the introduction of Bill C-16 which will amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to ban discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.

The goal is to create a world, without homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and all other forms of oppression so that every person can achieve their full potential, free from discrimination and bias.

Happy Pride Week!

By: Mark Klein

Widows of the Workers: Waiting for the Dust to Settle

SEIU Healthcare Healthaholic Blog Widows of Workers

The following blog post has been written by Natasha Luckhardt, a community activist who is passionate about improving the lives of widows of occupational disease. While Natasha is a researcher at SEIU Healthcare who often focuses on OHS issues for the union, this particular passion project is independent from the organization.

The National Day of Mourning, which honours workers who have been killed on the job, falls on April 28th. From April 1st to April 28th, I will be raising funds for a documentary about widows of asbestos.

While there are many of these widows, this film will focus on the widows who have lost their husbands to occupational cancer at General Electric (GE) in Peterborough, Ontario.

Sandy LeBeau is one of these widows.

“My girls were 15 and 17 years old when they lost their dad and five years before that, they sat at the table for supper when he said the chemicals will kill him,” explains Sandy LeBeau.

Her husband, Ron LeBeau, worked at the GE plant in Peterborough for 20 years.  Along with many other employees in the plant, Ron was exposed to various hazardous, degenerative and lethal chemicals, including asbestos. He had that discussion with his daughters and wife right after he read the WHMIS report in the 1980s, which revealed the potentially lethal effect of the many chemicals he worked with at GE.

Over the years, Ron LeBeau watched as his coworkers passed away as a result of cancer or other acute illnesses – many of whom were under 50.

After Ron LeBeau’s brother-in-law was diagnosed with asbestosis after working in a manufacturing plant in Northern Ontario, his sister advised Ron to ‘get out of there.’ But it was too late.

Ron died of stomach cancer within three months after being diagnosed. He was only 39 years old.

It has been 20 years since Sandy LeBeau filed for compensation on her husband’s behalf and she has not received a cent.

Sandy was one of the 700 workers and widows who showed up at an occupational health intake clinic in Peterborough to investigate whether or not their cancer or her husband’s cancer was due to asbestos or exposure to other chemicals. 230 of the 700 filed for compensation. To date, only 107 of these workers have received it.

Since their husbands have been silenced by occupational cancer, the widows are the ones who are left behind to tell the details of the asbestos-ridden clothing their husband would come home in. They remember how their husband always had a varnish all over his body that you could smell even after he had showered. They recall how their husband’s shoes were tainted blue from the chemicals and white from the asbestos.

Like Sandy LeBeau, the widows are also the ones who can speak to the history of the “Electric City” as Peterborough was coined in its manufacturing glory; the dynamics of spending their whole lives in a town whose industry both kept the city going, and made the people sick.

They could also tell you that the GE property is now a ghost town. It used to employ 6,000 workers in the 1960s and 1970s, but it now runs with a much smaller staff of around 600-1,500 people.

They are also the ones who, after losing their husbands, have lost their battle with the compensation system or who, after 20 years, have still not received a final response either way.

And yet, their lives have not been overcome with pure grief; they still laugh, they cry, they reminisce and they remember. Sandy says she talks about her husband every day.

The goal of this documentary is for people to know about Sandy’s husband, the workers, the widows, the community and especially about asbestos. Asbestos is often seen as a relic of the past and I want to show that this toxic chemical is still very much alive and is having a grave impact in communities, such as Peterborough.

The documentary will talk about the history of asbestos, or what was known as the “magic mineral”, the conflicting dynamics of people who worked for a company to earn a living but were exposed to this poisonous dust, the head-spinning nature of the compensation system and the metallic odour that was always lingering around the manufacturing plants in Peterborough and staining the houses around it.

I’ll also be interviewing widows who were compensated, as well as workers who are still fighting cancer and trying to obtain some form compensation at the same time.

It won’t be all sadness, though. I’ve interviewed these people before and their strength, wit and presence is inspirational and I want to share their stories with the world.

April 28th is The National Day of Mourning and this year, the Canadian Labour Congress has announced that asbestos will be the main theme raised. Simultaneously, there is a “Ban Asbestos Canada” movement on behalf of labour and other organizations for a comprehensive ban on asbestos and I want to add my voice and the workers’ voices to this movement.

Any help that you can give – money*, advice, your expertise – to share these stories would truly mean so much.

To keep the momentum going, I’ll be releasing a few short videos leading up to April 28th, highlighting issues such as the extent of their husband’s exposures in the plant, their experience with the WSIB system and the socioeconomic and emotional impact of their loss.

#settlethedust #voicesforwidows #widowsofworkers #widowsofasbestos #banasbestoscanada

*The money will be going towards hiring people for audio, filming and editing.  I won’t be taking any of the money for myself as I’ll be contributing to the documentary as well. The budget is based off of the bare minimum for starting a small documentary project, based on conversations with people in the film industry.

N.L.

French’s- Loblaws controversy reinvigorates labour activism

By now you’re probably familiar with the French’s-Loblaws controversy, but what you may not know is that this fight isn’t about ketchup (as some ridiculous GTA radio station tried to assert this morning); it’s about saving jobs and ultimately, protecting an entire town.

Last Friday a colleague of mine showed me a video he had posted regarding his outrage at Heinz for closing down its long-running Leamington plant. This obnoxious move by Heinz, cost 740 jobs; essentially, an entire town was put out of business. An entire town!

And so my colleague John, who many of you know on Facebook as “John Tard” proceeded to create two videos: (a) the first demanding Canadians stand in solidarity with French’s (who rehired many of the workers), and (b) the second which challenged Loblaws’ decision to pull French’s ketchup from its shelves. This second video not only drew the most media attention over the past 48 hours, but also most definitely contributed to Loblaws reversing its poor, initial decision.

