The election of Doug Ford means that workers, union and non-union alike, are facing down a legislative attack on their rights. Ford signalled in the winter that he would freeze the minimum wage at $14. There is little doubt he also has his sights on employment standards and labour laws in a bid to weaken workers’ power. The big business lobby has been clamouring to roll back decent work laws since Bill 148 was passed in November 2017, and there is every reason to fear attacks on workers’ rights will go further than reversing recent gains.
Ford’s attack on the minimum wage and workplace standards is a major concern for unions. Over 100,000 unionized workers in Ontario make less than $15 an hour and many more make between $15 and $20 an hour. All of these workers will benefit from the planned increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour on January 1, 2019, either through being lifted up to $15 or the indirect upward pressure on wages that will follow. Unionized workers are also directly benefiting from two paid emergency leave days, equal pay for equal work measures, additional vacation pay, and other provisions in Bill 148.
It is not just these unionized workers, but the whole union movement, who stand to gain directly from a $15 minimum wage and strengthened employment standards. When the minimum wage is raised and employment standards improved, it raises the floor from which unions bargain and gives them increased leverage and power to bargain for more. A low minimum wage and weak employment standards creates a greater gap between what union members have in their contract and what the vast majority of workers experience in the workplaces. This gap can be exploited by employers to divide union and non-union workers, drive concessions at the bargaining table, and push back against unions trying to make gains.
If the Ford government attacks recent decent work reforms to the Labour Relations Act and Employment Standards Act, including the $15 minimum wage, it is an attack on the whole workers’ movement. How we as a trade union movement defend these reforms will shape the broader struggle against Ford’s attacks on labour for years to come. So in that spirit, here are eight things you can do as a trade unionist to defend $15 and Fairness.
1. Collect signatures on the petition to defend the $15 minimum wage and fairer labour laws. Bring the petition to a union meeting, lunch room, or nearby transit stop to get your co-workers signed up to join the movement. Hand out stickers, buttons, posters, and materials to your co-workers so they can distribute them in their own communities. Every time someone new signs the petition, follow-up with an email or phone call to invite them to join you at an upcoming action. Getting 2 or 3 people together for petitioning is a great way to start. You can also invite them to join you for an MPP visit, an upcoming rally, or creative action.
2. Request a meeting with your MPP and deliver the signed petitions you have collected. At the meeting, ask your local MPP to read the signed petitions into the legislature. If your MPP is not supportive, consider hosting a protest or creative action outside their office to make sure they are feeling the political pressure.
3. Host a ‘Lunch and Learn’ or a Know Your Rights workshop with your co-workers. This is great way to make the connection between the $15 & Fairness demands and issues in your workplace. To defend what we’ve won, we need all workers to know their new rights, and we need to work together to make sure they are being implemented in every workplace in our communities.
4. Build a $15 & Fairness committee in your union. After your first few times petitioning or your first event, get your interested co-workers together to talk about next steps. Now you have a $15 & Fairness committee in your union. This committee can help your union mobilize for the next four years to defend decent work and workers’ rights under a hostile government.
5. Make plans for your union or workplace to join the next provincial day of action. Can your co-workers all wear buttons or stickers that day? Can you get a few people to join you for some outreach and petitioning? Get creative and be bold.
6. Make a donation to the Fight for $15 & Fairness Fight On! Fund. This could help hire a part-time organizer in your community. It also helps cover the cost of all the materials, meetings, and events we need to grow the campaign across the province.
7. Book off a member to organize for $15 & Fairness in your union and community. Arranging for one of your members to be paid for time away from work through a book-off is a great way to ensure the fight to defend the $15 minimum wage and fairer labour laws has dedicated resources at this crucial political moment.
8. Bargain $15 & Fairness demands into your collective agreement. When we connect the demands of the broader working class to our bargaining, we can bring the power of the whole movement to the bargaining table with us. And, in turn, we can help raise the confidence of workers across the province to defend $15 & Fairness and fight for more.
The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign has resources to help you organize available at: www.15andfairness.org/resources.