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Lockout at OLG Woodbine ends

7 August 2017 - 10:50am
Meagan Gillmore

Regular service at the slot machines at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto will resume on Tuesday.

Slot machine workers have been locked out since July 14, after the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) couldn't agree to a new contract.

The union accepted the OLG's latest offer on Thursday.

The new contract, which expires on March 31, 2019, will see workers' pay increase and address their concerns about full-time jobs and scheduling.

The dispute was about more than pay and benefits, said Sharon DeSousa, the executive vice-president for PSAC in Ontario. Until the lockout began, the employer "didn't really understand that our members were tired of the precarious work," she said. Workers were "fed up" with the lack of a work-life balance.

Many of the more than 400 slot machine workers who work Ontario's largest gaming floor are part-time employees. Some have been working at Woodbine for decades, but had no prospect of receiving full-time positions.

This new contract creates 25 new full-time positions across the different departments at Woodbine. These positions will be advertised internally. Part-time workers can apply, and jobs will be given based on seniority, DeSousa said.

A committee will examine scheduling and propose new models. Employees will give input, instead of "the employer dictating (schedules) to them," said DeSousa. The employer has to accept the proposals, but this committee shows OLG is willing to be flexible, DeSousa said.

The union didn't receive everything it wanted, though. The wage increase it accepted is less than what it proposed. This begins with a retroactive increase of 1.75 per cent from April of last year, with another 1 per cent increase for this past April. Wages will increase by 1 per cent every six months until October 2018. The union wanted annual increases of 2 per cent beginning in April 2016. An arbitrator will decide this issue.

The OLG is in the middle of a years-long plan to have private operators take over its facilities across the province. Businesses have taken over at several casinos and racetracks, but Woodbine's new operator has not been named yet. Workers have been concerned about how this will impact their pensions and job security. This new contract includes language about job security, said DeSousa. The details of the new pensions will be worked out once a new operator takes over at the site.

The union had asked that workers receive a $3,500 lump sum to address concerns about pensions. They agreed to a $3,000 lump sum. An arbitrator will decide this, along with the amount of the wage increase.

DeSousa praised the support picketers received from other unions, politicians and customers at Woodbine. Woodbine customers, many of them seniors, walked the lines with them and brought workers coffee and water. But she said local Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Shafiq Qaadri "was nowhere to be seen." Qaadri had spoken to The Globe and Mail during the lockout, expressing his anticipation for the area becoming a "Vegas North."

When locked-out workers visited his office a few days later, they learned he had left for vacation the previous day. They received no response from his office during the remainder of the lockout, DeSousa said.

"You'd think he'd care what the working conditions would be," DeSousa said.

In a statement provided to rabble.ca, the OLG said it is pleased about the agreement, and is looking forward to the employees returning to work.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Oliver Mallich/flickr

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Desmond Cole is one of the strongest voices on anti-Black racism in Canada and he deserves support

7 August 2017 - 10:38am
August 7, 2017I'm standing with Desmond Cole against anti-Black racism -- and you should tooTogether with Black Lives Matter Toronto and others in the Black community, Desmond Cole is now one of the strongest voices on the issue of anti-Black racism in Canada. They deserve support.

I'm standing with Desmond Cole against anti-Black racism -- and you should too

4 August 2017 - 10:25am
Rosemary Frei

Desmond Cole sat alone at the end of the long Toronto Police Services Board table, waiting to be arrested.

A throng of reporters documented his words and movements from a few feet away. I was there with other regular board-meeting attendees sprinkled among them, watching anxiously.

It was July 27, 2017, and the fourth board meeting in a row at which Desmond was calling out board members and chief Mark Saunders for letting the Toronto police run roughshod over Black residents' civil rights.

This time, the issue was the four-month delay before the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was told about the December 28, 2016 severe beating of Black teen Dafonte Miller by off-duty Toronto cop Michael Theriault and his brother Christian.

The incident was not on the public agenda; instead, the board had discussed it behind closed doors before the public meeting began.

This is one of the rapidly escalating measures the police brass, board and union are using to ensure public participation is an extremely controlled veneer.

The meetings are held in police headquarters; other board meetings, such as those of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), are at city hall. Police screening of every civilian who enters the building started some time last month -- ostensibly because an armed man entered the building and threatened to kill police, although the incident has not been independently verified. Then, in the boardroom itself, a newly erected row of stanchions cuts the public off from the board table and from the far side of the room, except for a small gap that gives access to the chairs where people sit when addressing the board. There are also uniformed police in the room during meetings; they first made their appearance in April.

But the police and board hadn't counted on the courage, confidence, charisma and conviction of Desmond Cole, who's a freelance journalist, activist and radio host. He's a tour de force -- shown, for example, in his article and documentary titled The Skin I'm In.

This propels his voice ever deeper into the public consciousness, giving him a rapidly expanding platform from which to call out the powerful for their continuing complicity in anti-Black racism.

Cole had followed the rules and signed up in advance to speak ("depute") at the July meeting about one of the items on the  public agenda: abuse and misuse of accessible parking permits. But once the meeting began and he was in the deputant's chair, he said he wanted to talk about Michael Theriault's violent assault of Dafonte Miller [video starting at 44:36].

Board chair Andy Pringle immediately cut Cole off by turning off his mic -- despite the fact that the board's bylaws give leeway to allow people to speak about issues that are not on the formal public agenda.

Cole turned the mic back on, and conveyed his message clearly in the gaps between the mic being turned off again and again, and Pringle trying to dismiss him.

