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


International Workers’ Day – May Day

International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in some places, is a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement (as well as Anarchists, Socialists, and Communists) and occurs every year on May Day, May 1.

Although in Canada, we celebrate Labour Day on the first Monday of each September, International Workers’ Day is a day recognized by unions and leftists. May 1 was chosen to be International Workers’ Day in order to commemorate the May 4, 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, when a general strike for the eight-hour workday turned ugly and four demonstrators were killed by police. But it was in Canada, where the movement started.



The “Nine-Hour Movement” began in Hamilton, Ontario, then spread to Toronto in 1869. By 1872 almost all union demands included the 54-hour work week and it was Toronto printers who pioneered the nine-hour work day, which later spread to Chicago and New York at the turn of the century.

It seems strange now, but it was common place during the Industrial Revolution for workers to put in as many as 16 hours a day, six days a week, often in unsafe conditions and often the workers were children.  Around the world, most industrialized countries adopted the eight-hour work day throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. New Zealand was the first to do this in a variety of trades in the 1840s and 1850s. Mexico even included the eight-hour workday in its constitution in 1917.

Today in Canada the general standard for hours worked is eight hours per day or 40 hours per week, however there are certain exceptions to this depending on profession and mutual agreement between the worker and employer.


National Day of Mourning

SEIU Healthcare remembers on the National Day of Mourning

Tuesday, April 28 is National Day of Mourning. This is the day when we remember and reflect on those who have lost their lives on the job or have suffered injury or illness in their workplace.

Over the past 21 years, from 1993 to 2013, nearly 19,000 have lost their lives on the job. That’s an average of over 900 deaths per year.

In healthcare, workplace injury is a very serious issue. Healthcare workers face many different occupational hazards including slips, trips and falls, musculoskeletal Disorder (MSDs), repetitive strain injuries, and needle sticks every day.

Employees who work in long-term and homecare environments also have to deal with potential physical, mental and verbal abuse by the very people they are caring for. Of the more than 70,000 Ontarians in long-term care, about 11% are considered severely aggressive. That’s an average of about 13 people per home. Any anyone can be their target, staff, family members and even other residents.

We are happy to report that there were no known workplace deaths that occurred at an SEIU Healthcare facility. But we must be vigilant – proactive education and prevention measures are the key to avoiding workplace mishaps.

The number of workplace deaths throughout Canada has gone down since 2012. In 2013, 902 people were died on the job work a drop from 977 the year before.

Even though we have made progress, there is still much work to be done. According to the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC), there were 4 fatalities within the health and social service industries in Ontario in 2013. This number is still too high.

That’s why employees need to speak up. We need to bring more attention to this important issue and create greater public awareness. Even one injury or death cannot be acceptable. Many times, these deaths could have been prevented.

On April 28 at 11:00 am, SEIU will be participating in several National Day of Mourning events across the GTHA. Please join us in solidarity with our brothers and sisters while we pause and remember those workers who have been killed, injured or suffered illness due to workplace related hazards and incidents.

Peel Region
SEIU President Sharleen Stewart will be speaking at Brampton Flower City Seniors Centre (Milestones of Labour Monument) located at 8870 McLaughlin Road. The event starts at 10:00 am. Map

York Region
SEIU Secretary Treasurer Manny Carvalho will be speaking at the Woodbridge Memorial Arena, located at 5020 Hwy 7 in Woodbridge. The event starts at 11:00 am. Map

Niagara Region
SEIU Union Representative Sean Soper will be speaking at the Monument located at the Centennial Arena – 1557 Four Mile Creek Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The event starts at 9:00 am. Map

Dave Blake, an Executive Board member of SEIU, will be speaking at the Monument located at Niagara Falls City Hall on 4310 Queen Street. The event starts at 10:00 am. Map

International Women’s Day: Why does it matter?


International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1917 and yes, amazing strides have been accomplished over the period. Yet almost 100 years later, equality is still far from a reality. According to the Canadian 2010 census, the population is made up by a small majority of women; 50.4% to be exact, however the scales are not as equal in regard to pay, aging, child care, domestic work, caring for seniors, C-Suite jobs, employment rates, and the list goes on. Factor gender in with any number of other differentiators such as age, race, or education level and the inequity is compounded.

For example, the better educated a woman is, the closer is her pay to the pay of an equally educated man. Close, but not equal as these stats from 2005 show.

Gender Ph.D. BA Apprentice or Trade School Certificate
Male 100% 100% 100%
Female 96% 89% 65%

Additionally, women are almost four times as likely as men to work part-time, likely due to family responsibilities preventing full-time work.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports efforts to close Canada’s gender gap are moving at a rate so slow, it could take Canadian women 228 years to catch up to men.