Now many people are quick to judge what the lesson learnt is, be it extolling the marvels of social media, or a renewed sense of buying local.

For me, this incident highlights the true meaning of labour activism and John is a great example of this dying breed of activists. As a Union Representative, John understands firsthand the challenges and threats that face Ontario workers, and he also understands the necessity to protect workers’ rights. However, and perhaps more importantly, John’s example demonstrates to us that activism isn’t just about protecting “my job” or “my co-workers” or “my department”- it’s about standing up for all workers’ rights.

John doesn’t live in Leamington and doesn’t have roots there, but when he heard that an entire town was going to lose its job, he knew that he had to act fast. As he states in the National Post, “The funny thing is, I don’t even like ketchup that much… But what I do love is Canadian workers.”

Make of it what you may, John Romanelli just hit the refresh button on the labour movement, and for that we should be grateful: game on!

By: Shilpa R. Sharma

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not done yet.

March 8 is International Women’s Day. Every year we focus on all the work that needs to be done to attain women’s equality – and that’s still a long road. But sometimes let’s reflect on some of the important gains we have made since the 1960s.

In 1961 32% of women aged 22-44 had a job. Today, that number is more than 82%.

In 1969 only 33% of the workforce was female. Today, that number is over 48% – nearly half the workforce.

In 1976 women earned 41 cents compared to every dollar a man earned. While today, that number is only 68.5 cents, it still reflects a 60% increase.

Attitudes have shifted and the opinion that a women’s place is in the home has dropped dramatically since the 1960s.

Federal and provincial governments throughout the 1970s and 80s passed numerous laws forbidding workplace discrimination against women.

The number of women enrolled in college or university has increased as well.  In the 1960s only 10% of women earned a college or university degree. Today, the majority of students in post-secondary education are women.

Attitudes towards violence against women has evolved considerably. In the past, spousal abuse was sometimes considered a “domestic” issue – an internal affair that didn’t warrant police attention. Before the 1980s there was no law forbidding a man from sexually assaulting his wife. Today, romantic partners can be charged and convicted for spousal abuse.

While the quest for equality has advanced this cause significantly, the battle has not yet been won, but I believe it will be within my lifetime.

Why you should care about Public Service Day

I have to admit, Public Service Day on June 23 is not really on anyone’s radar. Most people have never heard of this particular celebratory day. It’s a relatively new day that was created by the United Nations (UN) in 2003.

The day was designed to acknowledge the important work government workers perform on a regular basis. Their work is much more valuable than anyone even realizes. The UN even gives out awards that fight government corruption, improves the delivery of services, creates a climate of innovation, and advances knowledge management in government.

Many people aren’t very sympathetic to the interests of civil servants. Many believe they are overpaid, enjoy too much job security, receive too much vacation time, enjoy good quality health and dental benefits, and well-funded pension plans.

But let me ask you something: are these necessarily bad things? Is it a bad thing to enjoy a good salary that covers your living expenses? Is it wrong to know your job won’t be eliminated to streamline costs? Doesn’t everyone want more vacation time? Isn’t a comprehensive health and dental plan something every worker should have? Shouldn’t we all have pensions that can fund our retirements?

Of course they are. But instead of attacking public employees and demanding to bring them down to everyone else’s level, why don’t people start demanding the same rights, privileges and benefits that civil servants enjoy? Why don’t they form a union in their workplace and begin demanding job security, higher pay, improved benefits, pensions and more vacation time?

The answer: It’s not easy. It’s not easy asking your boss for more vacation time AND a raise at the same time. Those two things usually don’t go together. But a union can demand those things.

Let’s salute our public sector workers. They are smart, highly professional employees who provide critical services that we all rely on.

G.A.D

Behind the Scenes: PSW Day at Queen’s Park

SEIU Healthcare’s PSWs are quite well-known at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Invited on behalf of the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins, I followed five Personal Support Workers as they spent the morning of May 14th exploring one of Ontario’s most historic government buildings.

Seated in the Speaker’s Gallery upon arrival, Ghiti Iravani, Hazel John, Theresa Matteer, Penney Murphy, and Theresa Thomas represented Personal Support Workers in Community Care, Long-Term Care and Homecare across the province. Later, they stood and received a standing ovation from all three parties of the Legislative Assembly.

“It was nice that we were recognized by Eric Hoskins,” said Long-Term Care PSW Hazel John from Tendercare Nursing Home. “It made us feel special as proud SEIU PSWs.”

The SEIU Healthcare PSWs were also greeted by a familiar face while seated in the Speaker’s Gallery. Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Pension Plan) Mitzie Hunter left her seat to pop by for a warm greeting, welcoming all that were in attendance at Queen’s Park.

“I saw some old friends sitting over here so I had to come by and say hello,” said Hunter, who participated in SEIU Healthcare’s celebration of Black History Month last February.

Mitize Hunter and Eric Hoskins both stopped to chat and take a few photos with our Personal Support Workers once there was a break in Question Period.

“We’ve got to make sure that PSWs are treated with respect and dignity and that your salary levels reflect as well the important work that you do,” said Hoskins.

Our Personal Support Workers were then given a tour of the historic structure, stopping to view the various displays, one of which showcased the historic nursing uniforms from the 1930s, showing how far we’ve come from traditional nursing attire and image.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to take part in today’s experience,” said Theresa Matteer, PSW at Fairview Nursing Home. “There’s no question that they [the MPPs] understand the value that PSWs bring to Ontario’s healthcare system across all fields, and if they don’t know we’ll enlighten them.”