"There should've been an opportunity for us to sign up and speak [about the Miller beating]! ... The chief of police of this city has made several statements in the public about this issue. ..... [H]e said that ... this [police] force didn't go to the SIU [to report the beating] ... because it wasn't in their mandate to do so," Cole said. "If this Toronto police force thinks that a [police]man beating a teenager with a steel pipe was not in the interest of the SIU, what are you guys doing here? ... What are we paying you guys to be here for, if not to discuss something of extreme public interest?"

Pringle then called a recess, and the board members including Mayor John Tory quickly left the room. A long intermission ensued during which police and the board deliberated about what to do next.

There was a similar series of events on April 20, when Cole movingly deputed without notes about carding data. He decried the board's and the chief's insistence that the police are legally required to retain rather than destroy the data [video starting at 1:32:30]. Cole then stood up, gave a Black power salute and remained in place.

Pringle recessed the meeting. A few minutes later I went up to Cole and stood beside him, prepared to be arrested with him. But he chose to leave instead of being arrested that day.

At the May board meeting, I handed out #IStandWithDesmond lapel buttons I'd made. The topic at that meeting was the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Chief Saunders unwaveringly maintains that the program is helpful and must remain in place. However, several people -- including Cole and members of Educators for Peace and Justice -- described how the program fuels the "school-to-prison pipeline." They also explained that it results in many children being deported every year, because SROs meet regularly with Canada Border Services Agency officials to report students and their families who do not have their immigration papers in order.

The SRO program was on the agenda again in June. This time, the police stacked the meeting by bussing in dozens of solely pro-SRO students, teachers and administrators from the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Uniformed and armed police physically barred the boardroom doors -- including by using bicycles as barricades -- so that dozens of people who they believed don't support the SRO program couldn't enter. In addition, police sat in many seats in the boardroom and only gave them up for people who were going to speak in favour of the program.

Desmond Cole and members of Black Lives Matter Toronto repeatedly interrupted the proceedings to protest these egregious actions.

Then, last week, Cole again made his singular stance.

After he spoke out against the cover-up of the beating of Miller by the Theriault brothers, I slipped past the newly erected stanchions and sat in the empty chair beside him. He said it wasn't necessary to stay with him, but thanked me for my support.

Several minutes later, police officers approached Cole again. They quickly hustled him out of the room and out the north exit of police headquarters. They questioned him and gave him a $65 trespassing ticket for having failed to leave the boardroom when asked to do so.

Cole then addressed the waiting media. While his actions were snarkily described as "hijacking the board meeting" by a Toronto Sun reporter, what he did was vital.

"[Toronto Police] did not [notify the Special Investigations Unit about the Miller beating] and now they're asking us to let them pick who should investigate them for not doing it," Cole said, referring to Saunders's pronouncement at the meeting that he'd asked the Waterloo police to look into the beating.

"[This is] complete and utter corruption, and an insult upon injury already to Dafonte Miller and by extension to Black people in this region. So, no! No more second chances for [Toronto police chief] Mark Saunders. No more second chances for John Tory and this [police services] board. They are demonstrating that they value decorum more than they value our lives. So to hell with them all!"

Cole is now one of the strongest voices on the issue of anti-Black racism and violence in Canada. Black Lives Matter Toronto and others in the Black community also form part of a powerful phalanx. In addition, the Black Action Defence Committee, the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and Educators for Peace and Justice play important roles.

But they can't accomplish the Herculean task of changing police culture without a very large number of supporters. I strongly encourage many others to become active allies, linking our fate to theirs, and reducing the risk to each of us by acting together. There are many ways to be supportive, but the best way to start is by showing up.

Rosemary Frei is a Torontonian who until last year was a full-time freelance journalist for newspapers and websites for physicians and other health-care professionals, mostly in the U.S. She also ran for the Green Party of Canada in the 2008 and 2011 general federal elections, but no longer has any political affiliations or personal political ambitions.

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Pearson strike exposes harsh working conditions of baggage handlers and grounds crew

4 August 2017 - 8:47am
August 4, 2017Pearson strike highlights 'underbelly' of airport workAn ongoing strike at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has revealed the harsh working conditions of the airport's baggage handlers and grounds crew.

The unbearable whiteness of CBC's reporting on Blue Jays beer tosser Ken Pagan

4 August 2017 - 8:38am
Erin Kobayashi

In the six-"chapter" CBC feature "Throwing it all away," readers are reminded who Toronto Blue Jays fan Ken Pagan is, or perhaps, who he claims he isn't: "a drunk beer tosser brought down by Twitter." Positioned in the story as a victim of one foolish act that resulted in a social media manhunt, Pagan expresses the aftermath of his actions and feeling robbed of his life's greatest pleasures: watching professional baseball and working in journalism.

The story's aim was to document the chain of events -- including online public shaming, loss of employment at Postmedia, and a prolonged court case -- that comes after doing something very stupid, very drunk, and, very public. Unfortunately, the story strikes out.

My first eyeroll occurred when the writer, I assume a white man, described Pagan's eyes in the photo used by police to identify the suspect, saying they were "averted like a schoolboy girding himself for a harsh reprimand." The reader is being coaxed into feeling that Pagan's actions were childish and stupid, not violent (perhaps because the beer can didn't actually come into contact with the then-Baltimore outfielder, Hyun Soo Kim). Yet throwing an object at another person is violent. "It was an impulse," Pagan admits in the story. A violent impulse.