But beyond the realm of finances and employment, women face even more insidious threats; domestic violence and sexual assault. Here are just a few of the facts (from the Canadian Women’s Foundation) that should make everyone take a deep breath and a stand on International Women’s Day:

  • On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.
  • Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada. Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
  • Exposure to violence can affect children’s brain development and ability to learn, and lead to a wide range of behavioural and emotional issues such as anxiety, aggression, bullying, phobias, and insomnia.
  • Research shows that children who witness violence are more likely to grow up to become victims or abusers.

So now you know why it matters. Show your support of women everywhere by joining SEIU Healthcare at the Toronto International Women’s Day rally on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Women and men alike will show their support to the strong SEIU women who make up approximately 85% of are membership and who are making a difference, working to close the gap in their workplace.


Labour rights vs. slavery on World Day of Social Justice

world day of social justice

It is hard to believe that slavery still exists.

Today is World Day of Social Justice, declared by the United Nations, and this year there is a particular focus on human exploitation and forced labour.

Forced labour is illegal by international standards—UN member countries have agreed on this. There is a law, a Forced Labour Convention that dates back to 1930 but has since been updated to reinvigorate the global fight against forced labour, including human trafficking, the buying and selling of human beings against their will.

It appears that where exploitation is possible and tolerated, some people will take advantage of the relative powerlessness of others for their own gain. Needless to say, it’s crass, it’s cruel, and it’s disrespectful.

While the fight for workers’ rights in Canada continues with employers continually trying to drive down wages and benefits, plus certain politicians who want to weaken unions, we are incredibly fortunate for the most part from a global perspective.

Let’s take a moment to be grateful for the labour laws brought to us over decades of struggle by worker activists in Ontario and across North America. It’s because of those workers and activists and politicians that worked with them that we have come so far.

Whether on our soil or off it, let’s show solidarity with global workers whenever possible. Everyone deserves to be paid for their labour and to be treated with human dignity.


Unemployment is down. But is this a good thing?


According to a news report published by the Canadian Press, the unemployment rate in January 2015 went down to 6.6%. Over 47,000 jobs were created last month. This is good news, right? Well, not really. If you take a closer look at the numbers, the news doesn’t look as promising.

First, the economy shed nearly 12,000 jobs in January. That means there was only a net increase of 35,000 jobs. But most of the 12,000 jobs that were lost were full-time positions, and the majority of the 47,000 jobs created were part-time. These numbers reflect a growing dependence on part-time workers rather than full-time staff.

Unfortunately, this is not a new trend. In 1997 there were about 25,000 part-time employees looking for full-time work. In 2013 that number went up to well over 100,000 people, a 300% increase in only 15 years. This number does not include people who prefer part-time over full-time work. These people are actively seeking a full-time job but can’t find it.

This can be a frustrating experience for a lot of people. Full-time work offers a level of stability that part-time work simply doesn’t offer. Full-time employee are more likely to receive better vacation time, superior health and dental benefits, higher pay, and enhanced job security.

It was welcome news when Ontario’s Labour Minister Kevin Flynn announced the Ontario Government will be reviewing the province’s labour and employment laws, particularly the Employment Standards Act.

The Workers’ Action Centre, a labour rights group, felt this was a step in the right direction. The Action Centre stated the current laws do little to protect part-time workers. In the past companies have lobbied the government to exempt certain workers from basic rights such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and public holiday wages.

Sometimes employers will even misclassify their staff as independent contractors. Those workers lose their legal protection as well as their entitlements to Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.

Everyone in Ontario deserves a stable, living wage. Employers also need to remember that a happy worker with a stable job will be more productive than a person  employed in precarious work.


The cuts at Tim Hortons have begun!

The cuts at Tim Hortons have begun!

Last year the iconic Canadian company Tim Hortons was bought by Burger King. Many people were worried about what kind of consequences it would have for the company and its stakeholders. And it looks like our fears are coming to life.

Burger King, which is controlled by a Brazilian private equity firm named 3G Capital, has already begun laying off staff at Tim Hortons’ corporate head offices. The business-friendly newspaper the Financial Post said that “tensions are running high” at Tim Hortons. The CBC reported that 350 people have already been laid off, nearly 20% of their head office employees.

This news didn’t surprise too many people. The Financial Post wrote 3G Capital is known to be a “ruthless streamliner” who made big cuts at Burger King and H.J. Heinz after they bought these companies. They didn’t expect Tim Hortons to be any different.

Burger King claims buying Tim Horton’s will help expand the donut company’s operations in the US market. Tim Hortons has tried to penetrate the American market but its efforts have stalled many times. If the expansion efforts don’t work out as planned this time around, 3G Capital might be tempted to begin squeezing the Canadian company by selling off Tim Hortons’ manufacturing and distribution centres. That means even more Canadian jobs will be lost.

It’s hard to see how Canadians will benefit from this merger. No one is really sure if 3G Capital has Tim Hortons best interests at heart. It will do anything it can to make sure it’s profits are upheld – even if it means stripping the company of everything its worth.