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Labour News Round-up Oct. 22-Nov. 3

Harper slips attack on workers’ rights into latest budget
PSAC criticized the Harper government’s budget bill for stripping the democratic rights of federal public sector employees and undermining health and safety protections in the Canadian Labour Code. PSAC says that the suite of changes set labour standards back by thirty years. To deny strike rights, Tories could arbitrarily determine what public servants are "essential.” Public sector workers will no longer be able to decide voluntarily to go to arbitration for their agreements. Arbitration boards will no longer be independent. The bill changes the definition of “danger” in reference to dangerous work, to include only “imminent” risks, which PSAC calls a “life-threatening change” that will make it difficult for workers under federal jurisdiction to refuse dangerous work.
 
Canada’s retail boom transforms landscape of work
Unions need to catch up with the changing realities of Canadian workers, with nearly 2 million now working in retail sales, Canada’s largest employment sector. This deviates from perceptions that retail is a temporary job for low-skilled younger workers. Instead, 40 percent of Canadian retail workers are forty-five and older and many have post-secondary degrees. Half of retail workers bring home less than $11.15 an hour and minimum wage is common, with unpredictable hours and few benefits. Nearly half of front-line retail employees work part-time, compared with 19 percent in the overall economy.
 
Conservatives continue legislative attack to curtail organizing rights
A Conservative backbencher has tabled Bill C-525, which attempts to curtail the ability of workers to organize and establish a union. The bill would make secret ballots mandatory, which will encourage intimidation and unfair practices by some employers. The bill also imposes what NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice calls “a form of vote rigging” in union certification votes, by counting everyone who didn’t vote as being opposed to the union. The reverse would also be true in disaffiliations – those who don’t vote will count as voting to decertify the union.

Vancouver first to start re-evaluating fossil fuels in pension funds
Vancouver is the first city to seek a review of its pension fund investments in fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful industries, after a staff report noted that its investments are not in line with its ethical purchasing policy and environmental aspirations.  Marc Lee argues in the Globe & Mail that pension funds should be increasingly concerned with the connection between their investments in fossil fuels and a new push for a global “carbon budget”  - the upper limit on total greenhouse gas emissions needed to keep temperature increase below 2 degrees celsius, going over which will cause extreme destabilization. That carbon budget means that two-thirds of Canada proven fossil fuel reserves should stay in the ground. Because stock market value is predicated on fossil fuel companies extracting those reserves, a major “carbon bubble” could burst in financial markets when the fossil fuels aren’t extracted. A group of 70 large investors, representing $3-trillion in assets, recently called on fossil fuel companies to assess their “climate risk.”
 
U.S. Steel ends an era in Hamilton
After more than a century of operation, U.S. Steel announced the closure of its steel plant in Hamilton, Ontario. Originally Stelco, the factory has changed hands several times over the course of its operations. U.S. Steel’s management argued that the closure is necessary to boost the profitability of its Canadian operations, and shutting down the plant in Hamilton will also mean that U.S. Steel can close its plant in Gary, Indiana. The steel made by workers there is mostly used in auto manufacturing. Rolf Gerstenberger, president of United Steelworkers Local 1005, argued that the decision to close the Hamilton plant makes no sense as Canada currently imports eight million tons of steel and their plant produced two million, annually.
 
TTC union fears for worker safety
President of the Amalgamated Transit International Union Local 113 Bob Kinnear said that cutbacks and other pressures coming from City Hall are making work less safe for Toronto Transit Commission workers. Kinnear talked to CBC Radio about the TTC report on the death of Peter Pavlovski, who worked for the TTC for more than 20 years but was killed by a train while inspecting the track. The report recommends new safety measures that would include a system warning trains at all hours when a worker is on the track, not just during the hours of operation of the subway system.
 
EllisDon promises to use mostly union workers
Construction giant EllisDon is about to be freed from provincial legislation that currently requires the company to use unionized workers in Ontario. The Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties are supporting the bill, which reaches third reading on November 5. An agreement to use only unionized workers was first signed by EllisDon in 1958. The proposed legislation changes many of the labour agreements that date before 1980 and were codified in Ontario’s Labour Relations Act. EllisDon promises that even if the bill passes, they will commit to ensuring that 90 per cent of their workers remain unionized.
 
Forget Duffy, Harper’s real war is with unions: Tasha Kheiriddin
This past weekend, the federal Conservative party held its policy convention in Calgary. The list of resolutions included many anti-union measures that would make it more difficult for unions to undertake the political work directed by their membership. Other resolutions attacked the Rand formula and federal public servants. Writing in the National Post, Tasha Kheiriddin argues that because Tom Mulcair is seen as having soft support for labour, the Conservative focus on unions is a strategy meant to divide union members between supporting the Liberals and the NDP. She argues that if any of the more anti-union pieces of legislation make it from the convention floor into the House of Commons, it will be an all-out war against organized labour in Canada.
 
Canadian soldiers being dumped before they reach pension eligibility
Injured Canadian soldiers seen as “excess baggage” are being discharged before they become eligible for their pension. Critics accuse the Conservative government of trying to save money by dropping wounded soldiers before they reach the ten years of service required to reach pension eligibility. The justification being used is that soldiers are unable to perform a wide range of duties. In 2010 alone 1,782 soldiers were medically discharged, many with post-traumatic stress disorder, and of those roughly 250 fell below the 10-year pension mark. Canada’s veterans ombudsman reported last month that because of the government’s policies these ex-soldiers will live in poverty in their old age.
 
90 percent of government scientists feel they can't speak freely: union survey
A survey conducted among scientists working in the federal public service reveals that nearly 25 per cent of respondents have been directly asked to exclude or alter their research for non-scientific reasons. Nearly half said that they were aware of others in their department who had their research suppressed. The union representing these scientists, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, coordinated the survey. 4000 of their 15,000 members replied. The survey also found that 90 per cent of respondents say that they do not feel as if they can speak freely about their work to journalists. The Minister for Science and Technology responded to the results saying that the Conservatives have made great investment into science.

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