But the reader already knows what they are getting into, since the writer's conclusion came in part one of the story -- "this is no hooligan" -- and must endure tidy character references from his friend, brother, girlfriend, and mother predictably stating Pagan is good and his actions were out of character. Apparently, it is hard to believe good people can do bad things. The story goes on to show how unfathomable it is that sometimes when good people do bad things, it can lead to unfair consequences. This outcome can be shocking for privileged white folk: to get caught, lose your privilege, and be unfairly punished (and by "unfairly," I'm talking about the public shaming and loss of a career; in court, Pagan was generously granted a discharge).

But what I find most jarring is that the Pagan feature reinforces how absurdly white Canadian media is, particularly the CBC, in thinking that profiling a drunk white man who threw a beer can at a baseball player and actually has to live with the shame is worthy of a 5,000-word feature.

And if Ken Pagan is no hooligan, why are we not seeing more critical longreads about a growing problem of actual sports hooligans?

A fact that is sorely missing in the piece is that during the same game Pagan chucked the beer can, racial slurs were being directed at Baltimore Orioles' Black players, coaching staff, and Hyun Soo Kim, telling the latter to "go back to your country, Kim." Yet the writer and editor made an effort to erase the game's racial epithets from the story, glossing over how Pagan's actions were interpreted by some as being racially motivated.

Given that Pagan's beer can, rather than racial slurs, fired up baseball fans, online trolls, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Stephen King's Twitter account, the Toronto police, and the Blue Jays, it was no wonder CBC continued to invest in a clickbait story that victimizes the guilty white subject and seeks out a sympathetic white audience. The story also upholds an idealized national identity: Canadians are welcoming, polite, and immune to racism. The incident is presented as an isolated one, despite the author mentioning that Toronto already had "a reputation as a hostile environment for opposing baseball teams." Yet the story does not provide examples of how Toronto has gained a mean reputation over the years and concludes that what "embarrassed Toronto" is a tossed beer can, not racist slurs. This assumption is insulting, as it dismisses the experience and feelings of people of colour.

What stories are worthy of a whopping 5,000 words by white mainstream media is clear. A white man dealing with the aftermath of throwing a beer can at a baseball player is considered an exceptional story, while racism directed at Black athletes in the field (and also on the rink, track, and court) has become unremarkable.

It is not uncommon to stumble across news items about Black athletes like Adam Jones, P.K. Subban, and Serena Williams, who have countlessly been served with racist comments and slurs, online and in person, not to mention countless stories about lesser-known soccer and hockey players in Europe who have bananas hurledat them when they play. Clearly, more work needs to be done to change this behaviour.

The space Pagan's long-winded story takes up is too much. It shows us a news outlet that is choosing to dedicate space (and the readers' precious attention span) to humanize an aggressive white fan rather than to write more constantly and critically about the dehumanization of POC, particularly Black athletes.

And we've seen this dehumanization of POC in sports before, most recently last year when news outlets finally started regularly reporting on Indigenous voices calling out sports organizations' ugly history of profiting off of racist Indigenous names and symbols, a conversation that has been happening in Indigenous communities and academic circles for years. While we are still waiting for the banning of offensive logos and mascots to actually happen across all sports teams, the stories about this issue are beginning to thin out in mainstream media.

This past May, Baltimore Orioles all-star centre fielder Adam Jones, also a victim of the racial slurs at the beer-can Blue Jays game, had peanuts thrown at him and once again was berated with slurs at the notoriously racist Fenway Park in Boston. In interviews, Jones made it clear that although the peanut incident was the worst act of racism he experienced in his career, it was hardly an anomaly, and the player has called for more affirmative actions and harsher consequences to deal with racism at games, suggesting, "What they need to do is that instead of kicking them out of the stadium, they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand." Jones argued that throwing fans out of the stadium is only "a slap on the wrist. That guy needs to be confronted, and he needs to pay for what he's done."

While Pagan is temporarily banned from attending MLB games, his loss of employment in journalism certainly shows us that he has financially paid for what he has done. But the CBC article also reveals that Canadians are being forced to pay for a pity party held in honour of Pagan, reinforcing white innocence while ignoring legitimate experiences of racism from people of colour.

Erin Kobayashi is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @leighkiyoko. This article was first published on Torontoist and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo: lechuckster/flickr

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Building a global organizing movement: A conversation with ACORN's Wade Rathke and Judy Duncan

3 August 2017 - 7:07pm
Maya Bhullar

In June, I had the amazing good fortune to interview Wade Rathke of ACORN International and Judy Duncan of Canada in a small café outside of Paris. I grew up admiring the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN as most of us knew it, and had seen Wade speak quite a few times. I must admit to being very awed by having the opportunity to speak with Wade in person and in depth, and I fear I talked too much and our conversation meandered.

If you imagined that ACORN had been destroyed by the machinations of the right wing and the "scam artist James O'Keefe," you were wrong. Our conversation didn't dwell on the past, we talked about the global campaigns ACORN International is now building and laughed at how interconnected the community of global organizers is. Seated near us were ACORN organizers from across North America, talking about the campaigns they were building and the work being done in Paris.

This article continues rabble.ca's reporting on global organizing. Please send articles about community organizing and global organizing efforts we should be profiling to toolkit@rabble.ca.

The origins of ACORN International

Wade Rathke: When it first began ACORN was a United States-based organization. However, our members were often immigrants and often asked if we could help build campaigns in their home countries. That was how, in 2004, we started a Community Organizations International, ACORN Peru and launched ACORN International. Within three years our membership had grown to 3,000 and our members helped to stop a national plan to privatize water in Peru and built an initiative to make city streets safer. Since 2004, our efforts have grown to include Argentina, Canada, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, England, France, Honduras, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Scotland, South Korea, South Africa and continues to have affiliates in the United States. Generally, we start campaigns at the invitation of organizers in the country. 

What seems a long time ago, in 1973, I wrote what I called the ACORN Organizing Model. It is not a recipe book, and should not be used as such, but is a tool for organizers and has been a guide for many of our international campaigners. However, it is important to note ACORN International is a federation and each country builds in its own way, based upon what is necessary locally. 

Building off opportunities

Wade Rathke: In 2011, the Cameron government in the United Kingdom introduced a neoliberal austerity program called "Big Society" to attack state-run programs. It was meant to be a Band-Aid offsetting the austerity measures and supposedly train 500 community organizers.  

As with many good people who end up participating in institutionalized forays into community organizing, participants who wanted to do good things sometimes found themselves not doing as much to make change as they may have wanted. So we reached out to some of them and talked to them about organizing ACORN groups here. They got very excited about that in Bristol and evangelized among their cohort.  There are some strong organizers there doing tenant-based, door-to-door organizing. And, for a while, the government was paying as we helped to develop real community organizers. 

The Community Organiser Programme has now imploded, but we ran as fast as we could to build a base and get things up and running. We now have ACORN groups in Bristol, Brixton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, and around London, mostly doing tenant-based organizing. So much of social housing has collapsed across the United Kingdom. You now have a huge increase in the percentage of people in private housing but the standard rights you would have as a tenant don't exist. Therefore, tenants are organizing to get security of tenure, stop evictions, fighting letting agencies and getting a letting bill of rights. The campaigns are building and during the 2017 election, The Guardian published this great article to help tenants demand that the candidates take on tenants' rights. In Edinburgh, the city council just moved towards rent controls, but there is a lot more to do.

Anyway, some may say that it was odd that we took advantage of a Conservative program, but this is what being in the field looks like, you take opportunities where you can. However, your work should not be opportunistic and instead you must build with integrity based on local issues.

Registering a union India

Wade Rathke: When we first started our organizing in India, it was to organize against Walmart's entry into the Indian market. Due to the concerted efforts of allies and ourselves, Walmart has had a difficult time operating in India and we are proud to take credit for our part in that. We continue to work in India through our affiliate India FDI Watch, which works to prevent the take-over of India's retail sector by corporations. We are building Joint Action Committees (JAC) led by those who will be most affected, mainly; trade associations, unions, hawkers' organizations, farmers' groups and small-scale industries. We are currently working in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru,and Chennai. ACORN India now is a registered union with 5,000 street hawkers in Chennai and more members in Bengalaru. In Mumbai, we have a waste pickers' co-operative and recycling centre. (Note: Here is a blog by Wade with some of what was learned while organizing in Dharavi in Mumbai). When we say we have 35,000 members through grassroots organizing in our unions in India, it sounds like a lot to North American ears, but in terms of the numbers in India it really is a pimple on the elephant's butt.

The work of our federation of allies organizing around the world has been a mixed bag. We have learned a lot about how NGOs and institutions operate in different environments. For example, in Kenya, there is some good work happening but institutions sometimes inadvertently create a dependency that makes grassroots organizing we believe in difficult. However, the organizing continues in communities around Nairobi and Kisumu.

So why Paris?

Wade Rathke:  Our affiliate in France is an organization called Alliance Citoyenne. The Alliance was initially trying to build through churches in very secular France and eventually found that did not work. So then Adrien Roux, one of the organizers, reached out to me on Facebook, as so many of us now do, explaining what she was trying to do. I said OK, well I'll Skype with you and it turned out they had an exciting project growing in Grenoble. So then one of her organizers trained with ACORN Canada's Judy Duncan and Jill O'Reilly, for nearly two months, and Adrien came and trained with me in New Orleans. Then they came back to France, and now they have six groups across France. Here in Paris, they are organizing in Aubervilliers -- one of the poorest areas in France. Most of the area is social housing. Do you remember where there was violence in the area around Chinese people? That was Aubervilliers. We had a lot of conversations for a while and they wanted us to train the Chinese organizers there. It is where Veolia built their big corporate headquarters right in this poorest district in France during the Communist government recently. It was a big gentrification project. The Alliance has been in Aubervilliers for a year and has about 800 provisional members and 200 dues-paying members in Aubervillers. 

What are some of the campaigns in Canada?

Judy Duncan: We have been fighting on issues that matter to our members who are mostly low- and moderate-income people in 20 communities across Canada. A few months ago we had our fourth National Convention in Ottawa, and our members took over the Finance Building in downtown Ottawa to demand fair banking. We are tired of the high fees charged for insufficient funds in bank accounts and other predatory lending practices that gouge users. We put out a report at the end of last year about how expensive it is to be poor in Canada because of these predatory lending practices but too many of these practices remain in place. We have also been fighting to lower the fees people pay to send money abroad (remittances), and to get federal and provincial regulations of payday lenders, and are nearing wins on both issues. Visit our website to find out more.

Another important campaign is for wireless affordability and access. We have been trying to get the government to declare internet as a vital public service. We have forced some companies to make changes and now are in discussions with the federal government.

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Pearson strike highlights 'underbelly' of airport work

3 August 2017 - 4:43pm
Meagan Gillmore

An ongoing strike at Toronto's Pearson International Airport has revealed the harsh working conditions of the airport's baggage handlers and grounds crew.

Approximately 700 Swissport employees walked off the job on July 28, after rejecting the company's latest offer. The vote to strike was overwhelming -- 95 per cent.

These workers include those who load and unload baggage, make sure a plane's weight is balanced, clean and tow planes and assist passengers with mobility needs. More than 40 airlines operating out of Canada's busiest airport use Swissport. This includes commercial airlines like Air Transat, Sunwing, British Airways and KLM Royal Dutch, and cargo carriers like UPS.

The company is using temporary workers to replace striking employees.

Picket lines have been set up outside of the airport's Terminal 3 and the Vista Cargo terminal. Trucks delivering cargo to Vista Cargo have faced delays of up to three hours.

Workers want fair wages and benefits and some control of their schedules.

There's a lot of turnover in the job, partly because of low wages. That was something the company said it wanted to address, said Harjinder Badial, vice-president of Teamsters Local 419, the union representing the workers. But Swissport's offer -- raising wages to $14 an hour, which could be Ontario's new minimum wage come January -- wasn't enough to fix this problem.

"It's not a minimum-wage job," said John Giannone, the local chief steward. Airport grounds crew work outside in extreme weather, carrying heavy bags for hours. They load baggage from their knees, or hunched over in the bottom of a plane. Repetitive stress, causing back and knee pain, become a regular part of the job. Unlike some jobs in the aviation industry, like flight attendants, grounds crew workers don't get perks like discounts on flights, Giannone said.

When passengers come to the terminal, it "looks splendid up top," said Levi Davis, a Swissport baggage handler for 10 years. "But there's an underbelly where everything goes on."

Baggage carriers have a painstaking, sometimes dangerous, job, he said. They constantly have to judge how to lift each bag without injuring themselves, especially because not all overweight baggage is properly labelled.

But the union isn't just concerned about the workers holding signs and stopping vehicles. They're also concerned about the temporary workers who have been brought in to replace them.

"Everything is calculated," Badial said. Crew need to know how to correctly read load sheets and floor plans so the plane is balanced properly. If the plane's centre of gravity isn't right, everyone's safety is at risk. The plane could fail during takeoff and crash.

Badial said he's seen people who normally work in offices working on airplane ramps. He and other striking employees say these replacement workers are not getting enough preparation, some only receiving a few days of training.

"We're hoping everybody's safe on the inside," Giannone said from the picket line at Vista Cargo. "But you can't walk around a big aircraft not being aware of everything."

The union has received photos of luggage strewn across floors, and heard stories of bags being placed on wrong planes, said Badial. Some flights have been delayed.

Swissport maintains the strike is not interfering with flights and that replacement workers have been properly trained. In an email to rabble.ca, Pierre Payette, Swissport's vice-president of operations in Toronto, said the company's "management team is actively engaged in the safety and job specific training that is mandatory for anyone working for or on behalf of the company. Certified staff as well as airline specialists are performing specific roles that require specialized training and certification by the airlines and the regulators."

Further clarification was not given.

In the same statement, Payette called delays that occurred shortly after the strike began "an initial hiccup" and said any delays since then have been within the range of what would be expected during a strike.

But the union was concerned about the company using temporary workers before the strike.

In May, the union filed a complaint of unfair labour practices with the labour board about the company hiring temporary workers. According to the complaint, the company said it needed to do this because there weren't enough workers. In a May 2 letter sent to union members, Local 419 representatives said they've been working with the company to resolve this issue for years.

The union also wants workers to receive more respect at work. Some are not getting meal breaks until the end of their shifts, or, in some cases, not at all.

"Respect is gone," said Badial, who has been involved with the union for a decade.

Work schedules are unpredictable. Right now, the company needs to give employees 96 hours' notice before they change their schedule, said Badial. But now it says it wants total control for schedules.

Flight schedules "change all the time," he said, noting that's a reality of the aviation industry, "but we certainly don't want to give up that much control to (the company)."

Employees don't always receive consistent amounts of work, and if they don't work enough hours, they may not qualify for company benefits.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Alexander Else/flickr

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Slot machine workers at Woodbine set to vote on new contract

3 August 2017 - 10:56am
Meagan Gillmore

Regular service at slot machines at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto could resume in the next few days.

More than 400 slot machine workers have been off the job at Ontario's largest gaming floor since July 14 after the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) could not agree to a new contract.

This has meant the electronic poker room has been closed, the onsite shuttle hasn't been running, and services at the coat check have been reduced. Temporary workers have been running the slot machines during the dispute.

Members are expected to vote on the new contract on Thursday.

Key for workers have been concerns about fair scheduling, especially for part-time workers, Sharon DeSousa, PSAC's executive vice-president for Ontario told rabble.ca last month. Unpredictable schedules make it hard for them to plan for child care or support elderly parents.

Wages and benefits were also topics of disagreement during the negotiations.

Workers were also frustrated by how the government seemed to ignore their concerns, especially as Ontario considers changing employment laws to help combat precarious work.

OLG is in the midst of a years-long plan to hire outside companies to run operations at its gaming facilities. Private companies run operations at slot machines and casinos in southwestern and northern Ontario and in Belleville, Gananoque and Fraserville.

A new operator for the slots at Woodbine has not been named. Workers have been concerned about how a new operator could impact their pensions. On July 23, the Globe and Mail reported three companies were potential candidates. Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament for Etobicoke North Shafiq Qaadri, whose riding includes Woodbine, told the newspaper he was looking forward to the increased entertainment that could come to the riding, comparing it to Las Vegas.

In response, PSAC questioned why the politician had time to speak to the media, but not to address workers' concerns. "Do we need to call this lockout a fundraiser before a Liberal shows up?" DeSousa asked in a statement the union released on July 26, in advance of a workers' visit to Qaadri's office.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: 水野 航平/Wikimedia Commons

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Bridging Identities when you're both settler and Indigenous

3 August 2017 - 9:20am
August 3, 2017Who am I? Bridging identities for people of both settler and Indigenous heritageThe issue of identity can be difficult for people of mixed Indigenous and settler heritage. With Braden Alexander, Heather Majaury, Myrriah Gomez-Majaury about integrating those two solitudes.

We wrote this clickbait headline and you won't believe what happened next!

2 August 2017 - 9:30pm
Kim Elliott

Let me tell you, when I saw the list of rabble.ca benefits (especially #2)  for supporting monthly donors my jaw dropped. With one simple trick (or was it click?) I was able to support independent media. When you see what happens when everyone pulls together you will be shocked!

OK, clickbait isn't my or rabble.ca's strength. At rabble the informative trumps the shareable. At rabble substance conquers sensation. At rabble real content always wins over clickbait.

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Committee hearings on changes to Ontario's employment law end

2 August 2017 - 10:39am
Meagan Gillmore

Beth Bedore wants to own a pair of shoes without holes.

If she earned more money, that's one of the first things she would buy. Bedore relies on her bicycle or public transit for transportation in Belleville, Ontario. Unsuitable footwear can be harmful for her health. But right now, she can't afford anything else.

She wasn't worrying about this when she was logging more than 60 hours a week preparing for product launches at Research in Motion in Waterloo where she used to be a technical writer.

That stress was nothing like what she faces now: what she calls the "looming possibility" of having to use a food bank.

Bedore was among dozens of people who addressed committee hearings held in July about Ontario's proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and Labour Relations Act (LRA). The government introduced Bill 148, The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, in June. The proposed changes to the ESA and LRA include raising the general minimum wage from the current $11.40 an hour to $14 an hour in January and then to $15 an hour in January 2019. The proposed changes would also give all employees 10 days of emergency leave, two of which are paid. Right now, only employees at businesses that have more than 50 employees get emergency leave -- all unpaid.

The bill was referred to committee after first reading in June. It's expected to be debated, and potentially passed, once the legislature resumes.

Alaina King has worked at a thrift store in Parry Sound for more than a year. It's a full-time job, but she still struggles to provide for her and her three children. She knows the difficulties of working many part-time jobs, having had multiple restaurant jobs at the same time when she was living in Thunder Bay. She told rabble.ca that she's concerned about food or hydro costs that already can be "unbearable." The money for any benefit an employer gives -- even more personal leave days -- has to come from somewhere, she said. She hopes an increased minimum wage wouldn't cause her grocery bill to spike.

Bedore spoke at the hearing in Kingston, on behalf of the Poverty Roundtable Hastings Prince Edward. She supports the proposed increases to minimum wage, although she said it is still below a living wage. She knows the stress of precarious work. She's spent much of the past few years working in retail or at jobs found through temporary help agencies, until she was laid off. A few months ago, Bedore began receiving Ontario Works (OW) after her employment insurance ended.

The experience has "really pounded home that any of us are one layoff or family catastrophe away from this sort of predicament," the 51-year-old said.

But creating stable and sustainable work requires more than just raising minimum wage, labour activists say.

The government needs to make sure all workers can join unions. This means expanding card-based union certification to workers in all industries. The proposed legislation only expands card-based certification to workers at temporary help agencies, the construction industry and the home-care industry.

Allowing everyone access to card-based certification is the best thing the government can do to create fair workplaces, said Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). This makes it easier for all workers to receive the protections of a union.

Employers "want full control over workers in their workplaces, and they want to be able to dictate the terms and conditions of employment," he said, and this makes unions "more significant today than they have ever been."

Buckley presented at a committee hearing in Toronto. He said he felt the government's two weeks of consultations, with locations ranging from North Bay to London to Ottawa before wrapping up in Toronto, provided all political parties with good feedback on the bill. But he thinks the government needs to do more.

Buckley would like a separate job-protected leave for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. He'd also like collective bargaining to be changed so all employees at a franchise are covered by the same contract, regardless of the location where they work.

Bedore agrees more people need access to card-based certification, but she's not optimistic that will change much for workers at temporary help agencies. In her experience, she said, workers can sometimes be put on a blacklist or moved around from location to location if employers think they'll cause trouble.

Many businesses object to the increased minimum wage, saying that the change is coming too quickly.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/flickr

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Workers say WestJet doesn't do enough to protect them

2 August 2017 - 9:13am
August 2, 2017Multiple union drives reflect turbulence at WestJet WestJet employees are working in crowded environments -- and not just airplanes. Several campaigns are underway to organize workers, including customer service representatives and flight attendants.

Multiple union drives reflect turbulence at WestJet

2 August 2017 - 9:07am
Meagan Gillmore

WestJet employees are working in crowded environments -- and not just airports or airplanes.

Several campaigns are underway to organize company employees, including customer service representatives and flight attendants.

The efforts come at a crucial time for Canada's second-largest airline. WestJet plans to expand what they call ultra-low cost services in 2018. But workers say the company that prides itself on its fun and caring environment, with Disney-themed flights and Christmas-miracle, viral-sensation commercials, doesn't do enough to protect them.

According to figures posted on the company's website, revenue has increased every year since 2010. WestJet credits much of this success to its employees, the majority of whom have ownership stakes in the company. "We work hard -- really hard -- on making our employees feel valued, cared for and empowered," the company said in a June 29 blog post in response to being named an iconic Canadian brand. The post credits the success, in part, to helping employees succeed in their jobs.

But the growing number of organizing drives speaks to disconnect between the image of happy WestJet employees seen on commercials and the reality of their working lives. The airline declined an interview with rabble.ca for this article. But in an email sent to employees last month, company president and CEO Gregg Saretsky spoke out against union drives, claiming unions were misleading employees and only concerned about making money.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) began organizing customer service representatives and aircraft maintenance engineers this year. Unifor wants to represent WestJet's customer service representatives and call centre workers.

Organizers are optimistic, a sentiment likely boosted by the pilots' vote earlier this year to join the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the world's largest pilot union. Sixty-two per cent of pilots voted in favour. With more than 1,400 members, WestJet pilots became the union's largest Canadian pilot group.

They're not the largest employee group seeking unionization. Organizing efforts have ramped up among WestJet's more than 3,000 flight attendants. Two groups are vying for their votes: the WestJet Professional Flight Attendants Association (WJPFAA), and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). This will be CUPE's third try at organizing the cabin crew. Organizing drives in 2006 and 2013-2014 were unsuccessful.

Employees' concerns are consistent across positions: unpredictable schedules, few benefits related to seniority, a growing sense the company ignores them and employee associations can't effectively represent them. But flight attendants face unique pressures. They manage workplace stress under passengers' watchful, and often critical, eyes. For WestJet customers, they are the face of the organization.

Working in 'hell' while taking passengers to paradise

A union could increase workers' health and safety protections, address problems with scheduling and seniority and ensure better wages and benefits. One of CUPE's health and safety specialists is an expert in onboard airline health and safety. According to information posted on a CUPE website dedicated to the WestJet organizing, Air Canada flight attendants with 10 years' experience earn $7.40 an hour more than WestJet flight attendants with the same experience. Air Canada's flight attendants also have a defined benefit pension plan.

"Image is everything at the company," said Daniel Kufuor, the interim treasurer at the WJPFAA. Kufuor was a WestJet flight attendant for 15 years, until January 2016.

Flight attendants must maintain the image of a company that values customers above all else -- even while working in unsafe conditions.

rabble.ca spoke with two current WestJet flight attendants. One has worked for the company for more than five years, one for less than two. Both are based in different regions of Canada. Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.

It's "hell," said one, describing the occupation's physical and mental toll. They compared working on an airplane to living in a jail cell, except planes have nicer views. Sicknesses can spread quickly. A flight attendant's office, in many respects, is a chair, only a few centimetres away from a washroom.

Exhaustion is common. Fatigue means flight attendants may be less alert to respond in emergencies. Depending on flight schedules, flight attendants may switch from a night shift to a day shift in less than 24 hours. Employees have been concerned about problems with scheduling for years, but many say the company has done little to address this. One flight attendant said those who call to say they're too exhausted to work face numerous questions.

Past and present flight attendants mentioned concerns about a task crucial for passenger and employer safety: cleaning the airplanes. Flight attendants groom planes before and after flights, but aren't paid for it. (Flight attendants are only paid for work done once plane doors are closed.) Their health and safety equipment consists of gloves, said Kufuor. There's little, if any, training about this. The company provides great technical training, said Kufuor, but not for routine tasks like properly cleaning planes

No 'red carpet' for unions

But unions may be unable to change WestJet's company culture -- the very thing that makes the unionization drives necessary, and difficult.

Few deny the company's unique atmosphere, based largely on many employees' being part-owners of the company. In a letter on the WestJet organizing site, CUPE national president Mark Hancock described the culture as something "special" that contributes to the company being a "standout in the industry."

WestJet is "not a company that we would call union-friendly in any stretch of the imagination," Hancock said. "They're not going to roll out the red carpet for us."

On July 6, company president and CEO Gregg Saretsky sent an email to employees addressing the unionization efforts. He said other unions were targeting WestJet employees to "opportunistically" increase their business because of the pilots' successful unionization. He reminded employees of their status as owners of the company. "Isn't it better," he asked, referring to union dues, "to get a cheque than a bill?"

Unions remove direct access between employees and the company, he said. That access, he wrote, is necessary for the company to succeed.

But past and current employees, as well as union organizers at other airlines, say this culture of corporate collaboration between employees and the airline has been in descent for a long time.

Kufuor said he believes changes became more apparent in the fall of 2006. "It was almost like a culture flush of the toilet," he said. "The old WestJet, the WestJet people see in the commercials, it ceased to exist."

Workers became "disposable," he said. "We went from being owners to renters."

During this time, WestJet was consistently ranked as having one of the most admired corporate cultures in Canada, the history page on the company's website says.

In a statement online, Sam Jabbar, who is working with the organizing effort at IAM, said employees have told the union the family atmosphere has been "replaced by a corporate attitude that's interested only in making a profit."

WestJet employees have differing opinions about the company. One flight attendant who supports CUPE told rabble.ca that most cabin crew aren't truly unhappy, they just want to keep the good things they have and make it better.

Airline workers from outside WestJet also question whether employees are receiving proper treatment from the company.

Caroline Haddad has been organizing WestJet customer service representatives and call-centre agents for Unifor. An Air Canada customer service representative for decades, she said WestJet has a "wonderful airline with this great culture of independence." But many workers feel their voices aren't heard. Many WestJet customer service representatives are part-time employees, some work multiple jobs. At Air Canada, she said, unionization has allowed guarantees about how many positions are part time or full time. She's built a career, bought a house -- things WestJet's workers may never be able to do.

WestJet employees have built an "awesome" company and culture, she said, "but are they really being rewarded fairly for their contributions?"

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Creative Commons licensed photo: Cara Grimshaw Photography/flickr

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Political game between former Eastern Bloc nations and EU affects asylum seekers

1 August 2017 - 9:22am
August 1, 2017Challenging the East versus the EU in the refugee relocation gameLast week, Advocate General Yves Bot dismissed the claims of Hungary and Slovakia against the EU refugee relocation scheme.

Homeless people have been studied to death. We need action now

31 July 2017 - 8:47am
July 31, 2017We don't need more studies on homelessness and health -- we need actionDespite decades of research showing homelessness is bad for your health, the gap between research and action has only widened.

We don't need more studies on homelessness and health -- we need action

30 July 2017 - 12:21pm
Cathy Crowe

Over the years big money, at least according to my standards, has gone to academics and health researchers who examine the social determinants of health. For 30 years, I’ve studied their work and quoted from their articles and reports. I believe them. Poverty, lack of housing or shelter, racism, unemployment or low wages negatively impact on health and increase the chance of an early death.

The first piece of research I was ever involved in was the 1992 Street Health Report. It was a qualitative piece of work that was acknowledged as solid nursing research by the World Health Organization. It was the first Canadian snapshot of the impact of homelessness on health. It was published before the widespread use of the Internet however it is scanned and on my website.

What’s significant about the 1992 Street Health Report is that the experts were not the researchers; it was the participants who were homeless.

They said:

"The right to healthy and secure rest should be guaranteed to every being on the planet, just like food and air."
- A young man in his 30s, interviewed in a hostel.

"If you don’t have a foundation, you have a house that tumbles. You have homelessness and fear. You have fear that the law will pick you up as a vagrant." 
- A woman in her forties, interviewed in a hostel.

"I got frostbite this year because I had no place to go and I was walking all night." 
- A young man in his 30s, interviewed in a hostel.

"The hardest part of being on the street (not in a shelter) is that it takes away your self respect and confidence. You're constantly lining up for a meal, sleeping with your clothes on, trying to look decent." 
- A man in his 30s, interviewed in a soup kitchen.

"Living on the streets you learn there is lots of prejudice in the medical world against you. You don't have the same rights as everyone else." 
- A man in his 40s, interviewed at a meal place.

"The hardest part is maintaining your emotional stability, because you're not getting anywhere. Your self esteem goes down the tubes." 
- A young man in his 30s, interviewed in a shelter.

"Sexual harassment happens almost every day."
- A young woman, interviewed in a shelter.

Today, twenty-five years after the Street Health Report was published, amidst a worsening homelessness crisis that was declared a disaster in 1998, the gap between research and action could not be greater. In fact, the 30 and 40-somethings from the interviews, if they did not find affordable housing are probably dead, their name inscribed on the Toronto Homeless Memorial.

Here is my snapshot for today:

There is no "Declaration on the Right to Shelter in Toronto," or perhaps anywhere in Canada. In Toronto no right to shelter means that anywhere from 500-1,000 people remain shelterless, relying on volunteer Out of the Cold programs or overnight drop-ins that are really warming centres not real shelters.

The City allows or applies these bandaid measures in the winter only, essentially saying, "Spring, summer, fall -- you’re on your own," and people are. They are forced to sleep and live outside on sidewalks, in parks and ravines, under bridges, in abandoned buildings or cars. To make matters worse, they are ticketed, fined or evicted from those locations by city workers, including police.

Toronto shelters remain well beyond the recommended 90% capacity leading to disease, violence and undue stress. Case in point: Seaton House, Canada’s largest men’s shelter, is now entering its 18th month of a Group A Strep outbreak that included an invasive strain that can cause meningitis, pneumonia or worse.

Toronto's mayor, John Tory, has ignored the 16,000-person petition calling for an armoury or a similar facility to open as an emergency, low-barrier emergency shelter. The Mayor and city staff has similarly ignored pleas from respected leaders from organizations that work with homeless people for help on the shelter capacity front. These include Haven Toronto, Sanctuary, Out of the Cold, West Neighbourhood House, Salvation Army, Social Planning Toronto and 30 more.

To add insult to injury, in the midst of an opiate overdose crisis that has crossed the nation, both the fire department and police department of Canada's largest city do not carry Naloxone, the anti-opiate that if used within seconds of arrival can save a life. In a 36-hour period Toronto recently saw 24 overdoses and four deaths.

With Toronto's new Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, one could be hopeful. This week Toronto Public Health released a glimpse of the homeless death data they are collecting. The numbers are shocking: 46 people died while homeless between January and June of this year. That number now surpasses Toronto stats for death by homicide or in traffic accidents. The average age of a homeless person's death is 50. That’s 30 years younger than the Canadian average. Shocking, but it confirms all the social determinants of health research.  

What's more alarming is what we're not being told, what is being contemptibly held back by Toronto Public Health until the one year mark of the research in 2018. This includes: What was the gender breakdown of deaths, how many were youth, what were the medical causes of death, how many were suicides, how many were overdoses, how many were traumatic deaths such as hypothermia, how many occurred outside or in a shelter or hospital? So much information collected by the city that could guide solutions today but no, the gap between research and action just widens.

One has to wonder if it’s ethical to not release data when there is such widespread concern but perhaps more frightening, who is influencing the decision to stay silent and why?

As we wrote in the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee’s State of Emergency Declaration in 1998, "homeless people have been studied to death."

It's now time for action. 

Image: Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

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